24th July, 2012
The Dark Knight Rises (M/12A/PG-13)
In A Word: Frustrating
The much heralded and anticipated conclusion to Christopher Nolan’s Batman films has arrived, and with the hype, comes a certain level of disappointment. As a fan of the comics, it’s obvious that Nolan and his co-writer (brother Jonathan) have mined the 70 plus years of history of the character. It must also be said that this is a film that must be seen on the big screen, with its widescreen cinematics, reliance on real sets and costumes rather than CGI, and an epic, sprawling narrative. However, it also has problems that should not have gone ignored, and a recycled plot.
Set eight years after the last film, Batman has retired, with Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) a limping recluse, and Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) the only other man who knows the truth about Harvey Dent’s death as portrayed in 2008’s The Dark Knight. In order to keep Dent’s reputation as a man of law and order, rather than the psycho Two Face he became, Batman has taken the blame for Dent’s actions, resulting in hope and a sense of peace throughout Gotham. Peace in Gotham never lasts long, however, and soon the hulking, masked Bane (Tom Hardy), and slinky cat burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) surface to cause trouble.
"The Dark Knight Rises is certainly an epic film, and enjoyable in parts. It’s that rare film that actually manages, at times, to capture the intense battles and overblown dialogue that superhero comics can do so well, but if it focused on Batman, Bane and Catwoman, there’d be a greater depth at work."
The film does share the same title as the last one, with an extra word on the end, and the similarities don’t end there. It is startlingly familiar, as The Dark Knight also focuses on an evil man on the fringe of society who pits people against one another using an army of the disenfranchised. There’s also talk about what kind of a man Bane is, and discussion over his shifting origin, much like there was with Joker. And Bane forces Gotham’s citizens against one another and uses explosives on buildings throughout the city. Yes, this film has been highly praised, but it’s not daringly original, and as others have noted, Batman rarely shows up. When he does, it is pretty awesome though.
In the comics, Bane is a much better villain. His motivation here is the same as another villain from the trilogy, although I understand the reason for the change - to bring greater ties between the three movies. As many have noted, Bane’s mask, posh accent and vocal distortions initially make his dialogue almost laughable. There’s nothing threatening about how he talks - when you can hear him, that is. I’d guess at least 10 per cent of his dialogue is indecipherable, a problem which also later occurs when Gordon is in hospital with an oxygen mask.
The droning, thud-thud of the soundtrack is incessant and unnecessary, as if the filmmakers are relying on it rather than the script to create suspense. Having it in dialogue-heavy scenes just makes it even more annoying.
The fights between Bane and Batman are brutal, and, thankfully, music free, and are like a superhero version of the Bourne films. The intense fights are a bone crunching joy to behold, and once the first hour of dramatic set up is complete, and the many characters are established, the suspense and imminent danger facing Batman boils to the surface.
The shifting relationship between Batman and Catwoman (though she’s never called such) is spot on, and the introduction of honest cop John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) works well. Bruce’s allies Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine) and Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) don’t do much other than show their concern/support for Bruce/Batman, and yet another new character Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) is the requisite love interest.
Initially the film introduces a bevy of supporting characters that we don’t care about. All we want to see is Bruce Wayne zip up the Batsuit once more and swing into action, which of course does happen, in case the title didn’t tip you off. When it does occur however, there’s not even a hint that Bruce has been honing his skills for the last eight years. He just puts on the cowl. Not that a Rocky-style montage would’ve been necessary, but it all happens rather conveniently.
Thankfully, there a few easter eggs for fanboys and girls to look out for. Catwoman’s mug shot is a replica of a classic Adam Hughes cover, the way Bane initially defeats Batman is the same as in the comics, and Selina’s ally, Holly Robinson, also makes the transition from page to screen. The earthquake-focused No Man’s Land storyline, as well as KnightFall - which introduced Bane to the world in the mid-90s - are also obvious, though minor, narrative influences from the comics.
At 165 minutes, it is a long film, but not needlessly so, like The Dark Knight. The surprises contained within the last few scenes will serve to both encourage and frustrate comics’ fans who know the storied history of these characters. However Bale and Nolan have stated rather emphatically that this will be the last film and is the definitive conclusion to the story they began with Batman Begins almost a decade ago.
The Dark Knight Rises is certainly an epic film, and enjoyable in parts. It’s that rare film that actually manages, at times, to capture the intense battles and overblown dialogue that superhero comics can do so well, but if it focused on Batman, Bane and Catwoman, there’d be a greater depth at work.
The Avengers is still the superhero blockbuster to beat, but the Batman trilogy is a different beast. There are definitely some crowd-pleasing moments, such as when Batman and Catwoman team up, the introduction of flying vehicle The Bat, and especially the last 10 minutes. It’s just unfortunate that what precedes it isn’t as entertaining as it should’ve been.
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