The Dark Knight Rises Review
“Come now, Doctor. Now is not the time for fear. That comes later.”
What follows for this US release is an extended version of my previous Cinema Review. My Bat-buddy, Cas Harlow, will be taking a comprehensive look at the UK release. Consider yourselves spoilt!
Taking Dickens’ A Tale Of Two Cities, spicing it up with the leviathan skulduggery of Fritz Lang’s mighty gangster/megalomaniac-saga Dr. Mabuse, and pumping enough rage-filled steroids into the resulting stew, Christopher Nolan’s IMAX-seducing blockbuster, The Dark Knight Rises, joins 2012’s seemingly unstoppable brigade of adrenaline-hurling spectacles. Coming after the fantastic fun of The Avengers, the superhero-movie that actually crammed-in audiences who were once adamant that they would never ever go and see a superhero-movie, and spinning in the slipstream of The Amazing Spider-Man, which was an unwanted reboot that ended-up being hugely better than many thought possible, it is now time to herald the ending of what has been, to my mind, the greatest and most deeply affecting example of the large-scale, issue-addressing, heart-on-sleeve superhero-movie.
Thus, it was with some considerable anticipation that I had originally approached this film. Four years worth of anticipation, in fact. You all know me by now … and how much Batman means to me, with lots of reviews about the character’s various interpretations gushing into the realms of giddy hyperbole. It is without any exaggeration (and only a little bit of shame) that I admit that the film’s arrival on Blu-ray has reduced me to a giggling schoolboy again, with the same excitement that had me seeing it at the flicks a full six times over. I will admit that I saw the film altogether too many times and much too closely together during that initial cluster-bomb run, and that, by the end of it, I was losing interest rapidly … and the ability to stomach anything else Bat-related.
But, after a hiatus stuffed with the 3D splendour of Dredd, the hi-def resurrections of theUniversal Monsters andIndiana Jones, and all manner of Bondian excess, the arrival of TDKR on Blu has totally rekindled my love of Nolan’s noble take on the Caped Crusader. Once again, its raw dissection of modern-day heroics hits out with the type of rousing vigour that we just don’t see enough of. The cocky banter between the boisterous, ego-saturated Avengers is pure escapism, a super-soap, if you will. The same goes for the X-Men. Spidey has his issues, but he enjoys himself on the job. What Batman provides is heart and soul as well as action. There is humour, but it is in the face of terrible angst, and often only comes as an anguished and all-too-brief reprieve from atrocity. But it is the promise of justice being meted-out in retaliation, with the believable repercussions from such deeds that makes The Dark Knight Trilogy the saga that lingers so prevalently in the mind after all the other superheroics have died down. And, come on, this is one of the main reasons that we enjoy event-pole event movies such as this. That infectious groundswell of expectation is a potent drug, of course, even if we know that it can, all too often, lead to crushing disappointment. Remember Prometheus?
Ouch. Too soon?
So let’s see how The Dark Knight Rises, unequivocally the movie I was most salivating over, fares in a year that is just brimming over itself to deliver one riotous big-screen wonder after another.
The Bat. The Cat. And Bane. Gotham's gonna tumble.
The hallmark of Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, as it cuts through the annals of cinematic superheroics, has always been that it was able to tap into complex human emotions of fear, identity and rage and to assimilate them into genuine socio-political issues that have been plaguing us since the fall of the Twin Towers. With the first glorious entry, we are introduced to a society buckling under the strain of corruption and apathy and a man, torn apart by grief but determined enough to rebuild himself, who acts as a figurehead for hope amidst the fear of urban predation and a crippled judiciary. In the dazzling and infernally fiendish second outing (a vigorous and vital updating of the string-pulling of Fritz Lang’s Dr. Mabuse), we see a terrifying reflection towards the War on Terror and the sacrifices that must sometimes be made for the greater good, and how we, as a society, can collectively tear down the very icons that inspired us in the first place. The two films were about cause and effect, and quite brilliantly showed us how one man, taking the law into his own hands and becoming an ideal, inevitably leads to escalation and anarchy. And how his good deeds and selfless devotion can actually make things worse. In the final part, we find the most ambitious entry of all – one that has to pick up the pieces of a broken crusader, furnish him with a new and altogether more vital quest, have him face his demons and wrestle back not only the city he has sworn to protect from a truly horrific persecutor, but to reclaim his own soul and atone for the series of dark events that he has inadvertently set-in-motion.
In this way, The Dark Knight Rises actually turns full-circle, sometimes beautifully embracing the themes of the first film, but sometimes doing so with ugliness and the sort of contrivance that is quite shuddering to behold in a film of this stature and importance. Massive entertainment this may be, and certainly one of the biggest, most exciting and most emotionally satisfying films around, but considering how long the Nolan brothers and co-writer David S. Goyer had to get this balls-out showpiece finale squared-away, it is surprising how rushed and all-too-convenient this epic conclusion actually feels. Even at almost three-hours, this seems somewhat condensed, and almost trite in places, with a final act that, no matter how exhilarating and action-packed, comes across as possibly not jaw-dropping enough.
But rest assured, the film does deliver the goods. I mean we have Batpod chases tearing through the city, the super-dynamic assault of the new airborne Bat whipping up a storm and a fleet of desert-cammed Tumblers rumbling along in meaty mercenary convoys, a barrage of fist-fights, gobsmacking set-pieces like the opening plane-heist, the oft-seen football pitch carnage and the amassed charge of Gotham’s finest, as well as a white-knuckling race-against-time to save a city that we have been told time and time again is beyond saving – and none of this smothers the fractured soul that exists at the heart of it all. Because, more than anything else, this part of the saga deals with desperation, defeat and failure. But then, Nolan’s series has never shied away from the deep, dark and unforgiving tragedy that sticks to Bruce Wayne closer than that modified Nomex survival suit. Really speaking, Batman Begins is the only one that offers us the true semblance of hope, with its cathartic victory over Ra’s Al Ghul and its euphoric proclamation that the Batman is out there watching over us. This optimism unravels spectacularly in The Dark Knight, with the death of Bruce’s one true love, Rachel Dawes, and the grotesque downfall of superstar DA Harvey Dent, the one man that can return Gotham to glory without having to put on a costume and break the law. The repercussions of both these shattering developments has left Bruce Wayne a haunted and reclusive spectre, hobbling around his estate on a cane and merely existing in the heartbreaking fallout of the knowledge that he was instrumental in their fate. And Batman has regrettably passed into legend – hated and hunted for a crime that he didn’t commit, but took the rap for in order to give Gotham back its hope. For eight long years, Bruce has shut himself away, hiding in the shadows from the society shindigs that Alfred virtually forces him to host, merely existing … as a man without a reason to carry on. Even ignoring his faithful butler’s attempts to match-make him with Marion Cotillard’s wealthy and attractive investor, Miranda Tate, who insists, with prescience, that if he “wants to save the world, he must first learn to trust it.”
It may have been rebuilt “Brick for brick” but Wayne Manor is like his ghost now – huge, cold, empty, and full of terrible memories of loss and guilt, and failed ambitions. We see a hearty fire glowing during one of the series’ rare moments of intimacy, but there is no warmth or welcome in this place anymore. It is a shell, as devoid of life as the cape, cowl and costume that is mothballed down in the cave.
We meet our hero at his lowest point. In the wake of Dent’s death, new legislation has been passed and the streets have been cleaned-up of organised crime. Not only has he lost his love, but Bruce has lost his very purpose for getting out of bed. There is no need for Batman anymore. And this apathy has also helped lead to the potential collapse of Wayne Industries. For a billionaire-playboy, he’s certainly seen better days.
“Why do we fall, Bruce? So that we can learn to pick ourselves up.”
When the enterprising Selina Kyle (a very confident Anne Hathaway) makes off with his mother’s pearls and his fingerprints, something begins to stir in the battered billionaire that, once aroused, won’t back down without a fight. Suddenly his detective’s nose starts to twitch and then, before you know it, he’s got himself some super-strong callipers on his bad leg, got himself back into that costume and took to the streets of his pledged battleground of Gotham to ferret-out what is driving the “coming storm” that has been ominously hinted at with seductively sinister whisperings in his ear.
But, as we all know, Batman’s main reason for coming out of self-imposed retirement is the explosive arrival in Gotham of the notorious mercenary, Bane (Tom Hardy). And if the Dark Knight was in a bad way at the start of his final crime-fighting chapter, then his encounter with this human juggernaut will leave him infamously and savagely broken in body and spirit. The Bat has finally met his match, and in the wake of his fall, Bane and his merciless army take over the entire city of Gotham, trapping the inhabitants on the island, imprisoning the police force beneath it, freeing all the jailbirds and planning to finally fulfil what Ra’s Al Ghul (Liam Neeson) once set out to do … and destroy the place once and for all.
But will Batman manage to return one last time and be able to thwart Bane’s heinous masterplan?
With Hans Zimmer’s triumphant fanfare pounding away, a flurry of bats to spur him on, some crucial and dependable allies, and the heart of soul of Gotham at stake … what do you think?
There’s talk of this being Bale’s best performance as the Dark Knight, but I’m not so sure about that. We saw him at both his most confident and his most enraged when he fought the Joker, but we now see him struggle to regain that confidence. With a catalogue of longstanding injuries that reads like a joint shopping list from Chuck Norris and Jackie Chan, he is not at his best when he first tangles with Bane. Christian Bale, who we know is able to transform himself almost at will from spindles to oak, and back to spindles again, is visibly sunken and withered this time out. We don’t need the grey streaks in his hair to understand that he’s turned a damaging corner in what has actually been quite a remarkably brief, though certainly illustrious career, but Bale carries a wonderful tired dignity and gravitas that his prior Waynes did not have access to. But despite the intense emotional devastation that he goes through here, I was rarely as moved by his various predicaments and travails as I was at either his ice-training tussle with Neeson’s League of Shadows mentor in Batman Begins or his tempestuous interrogation-room fury with the Joker in The Dark Knight, or even his final, agonised decision to Jim Gordon over Harvey Dent’s corpse.
In fact, there are a couple of scenes in this when I really expected to have my heart ripped open, but either Bale pulled back, or Nolan pulled him back from the brink. We have a terrible confession from Alfred (with Michael Caine on typically extraordinary form – quite the most dependable asset in the entire saga, perhaps, and certainly effective as its watery-eyed conscience) that really should have left us gasping, but Bale just grimly denounces it. Things like this, and there are a few such heartrending instances when the room goes deathly quiet and you’re afraid that you’re going to be the one who makes that horribly audible gulp, surprisingly peter-out. However, a pivotal twist – literally if you take the knife into account – is very deeply affecting, with Bale’s eyes revealing a sense of shock and horrific realisation that is just a complete sickener (even though we all saw this coming) and his gravelly, and now grave voice becomes laboured and tortured even without him putting it on for effect.
“You don’t owe these people any more. You’ve given them everything.”
“Not everything. Not yet.”
More than previously, once the mask is on, Bale soars. Now we witness the Bat, himself, in agony, fear and soul-rocked despair, that stoic expression of hardened defiance shattering in both the physical and emotional realisation that he has bitten off more than he can chew. Plus, for fans of that ultra-cathartic “Swear to Meeee!!!!” moment from BB – which I reckon must be all of us – there is another one here that is possibly packed with even more lava-spewing primal rage. “Where’s the trigger? WHERE IS IT? WHERE’S THE TRIGGER?!!!!”
I know I’d tell him. And I reckon you would, too.
Nolan has definitely improved with the hand-to-hand stuff over the three films. In Batman Begins, he was clumsy and confused, and opted to imply rather than to show the skills with which the Dark Knight metes out justice, almost as though wary of presenting us with the true nitty-gritty of brawling. One look at the behind-the-scenes footage of these melees revealed the awesome fight choreography that his camera and editing had all but missed. He advanced upon this in The Dark Knight, allowing the camera to linger just a little bit, but very necessary bit, longer. The result was more kinetic and much less confusing. Here, we have skirmishes aplenty and even if Nolan will never challenge the likes of Gareth Evans (The Raid: Redemption) when it comes wowing us with his display of inter-personal mayhem, this is much more like it. Since the focus of the film relies so heavily upon Batman going up against someone who is physically his superior and far more gleefully punishing, we have to see the critical blows landing, the frantic defences getting pummelled aside, the bone-jarring bombardment of thudding elbows and savage kicks swinging in. And, yep, there’s a few head-butts thumping in, as well. Bane even flattens a woman’s face with a motorcycle-helmet at one point! As with many elements of the film, the battling isn’t quite what you expect, but there are instances when Bane just goes bestial with Hardy sending in a blitzkrieg of body-blows or leaping down with a vicious MMA-style axe-fall upon his nemesis. The Bat’s battle-tactics are considerably inferior when judged against those of his cave-troll opponent. He’s all elbows and weird twisting obliques that may be effective against a mob of windmilling simpletons, but are heart-stoppingly stalled in their tracks and belittled by Bane. When he grabs the Bat by the throat and hauls him out of the shadows that had once protected him, carting him off like Darth Vader did with that trachea-throttled Rebel Commander, you feel like a child whose just seen their dad get smacked. The cracking of the cowl is treated with all the ferocity and hope-draining impulse of an enforced spinal-tap. And speaking of spinal taps, one crunchingly crucial moment – yes that bit – I thought was excellently handled. Bearing in mind the certificate, I believe they depicted the shocking assault with plenty of wince-inducing brutality.
There’s no mistaking that this is a director in love with painstaking and elaborate set-pieces. Truly, Chris Nolan should be allowed to take on Bond at some point. His ability to generate mounting tension and suspense across a panoply of locations, and frequently at a blistering pace and combining protagonists dotted-about all over is a skill that George Lucas can only dream of. Whereas Lucas just cannot successfully split-up his final act set-piece battles, Chris Nolan proves skilfully adept at such white-knuckle narrative juggling. It is true that the finale seems to bend the time-limit of what it is physically possible to do inside of eleven minutes, but then again there’s no ticking-clock climax that ever strictly adheres to the Atomic Clock, is there?
The opening plane-jacking in which a hooded Bane spectacularly turns the tables on Aiden Gillen’s FBI squad is simply stunning. This is Nolen at his most overtly Bondian and, boy, does it prove a tough act to follow. When you first hear Bane’s voice from beneath the hood, your blood literally freezes because suddenly you know who is really in charge here … and that things are not going to end at all well. The stuntwork, with men clambering all over an upended jet being towed beneath an even bigger plane – Bane’s demonic Hercules - beggars belief. The assault on the Gotham Stock Exchange is well set-up, but is really only a prologue to the helter-skelter chase that follows. The Bat’s initial charge on the Pod is terrifically edge-of-the-seat stuff especially when, surrounded by cops, he makes an Evel Knieval-style leap that can only be bettered, moments later, by something that only lands, well, when he wants it to land. A sewer infiltration is aided considerably by the sight of the Bat and the Cat both employing terror-tactics of their own to outwit Bane’s shock-troops. One alarming stealth-attack illuminated down a dark tunnel by muzzle-flash is actually quite spine-tingling. And he matches breakneck shrapnel-dodging down on the ground with imposing aerial views of hundreds of explosives going off, turning Gotham into Dresden.
But is it just me, or do the camo-tumblers seem to lack firepower? We see those swivel-mounted canons blasting away, but they appear quite pathetic. Some very close shots at the Bat during the warp-out final chase just fizzle away without an attempt to convey any clout whatsoever.
I have given a name to my Bane.
All together now … let’s bow before the might of Tom Hardy. Through Bronson, through Warrior, and now as the ultimate and most notorious comic-book badass, Bane, he reigns supreme. Hardy is magnificent, make no mistake about that. He may not be anywhere near as physically big as people are saying – in fact I can’t quite believe the hype beforehand about how massive he was supposed to be (I work in an office with guys bigger built than this) – but he is considerably intimidating, regardless. Tellingly, of course, the intention wasn’t to have him toned and defined like some gym-bunny. Bane just isn’t that type of guy. He had to be a wall of stone-like flesh. A immovable hulk who makes the ground shake. That whining, electro-sizzled, sub-woofed voice that we heard in the trailers, the one that nobody could properly understand, still cuts through the atmosphere like that of an unhinged deity threatening us from the heavens, with a disturbing sense of dislocation courtesy of that baboon-jaw mouth-cage, but it sounds more refined now in this fuller, cleaner home audio-mix, a blend of educated English with a deliciously odd twang of the exotic, and barring only one or two lines, is perfectly intelligible. We can compare and contrast Hardy’s performance with Ledger’s until the cows come home, but they are playing two very different and very unusual characters. On the surface, Hardy is not in the same league at all, but then he is saddled with that pain-killing metal mask of Bane’s and is therefore forced to rely upon his eyes and his physical presence alone – both of which he does to a vastly intimidating degree of dauntless conviction. However, because of the brutish nature of this particular beast, he cannot hope to be as endlessly fascinating a foe as the Joker, although he sure does dominate the screen whenever he occupies it.
“If I take that mask off … will you die?”
“It would be extremely painful.”
“You’re a big guy –“
But even if he isn’t as large as we would have hoped – and he even sports something of a beer-gut and moobs – Hardy is operating at ram-raid velocity and exuding all the raw testosterone of a rampaging rhino. You see this methodical slab of monstrous murder coming towards you and you’re going to make all kinds of mess on the floor. No matter who you are, or how tough you think you might be.
Whether he is twisting necks with his bare hands or crushing the chests of his unfortunate victims – mostly just off-camera or charitably obscured by a ton of unyielding flesh – or merely stomping through soon-to-be-wrecked Gotham landmarks, you really do fear the guy. Shaven-headed, bull-necked and swollen with ill-defined bulk, he is a behemoth of quixotic mania and imbued with the remorseless determination of a Great White Shark. I know things in the Nolan-verse deviate from DC Comics lore, and I have no problem with that at all. This is his adaptation of Batman, and it follows a distinctive path that is often far removed from what many fanboys may have preferred. His movie backstory for Bane is a good case in point, but as far as I am concerned, the explanation surrounding the ogre’s past is clever, surprising and beautifully moving, and it achieves what most genre films fail to do by giving its villain a true sense of depth, pathos and validity. The screenplay reveals why Bane wants to destroy Gotham and why, in particular, he wants to make Batman’s downfall so nasty, protracted and large-scale. His Serbo-Croat militia battle-garb is striking, leading to further disturbing connections, especially when he is seen standing atop an armoured Tumbler and issuing threats to a terrified populace.
What’s the matter? Cat got your tongue?
While a great many of us still place a saucer of milk outside the bedroom door in the hope of enticing the purrfect Michelle Pfeiffer, and there’s certainly a few stalwarts clinging onto the tails of Julie Newmar and Lee Meriweather from the Adam West show, I have to say that Ann Hathaway exceeded my expectations for the sinuous, lithe and arrestingly athletic Catwoman. Although she is never hailed by that fabulous moniker in the film, Hathaway absolutely nails the coveted role of the toweringly arrogant, super-skilled, high-prize cat-burglar. Existing in her own moral swirl of vanity-rage, Hathaway ensures that Selina Kyle is always a step or two ahead of the opposition, with her feline eyes on the ball at all times, and rigidly committed to her own hidden agenda. The tricksy, will-they, won’t-they relationship that exists between Bruce and Selina is marvellously played out. We have the high-society ball that worked so well in Burton’s second Bat-outing, and the lack of visual masks here only serves to underpin the duality and rivalry between the two even more. There are sparks here for sure but, as with Keaton and Pfieffer’s portrayal, their infatuation is hatched only via professional and class rivalry. You have to love the moment when, after one daring joint-escape, Batman looks away from her for a second whilst giving her some free advice and then, when he glances back, she’s vanished. “Hmm … so that’s what that feels like,” he grumbles playfully, enjoying the fact that his own tricks of the trade have finally been learned by someone that he can admire.
Hathaway does exceptionally well in the combat stakes too … or, at least, her stunt-double does. High kicks and serrated silver stilettos make for a deadly combination. “Nice shoes. Do they make it tough to walk?” one fool asks just before she rams her point home with eye-popping severity. “I don’t know. Do they?” she pouts back as he wheezes to the floor. And then there’s the cop who tries to intercept her at the airport. Look at her savage expression as she slams a fist through the hat he has idiotically held for her. And let’s be honest, the Bat looks cool sitting astride the Batpod … but she looks better.
“You’re a detective. You’re not allowed to believe in coincidences.”
The other considerable new character on the scene is GPD officer John Blake. You don’t need me to tell you about the speculation that this resourceful guy played brilliantly by Joseph Gordon-Levitt (another holdover, like Hardy and Cotillard, from Inception) has incurred. Well, I’m not going to say too much here, but Gordon-Levitt is certainly portraying someone who could have gone very badly wrong, or just been deemed as utterly unnecessary except as a bit of youth-marketing. However, and against the odds, he is excellent, holding the screen with charisma and depth and a character whose development throughout the story is something that we are keen to keep up with. An early chat with the decrepit Bruce Wayne that reveals some poignant similarities that they both share wonderfully establishes something that doesn’t need to be spoken aloud, but that resonates deeply inside you. There was something akin to this moment in TDK when Bruce realised, over dinner with Harvey Dent and Rachel, that he had probably found the right man to pass the baton on to. And he does well with his scenes with the orphan kids, scenes that are considerably less mawkish with him at the helm. Having this “orphan element” play such an emphasised role in the narrative could have easily gone the wrong way, and crossed over quite painfully into smothering treacle. But this is actually a beautifully constructed payoff to Bruce Wayne’s own “rise” to emotional and psychological truth. He has little to do with these urchins – that’s what JGL’s earnest young protégé is for – but this thread is figuratively connected to the whole ethos of salvation from tragedy. All they need is a chance, some guidance and a direction. Blake’s embittered insistence about getting them on the bus when it seems as though Gotham is about to be blown all the way to the Moon is a stark reminder that there is always hope. That he rebuts the priest, himself, with this fact is a parallel to Bruce’s own forceful sidestepping of accepted authority and regimented, failure-cracked codes of practice.
I think special kudos should go to the Nolan boys and to Gordon-Levitt for making this character work so well.
Marion Cotillard flits in and out, but she does so with grace until things get decidedly nasty towards the end-game, and the regulars decorate the frame with their usual yin and yang of advice for their battered saviour. With Gary Oldman given some decent heroics for his Commissioner Gordon to unleash, rallying the troops and vaguely reprising his hell-for-leather ticking-clock rush from BB, it is amusing that his best moment occurs whilst he lies stricken in a hospital bed. As he watches the sudden return of the Dark Knight on a TV news broadcast, in a roaring Batpod pursuit of Bane and his motorcycle goons, he gives a fantastic little wry smirk as he realises just what the Bat’s tactics really are. I don’t like the way that his family just happen to have left town for a while. Obviously, it would have added too much familiar concern during the latter half of the film to their dilemma at the end of the last one. I still think it’s a bit too convenient, though. Morgan Freeman really just rehashes his Q-like propensity for supplying ace new equipment, but that voice and ever-cheeky gleam in his eyes are so darn reassuring that you can forgive Lucius Fox’s rather perfunctory button-pushing role in the ensuing drama. “And yes, Mr. Wayne. It does come in black,” he says of the freshly unveiled Bat-craft in one of quite a few confidence-boosting little quotes that this otherwise doom-laden tale has to offer. “You remember where you parked it?” he enquires later, breaking the ice of a very fragile and grave situation.
On the sidelines, we have Matthew Modine appearing as the typically oafish, GPD rulebook-stickler, Lt. Foley, and even William Devane making a guest appearance as a worried President. And it is great to see Tom Conti cropping up in what turns out to be a pivotal subterranean role, and you can bet that, had it been possible, the irreplaceable Pete Postlethwaite would have played his grizzled mate with the foreign words of sage-like advice, and the glassy eye of foresight. And then there’s some bureaucratic sick-trick campaigning from Ben Mendelsohn’s duplicitous Wayne Enterprises board member, Daggett. His breathless exposition about the mythical Clean-Slate that Selina so craves to erase her identity always makes me think of Sheldon Cooper (played by the genius that is Jim Parsons) in The Big Bang Theory, so vowel-huggingly smarmy does it sound. He’s a hopelessly likeable scenery-chewer, though. I love it when he confronts Bane about what he perceives to be a failing plan, and strides up to the ogre with a doomed demand of “WHAT … THE … HELL … IS … GOING ON?”You actually cringe because you know he’s just belligerently committed the equivalent of stepping on a landmine. Only a landmine would probably provide a quicker and less painful way to go.
You ever dance with the Devil in the pale moonlight?
Hans Zimmer maintains that anvil-strong gauntlet around Bale’s Bat with another bludgeoning freight-train of a score that is, perhaps, the best of the three that he has supplied. Wisely he keeps the same themes as before, bending them with some slight variations here and there, softening elements into a ghostly pale and fragile reflection of their former selves, but also using them with magnificent strength and power in all the right places to enflame the adrenaline. The strings sear the soul with that tragic rendition of the Batman’s theme, painting pain and loss large upon the canvas, but this is a score that is more musically bruising than soothing. The film’s soundmix is unbelievably guttural, and this really accentuates his hefty blending of pounding percussion and bass. He created a hugely unusual but wildly effective whining scream for the Joker last time around, but here he has someone far more devastating to compose for. His new theme for Bane is an alarming, rib-crushing, rhythm of density and fury that drives and drives and drives and just doesn’t seem to pause for breath, churning up the atmosphere like some relentless drilling machine boring through a dozen tectonic plates at once. It is simple – as are virtually all of his themes – and nigh-on unstoppable. I particularly love the latter parts of this Force 12 mission statement, in which brass flurries bleat out like the ear-walloping passage of a speeding train howling down a tunnel, the performers then beating upon their own instruments under Zimmer’s maniacal call-to-arms, and then that irresistible human chanting rises. He had millions of people around the world lend their tonsils to help create this by sending him their online vocal recordings so, who knows, maybe you’ve helped to give Bane a little bit of impetus, yourself.
I have provided a full review of Zimmer’s score elsewhere on the site.
We’ve had the War on Terror allegory, and now we get the class struggle. Scenes of armed men storming down the city streets and hauling the well-heeled from their luxurious slumber definitely evoke imagery of the savage uprisings witnessed around the globe, uprisings that have toppled dictators and hurled mass defiance at the worsening economical plight of the so-called civilised world. Shades of the Greeks taking to the streets to rebel against austerity measures, and even our own summer riots of 2011 inveigle their way into the vision of Gotham being violently wrenched from its cosy stupor. Nolan once again grabs hold of something tangible and recognisable to help weave his story through the minds of more than just geeks. And this is why this trilogy has been so damn successful. Batman as metaphor, as crusader, as champion, as martyr. “I can be those things,” he says because, in a topsy-turvy world that allows the banks and the big corporations to fleece us, rip us off and then make us pay for their catastrophic blunders, the only thing they can’t touch, tax or take away from us are our heroes. And isn’t the beautiful irony of it all, here, that Bruce Wayne is a billionaire who loses everything but the shirt of his back?
As with the first two films, there is lot going on under the hood, though this time out, there is a straining for effect that lessens the impact in some quarters.
I think we are asked to believe far too much come the occupation of Gotham. I will detail more of this when I return to the review, but the length of time that this situation is supposed to take has clearly been engineered in order to make Batman’s healing process more realistic. However, it stretches credulity too far back on the home front. Plus, this is where the film is forced to tone things down. The streets are overrun with murderers, rapists, thugs, mercs and Bane, himself, and kangaroo courts have been set up (Well hello, Dr. Crane – and thank you for making the most pointless and wasted cameo of all) to punish the wealthy and the upper classes, but we see precious little of the actual chaos and anarchy that we all know would be rife. What about the Narrows? And Arkham Asylum? Obviously Chris Nolan is not going to show us the reality of such a scenario, but the very fact that this situation has been created in the first place shows a remarkable leap of faith in the screenplay’s ability to have us suspend our disbelief.
And even if the legacy of Harvey Dent is liberally sprinkled like cat, or Batnip over the story, it seems utterly inconceivable that the Joker would not get a mention or two. It is down to the split-faced clown prince of crime that the crusading Dent fell so badly, and his antics that drove Batman into exile. I appreciate that neither the Nolans nor Goyer wanted to “go there” with the tragic demise of Heath Ledger, but this leaves a huge gaping purple and green elephant in the corner that really shouldn’t be ignored.
“Speak of the Devil … and he shall appear.”
Characters also have an uncanny knack for zapping themselves around the globe with Time Lord-like ease, and one rather essential trip that the main man makes is actually eye-rollingly corny. The eviction of Alfred at the halfway mark is daft one. Where does he go during the occupation of Gotham? His shunting-aside neither makes sense to the plot, when he has been so integral a player in the endless chess game going on in the first two movies, nor to the emotional crux of Bruce’s dilemma. He’s just written-out because it was too damned awkward to apply him to the story. Again, when things have been so brilliantly constructed in the previous film, like an infernal jigsaw, this screenwriting convenience is akin to a two-year-old sitting on a few of the most crucial pieces. Plus, we have a location that is termed as a hell-hole, and is very frighteningly introduced, but when we actually get to see it, we discover that it really isn’t that bad after all, and that the “hope” that is supposed to serve as a sweet agony to those thrown down there and cannot reach it is the most shining intoxicant they could ever wish for. Once again, this smacks of the film watering things down quite considerably, and even paints Bane as being a bit of an idiot with regards to his grand scheming. If he’d really done his homework on Bruce Wayne, he’d know that throwing him down what amounts to a big version of that well he had tumbled into as a child would be all the impetus he’d need to rise again with renewed purpose.
The intricacy and scalpel-sharp neatness of TDK is missing, given over to a more furious, but somehow more jumbled sledgehammer approach. Many ideas and themes collide. Some are crushed in the ensuing maelstrom, but the most memorable, the most important ones gain a foothold and claw their way, like the re-forged Bruce Wayne, up into the sunlight.
So, with its astonishing cavalcade of stunts, battles, chases, twists and revelations, The Dark Knight Rises is a wonderful enough experience to eclipse almost all of these problems. I loved it enough to gorge myself upon it, theatrically, and I have already seen a few times now on Blu.
Bale’s Batman is doing the rounds of Gotham City one last time, and it’s a rollicking hard ride.
He’s retiring bruised and bloody, but he’s retiring in considerably heroic style.
I will repeat the Footnote that I left previously:
When I first saw the film, I left the cinema invigorated and enthralled by The Dark Knight Rises. A tad disappointed with some aspects of it but, on the whole, uplifted and optimistic about how Nolan had handled such a complex character and placed him, over the course of three monolithic movies, within a mirror of real-life strife, corporate corruption and urban danger with as much gritty authenticity as we have seen in a superhero film. Almost immediately I was greeted by the news that a madman had gone into a cinema in Colorado and opened-fire on an audience viewing his long-awaited movie, killing twelve people and wounding fifty others.
Oh, god, you know … ahhh, what can you say … there is no sense and there is no reason. That could have been any of us, just sitting there, all excited about watching a movie. And then ... it is this sort of random act of violence that Nolan’s depiction of Batman rallied against with such vigour. A valedictory statement of righteous justice wrapped up in the escapism of film. I said in my first review for Batman Begins that this was a Batman that could, and should exist. He would not have been able to have stopped this, but a true figurehead to put the fear back into those who prey upon the fearful is definitely needed in this world.
Perhaps now more than ever.
The Dark Knight Rises was a global phenomenon that was only trumped by the Marvel’s more easygoing and escapist ensemble-spin for The Avengers, the audacious return of James Bond in Skyfall, and the bad taste that was left in the mouth after those appalling shootings that took place in Denver. But this takes nothing away from what is the sensational climax of one of the greatest trilogies ever made, and certainly the best superhero/crime saga to have been produced.
A flawed but fabulous finale.
Our Review Ethos
To comment on what you've read here, click the Discussion tab and post a reply.