Are there any movie sites not reviewing this today? I know Fridays are meant to be for the kids here at 5-Word, but this is rated 12A so that technically makes it a kids’ film. All kids’ films should be this good.
This is how it’s done.
It has been eight years since Batman took the blame for Harvey Dent’s killings and rode off into the night. In that time, Dent has been almost deified by Gotham City. Legislation enacted in his name has all but wiped out organised crime in the city, and Commissioner Gordon honours his memory through gritted teeth. Bruce Wayne is now living a hermit’s existence, roaming the emptiness of his rebuilt mansion in solitude even while fundraising parties go on down the hall. Into this Brave New World comes Bane; a hulking brute of a man whose size and ruthlessness are matched by his intelligence. Gotham needs its protector like never before, but is The Bat man enough to overcome this threat?
Christopher Nolan has accomplished something remarkable: a successful, coherent, comic-book-movie trilogy. Three films telling the story of a man, with a beginning, a middle and an end. These are not just a series of flicks with the same characters, where everything is reset each time and the story is retold over and over. These films have consequences. Throughlines. Despite all statements to the contrary, I would not be surprised if Nolan and his writing collaborators Jonah Nolan and David S. Goyer had this whole thing mapped out from the very start.
Batman Begins was about a man searching for personal vengeance and instead finding his mission as the guardian of a city facing a force that saw only irredeemable greed and corruption and wanted to tear everything down in order to start again. The Dark Knight was about that same man fighting two mirror-images of himself. First there was Batman’s opposite, The Joker: a man who just wanted “to watch the world burn”. An agent of chaos desperate to show the people of Gotham that, deep down in those places they don’t like to talk about at dinner parties, they were all just like him. Then there was the flip-side of Bruce Wayne, Harvey Dent. Harvey – after the accident of course – represented what Bruce could have been had Rachel not been there to literally slap some sense into him when he tried to directly avenge his parents. The irony is crippling, isn’t it? The Dark Knight Rises brings the thematic underpinnings of both previous films and moulds them together into a truly fulfilling climax.
The cast is once again led by Christian Bale as the retired Bruce Wayne. All the time he has spent in The Suit has taken its toll on his body; when the film begins he is hobbling through Wayne Manor in his pyjamas, with a cane to keep him upright. This is the real Bruce, not the billionaire playboy mask he wore before. Into his solitary world comes one Selina Kyle, whose seemingly innocuous safe-cracking proves to be the first step in Bruce’s return to the Batcave. Anne Hathaway plays Kyle – noticeably never referred to as Catwoman – as a quick-witted and pragmatic master thief. Just like everyone else in Nolan’s world, there is nothing mystical about her. She’s not the reincarnation of an ancient Egyptian cat god or any of that nonsense, nor are there the constant kitty-flavoured puns of the Pfeiffer days. As for the suit, well, let’s say form follows function. The black spandex blends in to the shadows; the pointy ears are her folded up night-vision goggles; even her sharpened-steel stiletto heels are in fact defensive weapons (I’d rather get a roundhouse kick from Chuck Norris). The fact that she’s the sexiest Catwoman since Lee Meriwether is just a wonderful bonus. The Bat and the Cat will always have an instant attraction, but is this Selina on the side of the angels or the devils?
Bruce isn’t the only one feeling the strain though. Jim Gordon is still the Police Commissioner but he’s a wartime general in an age of peace, and that redundancy is soon to be official. Unable to live the lie of honouring the man who almost murdered her child, Mrs Gordon has taken the kids and left Jim behind, leaving him with only the job that is fast slipping through his fingers. The job of Commissioner has left him bored, and the loss of his family has made him reckless. Add the two together and you get a Chief of Police leading a footchase after a fleeing armed robber down a manhole into the sewers. Never a good idea. Gordon’s presumptive successor to the top spot is Deputy Commissioner Foley, played by Matthew Modine. He appears as an officious prick with a hint of cowardice in the way he seems to hide behind bluster when in pursuit of the “dangerous vigilante killer” Batman. As with everyone in Gotham though, his story isn’t quite as clear-cut as that.
The other main police presence in the film is Officer John Blake, a new character created for the film played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. A smart and courageous but hot-headed rookie, he becomes Gordon’s right hand man when everything starts going tits-up. He’s an interesting character. An orphan raised in foster care and boys homes, he represents another mirror of Bruce. If the Wayne family had been poor, Bruce could very likely have turned out a lot like Blake. Gordon-Levitt brings a similar sensibility to Blake as he did to Arthur in Inception: all business when the chips are down, but with a seam of dry humour. The Inception reunion continues with Marion Cotillard and of course Tom Hardy. Cotillard is Miranda Tate, a Wayne Enterprises board member and potential love interest for Bruce once he manages to leave the house. But it is Tom Hardy that all the attention will be on.
Bane. Those of you who only know Bane as the monosyllabic, wrestling-masked henchman from 1997’s Batman And Robin are going to be in for a surprise. This version hews much closer to the source material, where Bane has an intellect that rivals if not exceeds Bruce Wayne’s, and a physicality to leave Batman broken on the floor. Hardy reportedly put on 30lbs of muscle for the role, bulking up even more than he did for Nicolas Winding Refn’s Bronson. It is a powerful performance made even more impressive by the fact that the lower half of his face is entirely covered for the entire film. He wears a mask that gives him the look of a pissed-off chimpanzee, supposedly to ensure constant delivery of a gaseous anaesthetic to manage the constant, crippling pain from an old injury. The mask also gives his voice an otherworldly rumble. When the first trailer was released earlier this year, a lot of people had problems making out what he was saying. Maybe the sound mix has been tweaked just enough since then, but I had no trouble with his dialogue. Personally I think his voice sounds great. The accent and intonation conveys Bane’s smarts quickly and easily, and when you add the metallic rasp to the visual of this massive man, it’s an unsettling combination. As handicapped as he is, Hardy has to do so much more with his eyes and body language to sell the idea of a man whose followers would die with a smile on their faces if he so ordered it, and he rises to the occasion admirably. If you didn’t already know, you would probably never recognise him from the wiry, young actor making his big screen debut ten years ago.
At two and three-quarter hours, it is almost 15 minutes longer than its predecessor but The Dark Knight Rises has plenty happening to fill that running time. It feels satisfyingly long as opposed to bloated. The story moves along so relentlessly that I didn’t even mind the ever-growing strain on my bladder towards the last half hour or so. There are some scenes in the last act particularly where not much seems to be happening, but these serve as a bit of a breather. All good crime thrillers need those character beats before the final shootout. Without them all you have is a parade of money shots with no context. And just to reiterate a point from almost every piece written about Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, these are crime thrillers first, comic book movies second. At least it starts out that way, but at the half-way point you will realise that this isn’t about crime anymore, it is about a war.
This film deserves to be seen on the biggest, loudest screen you can find. Where other filmmakers are scrambling to get into digital and 3D, Nolan and his constant director of photography Wally Pfister continue to use film, both 35mm and IMAX. Over an hour of The Dark Knight Rises has been shot on the large-scale format compared to about half that for The Dark Knight, and it is truly cinematic. But I know what you’re wondering: how does he top the flipping truck? Well, you could argue that he doesn’t even try. There isn’t really a single, iconic stunt/special effect to match that. In its place though, Nolan gives us the spine-tingling image glimpsed in the trailer of thousands of uniformed police charging Bane’s heavily-armed troops through the centre of the city. In that moment, this truly becomes a war movie. It is a thrilling spectacle.
Although it may seem like I thought otherwise, the film is not perfect. There are a surprising number of plot turns and contrivances that don’t necessarily stand up to too much close scrutiny, for example. Going into any detail would be a bit too spoilery for an opening day review so I’ll leave it at that for now, but I might go into these again later, maybe when the Blu-Ray comes out.
So what’s next? Christopher Nolan has said this was his last trip to Gotham, but he said something similar to that four years ago. Christian Bale is adamant he will not be playing Batman again. There is no way Warners and DC will be retiring this number though, especially with the recently announced Justice League movie possibly due in 2014. Batman was always a key member of the Justice League, but to reboot the character again so soon after what has been accomplished with this trilogy would be a disrespect bordering on sacrilege.