Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Dark Knight Rises (Film Review)

As with most trilogies Dark Knight Rises isn’t the best of the lot. It does an admirable job at concluding past events, is a very fun film to see and lacks idiotic undermining moments like “I won’t kill you, but I don’t have to save you.” It’s bigger, louder, more intense, but the same time you know it’s falling short of its full potential for a few reasons.
If you’ve not been keeping up with the trailers - Bruce Wayne retired his cowl eight years ago after the events of The Dark Knight and Gordon has used Harvey Dent as a martyr to enforce draconian policies to clean up the streets. This is changed when the terrorist Bane launches his assault upon the city with plans to disrupt the positions of power within the city and is specifically targeting Wayne Enterprises. Bruce is forced to once again don his armour and rise as the dark knight to confront him and protect Gotham.
I’ll get its weaknesses out of the way first. The obvious flaws come from the film’s structure and its villains. After the traditional midpoint reversal, the film ends up effectively repeating itself. We see Bruce rise up and become Batman twice and in spite of how well handled it is you can’t help but think that rather than having the film repeat itself it could have fleshed out otherwise overlooked aspects of its tale. Like when Gotham is turned into an anarchistic equalist state due to the manipulations and charismatic speeches of Bane.
Speaking of Bane, he’s a good villain overall. In spite of sounding like Sean Connery using a Transylvanian accent while auditioning for Darth Vader, Tom Hardy manages to pull off the part and remain both interesting and threatening. The film would have been fine if they just stuck to him, but a second person was added who really drags the film down. I won’t reveal who it is but they’re obviously a villain long before they’re revealed to be one, only emerge properly in the last five minutes and their role effectively amounts to simple fan service. To anyone who has not read the comics or watched the 90s cartoon their inclusion will feel like a badly implemented last second plot twist.
The biggest flaw though is that the film doesn’t seem to know quite what it wants to say. We do get some general stuff covering class conflict, revolution and the oppressed mobs, but that only comes into play during the final act. In The Dark Knight we had constant questions of anarchy, free will and the mystery behind the Joker driving it forwards. Here it seems it’s trying to cover certain themes but lacks the direction, focus and planning of the previous film.
Now this, aside from the complete lack of mention of the Joker hanging over the whole film, makes up its only bad elements. None of them are crippling nor do they ever manage to tip the scales from “good but with a couple of shortcomings” to well, something on par with Batman and Robin.
All of the characters present within the film are treated with a great amount of respect and handled extremely well, getting all the moments they deserve and with each of the actors putting their a-game into playing them. Even those who disappear for most of the film still get plenty of great scenes; with Michael Caine getting one of the best in the entire film despite only appearing in the first half. Or to give another example of how big an improvement there’s been – Christian Bale actually seems to have some varied emotion as Bruce and his Batman voice actually sounds intelligible. Well, intelligible enough to deliver his lines with some actual power rather than deflating any impact they might have.
What’s more is that Nolan has definitely continued to improve when it comes to fight cinematography. A long time criticism was always that he tended to have things fall to pieces in close range melees or action set pieces with people teleporting around the place or aspects disappearing. The real highlight of the engagements has to be the vehicles though, with the film making full use of the Bat(wing) which has been in the trailers. There are some impressive escapes, vehicle engagements and sequences with the aircraft which all show the film’s budget and bring a whole new level to the conflict. No pun intended.
The build-up towards these fights is the best in the trilogy, with the continued loss of control over the city and how Bane sets himself up as a non-leader while forcing Gotham to turn in upon itself. It’s never as psychological as the Joker’s plots, though it does contain hints of that thinking, but it feels satisfyingly bleak. Creating a massive sense of crime dominating society which even the mobs never quite had. It creates a much more palpable sense of what Batman is fighting against than the last two films.
Finally, perhaps the thing most worthy of praise is the ending. It’s definitely not what you’d expect, and some have claimed it to be a cop-out, but the last few minutes give the most closure to Bruce Wayne’s tale than any other medium over the years. Rather than showing him continuing superheroing about, it is a conclusion to his life as Batman.
Despite its problems The Dark Knight is a very good film and you should definitely see it while it’s in the cinema. It is the ending to a trilogy and as such you should watch the previous films to avoid bring caught out by continuity. At the same time though you can probably watch it without marathoning through them directly prior to entering the cinema.

Actually there is one small note to make after this. The teaser trailer for Man of Steel was shown almost directly before Dark Knight Rises. If you’ve not seen it yet you’re not missing much. You get only a couple of seconds of actual superpowers on display, and the most exciting part was where a friend and I went the first forty seconds thinking it was a teaser for a Aquaman film.

Dark Knight Rises and all related characters and media are owned by DC comics and Warner Bros.

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