(First published 11th August 2012)
Arguably one of 2012’s most highly anticipated films, The Dark Knight Rises finally hits cinema screens to conclude Nolan’s extremely successful Batman trilogy. How does it fare against its notorious predecessors in a world where bigger is no longer necessarily better, but merely the norm?
We return to Gotham city, the gloomy metropolis having enjoyed eight years of peacetime thanks to the incarceration of one thousand criminals and the self-exile of Batman, who assumed the blame for Dent’s murder. Coincidentally, Bruce Wayne has also scarpered and become a skinny, gingery, goatee-wielding recluse, his vast manor covered in dust sheets as he sulks in one of its wings. The two halves compose one man who must remain in the shadows, retired, with no appreciation for his previous services to society. The residents of Gotham remain blissfully unaware of the lies surrounding Dent, but luckily for them, as Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) very sultrily points out, a storm is brewing. This storm arrives – as if on cue – in the form of maniac Bane (Tom Hardy), a whirlwind of brute strength and terror.
In the lead up to its release, I heard various concerns on the grapevine that The Dark Knight Rises could never surpass its cinematic big brother, The Dark Knight, largely due to the absence of Ledger as The Joker. Personally, I feel that these worries are irrelevant, almost as though Nolan’s success and reputation holds the unfair potential for his downfall. I asked a few friends to compare the two films, urging them to elaborate as to whether or not the most recent could be considered better. Most people immediately gushed that The Dark Knight Rises is amazing and brilliant, but when drawing a comparison, they responded with a mere shrug and simply stated, “It’s different.”
Naturally, the world misses Ledger, but can the same be said for the franchise? His award-winning performance in The Dark Knight will go down in history, but that’s not to say that The Dark Knight Rises is in any way lacking. Hardy steps in as baddie Bane, whose stage presence rivals that of any computer-generated beast, his sheer size and stature commanding each frame. My only qualm was that I often found his menacing dialogue difficult to hear, subtly trying to turn one ear to the screen in a “What’s that dearie?” fashion – this was largely ineffectual, and I am still trying to work out if my lovely but not particularly modern local cinema is to blame, or perhaps the overpowering score. Anne Hathaway also shines as catburglar Selina Kyle; I have often held her in low regard, believing her to somehow resemble the sound a cat makes when coughing up a furball, but in her creaking leather and razor-sharp heels, she has made me eat up every last morsel of insult I ever imposed upon her. Kyle’s various guises – including humble maid, sexy thief and terrified victim – prove just how versatile this actress is, with a slick transition between each. Furthermore, Oldman’s back as the loveable Chief Commissioner Gordon, along with Bat-veterans Michael Caine as Alfred and Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox. Alongside the golden oldies is newcomer to the trilogy, Joseph Gordon Levitt, who plays the young, hopeful and ambitious police officer, John Blake.
I must, however, make a small confession and reveal that two-thirds of the way through the film, I was feeling – as blasphemous as it sounds – underwhelmed. I was ready to condemn The Dark Knight Rises to the four-star bin (a very lovely bin, where some of my favourite films reside, but by no means as prestigious). I was beginning to fear that Nolan might not quite deliver a certain something, although what exactly this was I did not know.
Rob Gordon, downbeat record store owner played by John Cusack in the brilliant High Fidelity, famously said that he had been listening to his gut since he was fourteen years old, only for life’s lemons to prove that said gut had “shit for brains”. My gut, however, is evidently a bit smarter. If it senses an outstanding film, it responds cleverly by twisting itself into a series of small knots, almost as though such contortion is a reflex to brilliance. So there I sat waiting for that beautifully uneasy marriage of adrenaline and tummy spasms, fearing all the time that it would never come. But lo and behold! It did. I refuse to include within this review any spoilers, but let me at least offer the comforting reassurance that, as you sit in the darkness of the cinema, twiddling your thumbs at the two-thirds mark (cinema’s equivalent of the seven-year-itch), you will eventually be rewarded; Nolan demands both your trust and patience, and in return you will be lavished with twists galore – both in terms of narrative and innards.
The Dark Knight Rises is by no means a perfect film, although this may be partly due to the fact that it is a victim of my cynicism, which deems nothing to be perfect. My aforementioned gut was perhaps late to kick into gear, but there is no denial that the CGI is impressive throughout, such as the imploding football stadium and the aerial shots of Gotham crumbling. But crumble the film itself does not, for it instead goes from strength to strength. As the plot develops and the character base widens whilst Bale takes a slight step back, The Dark Knight Rises taps into all of the insecurities of modern day metropolitan living. The intense chant that acts as the angry heartbeat to the film gloriously reflects the desperation of its characters and the doomed fate of the city.
I went into the cinema with the intention to remain firmly stubborn to the hype, the contrary young thing that I am, but this seems to be something that few people managed to do. Instead, I was almost completely swept away by Bat-mania. I therefore award the full five stars, all golden and pretty if not a little tarnished.
(A slightly hesitant five stars)