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The Dark Knight Rises

August 3, 2012
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By a wide margin, this has been the film I have most been looking forward to this year. It’s not just me – the Internet reactions to the early reviews of the film demonstrate the strength of the fervour of collective anticipation. For my part, every time I saw the trailer, I wept.

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The Dark Knight Rises is the third Batman film by Christopher Nolan, thus completing the trilogy that started with Batman Begins and continued with The Dark Knight. Harvey Dent/Twoface’s death at the end of the last film has been used to pass legislature allowing the police to crack down hard on crime in Gotham. As such, as well as being held responsible for Dent’s death, there is no longer a need for the Batman (Christian Bale). In the same period, Bruce Wayne has become a recluse, grieving the loss of assistant DA and childhood friend, Rachel Dawes. This is one of those coincidences that Gotham never seems to pick up on.

However, this does not last. Wayne is drawn out of hiding by the failing fortunes of Wayne Enterprises, while, around the same time, Batman returns following an attack on the stock exchange by Bane (Tom Hardy). Bane is an eloquent, masked tank of a man. He is the spiritual successor to Ra’s al Ghul and the League of Shadows from Batman Begins. Ra’s, and now Bane, marked Gotham for destruction due to its excess and corruption.

After tracking him back to his base, Batman tries to take Bane down but he proves too strong and breaks Batman’s spine. He then transports the lame Bruce Wayne to a gulag and forces him to watch as Bane tears Gotham down. With a neutron bomb adapted from a Wayne Enterprises fusion reactor, he threatens/persuades/convinces Gotham to redress the social order and embrace anarcho-libertarianism. Lots of explosions. Watching all this, Batman goes into training to free himself from the prison and rescue Gotham. Back in the city, Commissioner Gordon and a young detective called Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) organise an underground resistance, focusing on tracking down the bomb (which Bane has kept mobile on one of three lead-lined trucks). Needless to say, Batman returns and the mass of trouble that had been bubbling away until this point boils over.

The entire film has an overriding sense of resolution, answering the unbidden question, “Why is this Nolan’s last Batman film if he’s so good at them,” and also drawing together the ideas and plots from Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. However, this is done rather crudely in my opinion. The plot is essentially the same as Batman Begins but without the origin story. Also, Bane is far more successful than Ra’s al Ghul. Furthermore, one glaring omission is any mention of The Joker in the film. For obvious reasons, I wasn’t expecting any on-screen cameos but considering the havoc he caused, and how much he would enjoy the anarchy Bane generates, his absence struck me as odd. I was also a bit disappointed that the climax could be reduced to ‘stop the bomb!’

Where have I seen that before?

There is little left to be said on the acting in a trilogy’s final installment. All the returning cast members give performances no better and no worse than in previous films. Sadly, despite my fondness for Commissioner Gordon, Gary Oldman will continue to be denied the Oscar he so rightly deserves. I can comment however on the performances of Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Anne Hathaway as Catwoman. Despite having the physical presence of a brick shit-house, the most impressive thing about Tom Hardy’s Bane is his libertarian eloquence. There are shades of the Occupy movement and the 99% in his rhetoric. Anne Hathaway slinks around perfectly as Catwoman, combining class, charm and cunning. She also conforms to the role by dressing in an obscenely skintight neoprene catsuit. Gordon-Levitt, who I think I last saw in 10 Things I Hate About You, gives a surprisingly strong performance as the good guy while Batman and Gordon are otherwise engaged. Unlike the billionaire playboy, he’s much more of an everyman. Accessible. Unusual in a Batman film but reminiscent of Gordon in Batman Begins – minus the enviable moustache.

While this is a very good film, I can’t bring myself to adore it. It seems strangely out of focus to me. In one eye, you have the resolution of Batman’s personal narrative, but in the other eye, you have the macrocosmic destruction of Gotham. The result leaves the film looking cross-eyed. Each is drawn with broad brushstrokes, missing out on the subtler detail. For example, after Bane ‘returns Gotham to the people’ there is some initial looting and rioting but for the rest of the film, Gotham seems eerily quiet. Ordinary Gothamites are nowhere to be seen, with the exception of a few cameos by Cillian Murphy as Dr Jonathan Crane/Scarecrow.

Within just one week of its release, The Dark Knight Rises had made the news for all the wrong reasons (i.e. all reasons not about the film). Obviously there was the tragic shooting in Denver, Colorado, but before that, there was the firestorm in response to early reviews of the film. The collective anticipation for this film was so high, it had transcended cult status before it was even released. Fans were so expectant of a perfect messianic Batman film that anything less than hagiography would be seen as blasphemy. Yet, with the depth of fervour only seen in high religion and new Apple products, The Dark Knight Rises could never hope to live up to expectations. They were simply too damn high.

Lastly, an interesting comparison can be drawn between this film and Batman: Arkham City, the video game, since both deal with corruption in Gotham, both political and criminal. One involves anarchy and a neutron bomb, the other involves dumping all of Gotham’s criminals in a prison enclave and bombing the shit out of them. With the greater time and detail available in a video game, I think Arkham City portrays the ramifications more fully. However, that portrays Batman as an absolute, if vulnerable, force of order and awesome. In contrast, The Dark Knight Rises shows a very human, very vulnerable Batman. They deal with the same broad plots in their own idiosyncratic ways, I guess.

In conclusion, while The Dark Knight Rises is a very good film, which I can heartily recommend as worth every penny of a cinema ticket, it is not quite the magnum opus finale to the Nolan trilogy that I (and so many others) so wanted it to be. It is not the Batman film we need but the Batman film we deserve.

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