Friday, 20 July 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

12, 2012, Directed by Christopher Nolan
Starring: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Gary Oldman

When Christopher Nolan unveiled his incarnation of the caped crusader upon the unsuspecting world in 2005’s Batman Begins, it is doubtful that anybody – let’s craftily include Warner Bros in that – anticipated the extent to which Nolan’s talents would enthral the globe. The Dark Knight followed in 2008, resetting the precedent to a seemingly-insurmountable height (not solely due to the late Heath Ledger’s unforgettable Academy Award-winning turn as The Joker); and now The Dark Knight Rises, the final part of Nolan’s ‘planned’ trilogy of Batman films, providing closure on an epic scale to a series of films, that has already edged its way into the history books (record-breaking sales for the BFI Imax – days before release.) It may be easy to assume that this is going to be a showstopper...but the question remains, is it much cop?

Four words: Of course it is.

The beauty of the trilogy is that these have not merely been Batman films, but Chris Nolan films, a true filmmaker in the purest sense. This guy, in an industry progressively growing more obsessed with 3D, refreshingly sets out to craft standalone flicks as they were always meant to be seen. Not to say The Dark Knight Rises stands on its own two feet, mind; if Begins was the prologue that moulded Bruce Wayne into more than just a billionaire playboy that dons a batsuit, but something the past entries in the sparse Bat universe have somewhat lacked: a character, then The Dark Knight took Wayne’s ideals and, through The Joker, pushed them to the very edge of what he believed in most. This means Rises is the (164 minute) epilogue, profiling the conclusion to Bruce Wayne’s story, concluding where the previous left off but coming full circle also to tie up loose ends you never imagined required tying.

From the offset, the feeling of finality feels imminent with every new scene. This is helped largely, perhaps, by the big bad at the centre of the piece: Bane. Churning out dialogue behind a horrifying-looking mask that only Nolan would be brave enough to put on a central villain in the most anticipated film of the year, Tom Hardy does all that is needed using his voice over expression. Yes, it might be difficult to hear what he’s bleedin’ saying sometimes, but you can tell from the reactions of peripheral characters that it probably isn’t nice. And all the more reason for a re-watch, to catch what you might not have heard before. An element depicted to near-perfection here is the overwhelming danger surrounding Bruce Wayne; it is staggeringly difficult to recall the last film witnessed where you truly fear for the hero’s safety as unrelentingly as you do here. Bane is a monster, a monster that wants – and probably could – break the Batman. Here, an unstoppable force seriously does meet an immovable object.

Welcome returns from Michael Caine's loyal and emotionally-invested butler Alfred providing much of the film’s (at times) overwhelming emotion, an enlarged role for Morgan Freeman's Lucius Fox (handed one of the film's best lines), not to mention Gary Oldman’s Commissioner Gordon, haunted by the lie he covered up to protect the name of Harvey Dent. But of the mix-bag of new characters introduced, the standout - and surprisingly, yet savvily most underused - is awarded to Anne Hathaway’s Selina Kyle. Crucially never once referred to as Catwoman, she is - as you’d expect from Nolan’s Gotham - grounded with a form of rationality, a feisty, charismatic thief who sets the screen alight and successfully saves the comic tone for when it is needed. But be under no allusion - this film is dark. Mention to Nolan-alumni Joseph Gordon-Levitt (as good, young cop John Blake) and Marion Cotillard (love and business interest, Miranda Tate) who both slot into proceedings well, regardless of fear of one too many new characters being introduced. These characters, at times, both aid Bruce in reminding him what his father taught him: why do we fall?

'So we can learn to pick ourselves up’. Or, in other words, Rise.

And when Bale’s Dark Knight Rises, he soars. The action is ramped up, with Nolan further proving he can shoot an on-location fistfight between a thousand extras as fluidly as he can shoot a conversation between two - without losing momentum, either. It is the merging of these two elements that have shaped these series of films into the phenomenon they are, with every viewer hanging on every word the brothers Nolan put into their script, co-written with David S. Goyer; Rises is an episode fans have been waiting on for four years.

When all is said and done, the trilogy's conclusion must sadly draw to its inevitable close before outstaying its welcome. Once the film's visually emotive and resonant final climax transpires in an ending (kind of) not dissimilar to that of Inception, with Hans Zimmer’s two-note Batman motif bursting from the speakers consequently leaving all hairs on the back of your neck on end – only then will it hit you with the force of Bane’s fist: Nolan has not only reinvented a franchise, but a genre – and with it, crafted what will endure as the defining trilogy of our generation.