Monday, 23 July 2012

Movies - The Dark Knight Rises review


Review Scoring Chart - 10: Masterpiece; 9: Outstanding; 8: Very Good; 7: Good; 6: Above Average; 5: Average; 4: Below Average; 3: Bad; 2: Awful; 1: Reprehensible; 0: Non- Functional.

Dir: Christopher Nolan
Stars: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard
Running Time: 164mins
In all the discussion surrounding the third entry of Christopher Nolan's Batman saga, little has been said about how the story was never planned as a trilogy to begin with. Dark Knight carried through only a handful of pieces from its predecessor, Batman Begins, and Nolan had to be convinced by the studio to return for a final bow. Rises often seems intent on tying up narrative threads never intended to be joined together, and might have been a stronger movie had it stuck to the (relatively) standalone format of the previous outing. It's a commendable technical achievement, recklessly ambitious and often thrilling, but bloated by an unnecessary desire to conclude a clunkily retrofitted story arc.

Those who go in anticipating the same pleasures offered by The Dark Knight, but on a greater scale, will at least emerge satisfied: where Begins and its sequel were distinct in their intentions and storytelling style, Rises has taken heed of Dark Knight's enormous success and emulates it at every turn. There's a villain taking over a city, a self-doubting hero, an under-siege tone (Begins indulged Batman's fantastic elements to a much greater extent) and a multi-layered narrative driven by a large cast. What Rises lacks, for all its grandstanding, is focus.
Nolan's Batman movies have never been especially concerned with the minutiae of their plot developments, preferring to go for moments of high impact even if they don't make a great deal of sense. (The Joker's ferry ultimatum in Knight is a good example). That's not a criticism, because no-one goes to any summer blockbuster looking for flawless coherence ahead of a strong sense of purpose and momentum: the absurdity of what is on show draws on the imagination more than a straight drama, allowing such shortcuts to be taken and ideas painted in broad strokes. Dark Knight's themes were scattershot (freedom vs security; the difference between an anarchist and a vigilante; whether a violent problem can ever be solved with a violent solution, etc) and never explored in great depth, but became compelling when hammered into the mind of each audience member through a series of powerhouse set-pieces.

Rises has the big moments, but is too unsure of its own intentions to create anything other than confusion: the Wall Street protests are an obvious point of reference, but never developed into anything more than a current affairs touchstone. Bane makes a point of becoming a leader for Gotham's impoverished citizenry, but there's no sign of anyone signing up to his regime bar the usual platoons of tearaways and escaped inmates, making at least one part of his plan to torture Bruce Wayne a failure. (On the other hand, since we now have to see these movies as a three-part story, had Bane managed to win over the 99%, he would have proven the point Joker was trying to make with the ferries in Dark Knight). Selina Kyle's motivations are linked to anger against the privileged few, although this is quickly revealed as a front to disguise her real fear of being stuck in a life of crime. Rises knows the topics it wants to raise, but draws a blank when it comes to asking any real questions.

The face-value narrative is similarly confused: the story is needlessly convoluted, drowning the first half of the movie in portentous, expository dialogue. Character motivations often seem contradictory, and a significant chunk of the near-three hour running time is superfluous, despite the plot consisting of little more than another round of 'Let's Blow Up Gotham'. The only twist will be worked out quickly by anyone paying attention, and revolves around a character who takes up a great deal of screentime despite doing next of nothing of any importance. The constant nods to continuity (comic or cinematic) further muddies the water, with disposable cameos by Liam Neeson and Cillian Murphy - the latter inexplicably shoehorned into a role which makes no sense for his character - and an ending divided between nonsensical fan-service revelations and false emotional beats.

Fortunately, the questionable material doesn't hold back the outstanding cast from bringing the full weight of their diverse talents to the table: Christian Bale's Bruce is as conflicted as ever, with the added anguish of forcing himself to push ever closer to physical and mental breakdown in hope of saving a city that has been a poisoned chalice his whole life. Commissioner Gordon shares a similar burden, and Gary Oldman grounds his character's conflict in the dignity and resolve of a man torn between doing wrong for the right reasons, but determined to put it right despite being way over his head.

Of the newcomers, Anne Hathaway manages to be as sexy and evasive as demanded by her leather catsuit, whilst channeling sincere pathos in moments of vulnerability. (A shame she has to share an excruciating 'Cat got your tongue' pun with that other, mangier Catwoman). Marion Cotillard's sultry charm gives a tantalising air of the unknown to wily businesswoman Miranda Tate, while Tom Hardy, working against a high-pitched garble of a voice, gives Bane's eyes a reptilian incisiveness that adds to the threat of his formidable body - as a more passive character, he lacks the hurricane destructiveness of Ledger's Joker, but his aura of unblinking ferocity gives Bale's Batman an appropriately intense final opponent. On the side of the allies, Joseph Gordon-Levitt's Blake is a one-note character, but his earnestness is a winning trait amidst the deepening gloom.

It's a shame such talented performers are not given more to work with, as their work is quickly overshadowed once the leaden drama gives way to a final hour of exhilarating action sequences, accompanied by another of catchy, bass-heavy Hans Zimmer score, a signature of Nolan's modern work. Transformers and The Avengers may have both revelled in tearing up their respective cities, as Bane does here, but cinematographer Wally Pfister creates a palpable sense of oppression and hopelessness as armoured military vehicles patrol Gotham's abandoned, snowy streets. The drumhead courts evoke the calamitous outcome of the French Revolution, giving the movie the distinctive perspective on the dangers of popular rule that the writing struggles to uncover. An excursion to the Middle-East has little storytelling or thematic value (and concludes in the most eye-rollingly predictable fashion possible, with Bruce learning the same lesson he was supposed to have picked up two movies ago), but is visually enticing enough to feel worth the trip.

As a feast for the eyes and senses, the movie's final act comes close to justifying the astronomical expectations built up since The Dark Knight savaged the accepted face of comic book movies. Had Nolan's technical achievements been matched by the writing, Rises would have been an early contender for best of the decade. Unfortunately, it is trapped for too long by a need to replicate and escalate the successes of its ground-breaking predecessor, while wrapping up a story previously told in standalone parts. Nolan's greatest success over the course of his three Batman movies has been to bring the comic book adaptation back down to earth, finding the dirt beneath the fantasy's fingernails. While the pleasures of his final instalment are too great to justify such hyperbolic terms as 'ambitious failure', the landing is disappointingly bumpy. [ 6 ]


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