Wednesday, 25 July 2012

REVIEW: The Dark Knight Rises

Dir.: Christopher Nolan
With: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine

Where do I even begin…?

The hotly anticipated final chapter to Nolan’s trilogy, “The Dark Knight Rises” is a monumental, 160-minute-long opus full of resonant themes, poignant performances and violence. The film takes place 8 years after the events told in “The Dark Knight”, now Gotham is relatively at peace, relishing in the legacy of the Dent Pact, however, it is now a more cynical place where corruption is still aplenty but at such high levels that it is not immediately obvious. The rich are still getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. It also seems that there is no longer a need for a masked crusader and Bruce Wayne lives a hermit's life, creeping around the East Wing of the Wayne mansion with a walking stick.

Danger comes both from within and without. Bane, a terrifying mountain of a man, Wayne’s fellow graduate of the League of Shadows, comes to Gotham to bring it down to its knees and stir a revolution against the city’s “oppressors”. Bruce faces a choice between continuing his half-life or slipping into his hermetic costume and cape once again. The brilliant thing about these films is that they do not paint the world and their protagonist as black and white. Just as Wayne is deeply flawed, Gothamites are not exactly the kind of people you want to save at the cost of your life. The order that Batman decides to maintain is imperfect, unjust and skewed in favour of big corporations. However, the alternative to this is utter chaos – Bane’s military law disguised as true freedom is nothing but an excuse for the city’s marauders to loot and intimidate the weak. And in the end, Bane’s actions only lead to the ulterior motives of a few egomaniacs. Bruce Wayne/Batman acknowledges that, however limited, a single system is better than the terror of the mob.

The argument against blind violence has been made more profound by the tragic event in Denver, which will most probably be associated with the film for years to come. No doubt many would agree that the themes raised in this film echo current events, threats of terrorism, the Occupy movement and the financial crisis. Yet, when Batman’s character was first invented in 1939, these themes seemed just as relevant with the Western civilisation facing uncertainty on the brink of another world war. As history comes a full circle, this cultural icon of the past is as germane as ever and Christopher Nolan directs him with a grandiose solemnity that is normally reserved for real-life icons.

Although Nolan’s directorship is sure-handed and the entire film is a display of his confident manner, the end result is a little underwhelming. I found the last hour of the film to be truly entertaining and engulfing, however, its beginning and middle part were far too long and could have done with some more editing. It is a rather grueling task to be sat in the cinema for almost 3 hours and only a few films deserve that kind of endurance. Having said this, the multiple characters and the complex storyline in TDKR are well-explored and explained, all things considered. Clearly, Nolan’s experience with “Inception” only honed these skills.

Christian Bale gives his best in this film, mainly because we saw more of Bruce Wayne than Batman, whom I still cannot take too seriously with his smoker’s voice and all. Bale is an intelligent actor, whose dexterity allows him to express emotions with the minimum amount of visible effort. He brought maturity and disillusionment to this role and made Bruce Wayne a vivid and pitiful being. Tom Hardy’s Bane was indeed a transformation for the pretty-faced actor and I shudder to think of the amount of steroids he had taken for this part. He upstages Batman in the grumbling department though – I could not really make out what he was saying half the time. As far as villains go, Bane is probably the most physical one, his body is really something to be reckoned with. And yet he looks pale on comparison to Heath Ledger’s unhinged Joker, who had charm as well as unpredictability on his side. A battle of two wits is more interesting to watch than a wrestling match between two dudes in masks I think.

Michael Caine’s Alfred and Gary Oldman’s Commissioner Gordon were simply wonderful, as always. It is actors of their calibre in supporting roles that make Nolan’s Gotham a real, breathing thing. Marion Cotillard, however, was miscast in my opinion. She is not a natural action actress and I think she’s been playing pretty much the same character here and in “Inception” and “Midnight in Paris”. I find her, dare I say it, boring. Anne Hathaway, on the other hand, is someone whom I never took seriously and she completely surprised me. Her Catwoman was great – both edgy and playful. Thankfully, she played her like a real human being too. I also liked the fact that she was not overtly sexualised – her costume did not sport a massive dĂ©colletage like in Halle Berry’s case, and looked more like an aerodynamic burglar’s outfit (the girl can’t help having a nice figure). Even the knife-like heels were more like a pair of extra weapons than fetish objects. I just wish her and Bruce Wayne had more onscreen time together to let us sense their chemistry more. The crowd in the cinema actually whooped and clapped when the two kissed (this is not exactly a spoiler so I feel ok writing it). But you know who was super-duper cool? Joseph Gordon Levitt’s John Blake, an idealistic young cop who becomes entangled in the whole story. I’d love to see what happens to him next. Joseph (who also happens to be mighty fine, in my humble opinion) is also a surprising hit in action films – just remember his fight scene in the rotating hotel corridor in “Inception”? His new film “Looper” looks pretty good too.

I am happy that the trilogy ended on this note, even with all its shortcomings, this is by far the best superhero rendering and I am so pleased that the cast and crew managed to keep the bar so high throughout all these years. As for the ending of the film itself, I think it could have been a little more ambivalent and just one shot of Alfred’s face would have been a more subtle and elegant solution. 

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