Review – The Dark Knight Rises

Well, it’s done. Chris Nolan’s epic Batman trilogy has now come to a close with the final installment. Last night I crammed myself into the sweaty hellbox otherwise known as the Leicester Square Odeon and got ready to enjoy a solid 3 hours of the crunchy, gritty Batman goodness that Nolan’s delivered twice before.

Let’s just get the obvious out of the way. Rises is great, but it isn’t as good as Dark Knight (but then what is?). There, now we can move on.

Batman is so fucking nonchalant about falling, burning masonry.

Plot! Rises is set 8 years after the events of Dark Knight, and Gotham seems to be at peace as the organised crime that plagued the city is a thing of the past. Batman is no longer required, and is in fact reviled, as he is suspected for the murder of Harvey Dent, aka Mr Crazy Burnface. Bruce Wayne has hung up his cape and presumably sits around in his dressing gown all day, watching the Jeremy Kyle Show and ordering Alfred to supply him with a steady supply of ham and cheese toasties.

However, there’s bad news when the terrorist Bane and his private army sets their sight on Gotham, planning to destroy it to prove some kind of deranged ideological point. Shit, meet fan.

Naturally, all kinds of awesome stuff happens. What do you want from me, a detailed scene by scene breakdown? Go watch it! Spoiler though; Batman wins. Sort of.

The thing that struck me most about Rises is that Batman is barely in it. The film follows nearly every other character more closely than Wayne/Batman. A lot of focus is given to Catwoman, Bane, Commisioner Gordon, and John Blake, the young detective played (very well I hasten to add) by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Oh sure, Batman has his moments when he shows up and kicks ass, and Bale gets a good amount of screentime, but I felt that Batman was almost a secondary character in his own film, and I actually liked that. To me, it’s far more heroic to see the “everyday” guys such as Gordon and Blake survive the horrors of Bane’s attack, organise and lead a resistance, save lives, stand up for truth and justice, etc, without the need for fancy gadgets and nocturnal mammal themed costumes.

This guy. This guy right here? BADASS. And unlike *some* people, he didn’t need to get all angsty over his murdered parents.

Performances from everyone were great. Anne Hathaway is sizzling as Catwoman and has some great dialogue, Morgan Freeman does his usual, flawless funny/serious duality act as Lucius Fox, and holy shit Tom Hardy is a terrifying man. The fight scenes between him and Bale are visceral, bone-crunching brutality; there’s nothing flashy in these fights – unlike Hathaway’s fun, acrobatic choreographed kickassery – its just balls-out ferocious, and absolutely perfect at portraying the character and fighting style of Bane, who has always meant to have been a fast, smart, bruiser, never a dumb, clumsy thug (as he was portrayed in Batman & Robin that film that doesn’t exist.)

Michael Caine is Oscar gold in Rises. He doesn’t get much screentime, but he totally steals whatever scene he’s in. To my annoyance, the speech that was used in the trailer (“I swore to them that I would protect you, and I haven’t”) wasn’t used in the actual film, but there’s a few similarly-worded exchanges between Caine and Bale which are heart-wrenching. Caine does a perfect job of portraying the only real family that Bruce Wayne has left, and we share his pain when the two eventually part ways, and in the final moments. I really liked the closing scene in the Florence cafe; it’s something that’s brought up early on and I didn’t figure it would be a Chekhov’s Gun.

As for Bale? Eh. He’s decent. I actually really like him when he’s acting as Bruce Wayne in public, he does the whole eccentric, snarky, slightly dappy, billionaire playboy persona really well. The problem I had was that when he’s playing Bruce Wayne as he’s meant to be, and how others see him – self-destructive, washed-up, and broken in every way a person can be broken – there wasn’t a sense of conviction to it. The way the other characters go on, you’d think that Bruce is about to go stick his head in the oven, even though Bale plays Wayne as fairly upbeat and proactive as the plot gets moving. And don’t get me started on “The Batman Voice”. In nearly every Nolan Batman film, there’s been at least one moment where Bale says something in the gravelly voice, and it’s so ridiculous I laugh out loud. It’s even worse in Risen, where you have Bale and Hardy having a conversation and you have no idea at all what either of them are saying because Bale’s doing his Batman voice and Hardy’s ranting through a gasmask and sounds like Sean Connery gargling through a traffic cone.

The visuals are great. That’s not a surprise anymore, but it doesn’t stop them being effective; the whole montage of Bane’s coup is utterly chilling as bombs go off, civilians get gunned down, cars explode, and homes are vandalised. There’s also a great visual flashback moment to Batman Begins; the prison Wayne is thrown into resembles the well he fell into as a child at the start of Begins (eesh, that’s an awkward sentence), and the words spoken by his father, “why do we fall?” echo strongly here.

There’s a few other minor quibbles I have – the clumsy namedrop of a certain Boy Wonder chief among them –  but nothing serious enough to make me not enjoy the film. It was big, it was bleak, it was bittersweet. It was Batman.

Ah, don’t worry about it Bruce. A few press-ups and that vertebrae will pop right back in.

Tzaph

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