Black is back, and its time for the feel-bad action franchise mega-release of the Summer. Hold onto your hats people, and worry not, ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ is an ass-kicking good time. This movie feels like the studio has just assembled the biggest army of cool s### it could find and thrown it at the screen.
Orchestrated as well as co-written and co-produced by ‘the Nolan’, it all basically works as it should and ultimately comes down as a big win. It’s an intelligently-programmed, extravagantly over-sized, somewhat unwieldy action behemoth with great characters, great ideas, great stories, great acting and most importantly of all, big, chunky metal stuff that spectacularly ####s up the centre of a fair-sized US city in the closing stages.
It does lag in parts, but on the whole rocks out pretty hugely and is a worthy continuation of the phenomenally ambitious, darkly brutalist and uniquely realistic vision of DC comics' second biggest export that Nolan has gifted to the film-going public over the last ten years.
The bottom line is: not quite as good as ‘The Dark Knight’, but better than ‘Batman Begins’. An all-round satisfying, poeticly appropriate even, final chapter to the genre re-defining Dark Knight trilogy. Nolan has shown what is possible when you inject a bit of old-fashioned class, style, depth, intelligence and creepy darkness into the Hollywood superhero blockbuster template.
Like its predecessors, there is plenty going on beyond the action, the enjoyment smartly layered for everyone from 15 to 50. Underneath the one-liners and indulgently-art designed, too-cool-for-school, can-we-pin-any-more-guns-on-this-thing? gadgets there is a labyrinthine urban epic on the scale of ‘Akira’, ‘The Departed’, ‘Robocop’, or even ‘Oliver Twist’ by Dickens, the original big city writer whose poignant lines are used during the end of the movie. If ‘Avengers’ is ‘Lost’, this movie is the grittier, hard-bitten ‘The Wire’.
Gotham is an amalgam of New York and Chicago, and ‘Dark Knight Rises’ uses the full measure of the subtext of those cities’ complex and murky crime histories, touching on themes of criminal disenfranchisement, imprisonment, the brutalisation of urban orphans and a brilliantly-used metaphor literally of 'the Underworld'. - Gotham's newest crime syndicate has built an empire in the city's sewers. And they have devised a scheme suddenly and revolutionarily to bring the two worlds together, the rich being thrown down to poverty, the poor being given a ramp up to wealth.
This somewhat foreboding element of 'Dark Knight Rises' speaks topically to the troubled current state of the US. There’s elements of 9/11, the GFC and also the allegedly imminent, oncoming, double-dip economic armageddon. So it's not a particularly upbeat film. But then it's a Batman movie, the superhero franchise that gives itself free reign to be as gothic and brooding as it likes. And Nolan makes full use of that extra margin of intellectual indulgence afforded to this particular superhero, especially since he took over.
Unlike this year’s other box office mega-hits (of which this black-hearted action stompfest is certainly bound to be the next) ‘Hunger Games’ and ‘The Avengers’, which often broke new talent as leads, Nolan has raised his standard and attracted a legion of A-list thesps who are clearly falling over themselves to play any part in the ever increasing mountain of multiplex world-domination that the London-Irish maestro has been accruing to himself for ten years now. On this evidence, there is no sign of it stopping anytime soon.
Nolan is the goose that just keeps laying the golden eggs. His basic idea, which seems to be something of a shocker surprise in a Hollywood which insists that 'no-one knows anything' (i.e. no-one can predict success): QUALITY.
Instead of greenlighting any script that meets the quota of explosions, hot babes, aliens and whatever, let's actually insist on GOOD ones! Instead of casting the latest hunk or chick fresh from the target 12-18 demographic hit vacuous TV show, why not - since we've GOT all the money in the world, get in, like, the BEST actors that are available - in the world. Are you taking notes, Michael Bay?
Just because we're going for easy to understand storylines and scenes, doesn't mean we can't work those scenes to a dramatical razor’s edge with traditional, time-tested, theatrical techniques of performance, rehearsal and real 'acting' direction that prioritises the characters’ journey even WITHIN these gargantuan, action-driven, Saturday night movies.
That approach yields what we see here: a first third which consists of about ten distinct and fascinating characters introducing themselves, all played brilliantly and with depth by an endless succession of the world’s greatest actors.
It's actually staggering just how many names are in this thing. The Brit theatrical leads are only the tip of an iceberg. Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, Anne Hathaway, Marion Cotillard, Morgan Freeman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Juno Temple, Matthew Modine, Cillian Murphy, Liam Neeson, Tom Conti, Ben Mendolsohn. I kept expecting Anthony Hopkins to pop up as the Penguin. All of these guys without exception do just great under Nolan's hard-working, quality-driven tutillage, and all have their moments to shine.
The movie is owned however by Oldman's Police Commissioner Gordon, a tour de force with not that much to go on that for me is even better than his recent 'Tinker Tailor' turn as George Smiley; and Anne Hathaway's Catwoman, who just plain nails it. Not a fan of Hathaway in general, but the pampered chick-flick-queen girl next door turns out to be the casting masterstroke of this epicly crowded field. She stilettos around the movie one-linering and high-kicking everything in sight on what have to be the world’s premiere set of pins. And her moments of tenderness and character conflict in lyrical close-up are really dazzling, melting audiences and other characters’ resistance like chocolate with those huge, bottomless pool Bambi eyes.
After Heath Ledger’s joker, who was possibly going to step into the shoes as Batman's third and ultimate nemesis? Luckily Tom Hardy is probably the best actor working today (check him out in 'Bronson' and 'Warrior'.) For this movie he's done a DeNiro-in-Raging-Bull and fat-bastarded himself up for role of BANE, the hate-filled monster of Eastern darkness that has crawled out of the worst prison in the world to bring 'justice' to the decadent rich of Gotham (New York).
Is he as good a villain as the Joker? No, but then again who could be. He does a pretty great job and brings a tragic heart to this over-blown, near three-hour opus. Bale is solid as Bruce Wayne but much better as Batman, who seems to shine with an iconic, vengeful glory that the flipside of the character sometimes lacks. Nolan also brings out a memorable, emotional, late-career performance from all-time legendary movie star Michael Caine.
For the final set-piece, Nolan has gone completely Bay. That involves 1) Rent the centre of a sizable US city. 2) Kick the #### out of it. 3) Preferably with massive, improbable sci-fi machines bent on random wanton destruction. Check. This movie definitely delivers on that score.
Nolan has got himself some awesomely impractical-looking, hummer-based armoured vehicles which seem capable only of driving around on main streets at average speed and rotating their little turrets. Think of the mileage!! Not sure the Gotham City police force got their money's worth there. Then there's the 'Bat'. The newest toy in the Bat arsenal which also looks hellishly cool, for which we'll overlook its own slightly problematic aerodynamic issues. Capping it all off is the now-familiar Hans Zimmer, tribally bombastic, repetitive drum music we’ve come to expect and love from all of Nolan’s epic action output.
More than anything else, TDKR resembles a Bond film. Suave hero pressured back into the game once again to face a new, unfathomably dastardly world-domination plan by a fresh and imaginatively-styled master criminal who often enjoys chatting to Bond more than actually finishing him off. This continues the vaguely British theme on display here. The structure and format of how our hero deals with the plan unfolding and revealing itself follows the Bond template so closely it makes you think the newly unemployed Nolan would be a good bet to re-cross the Atlantic and add some much-needed oomph (and pounding drum music) to that fading series once Sam Mendes hopefully re-invigorates it with this summer's 'Skyfall'.
People are going to want to know how this stacks up against ‘The Avengers’. Well, it’s a toughy. They’re chalk and cheese, Summer and Winter, light and darkness. Traditional comics fans will no doubt prefer the more purist, hyper-real, multi-coloured Marvel extravaganza. Fans of realism and grittiness will probably go for this social problem-obsessed, tragedy-touched opus. For me their quality is about an exact match. It’s a fair fight between DC and Marvel, as perhaps it has always been. ‘Dark Knight Rises’’ darkness however will almost certainly see it obtain a smaller vast chunk of cash at the box office than its competitor.
There are a couple of ropy plot points and the odd line that falls flat, the running time may be an issue for some, but this is essentially a solid and spectacular chunk of blockbuster gold. If you like movies, you will probably like this one.