The Dark Knight Rises
This Summer’s been pretty mediocre all round. The weather’s been bad, Murray managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and on the blockbuster front we’ve had to sit through the bloated, tension-free Avengers Assemble (notable only for the scene where Tom Hiddleston calls Scarlett Johansson a “mewling quim!”), the superfluous Spiderman reboot, the laugh-desert that is The Dictator, the idiotic but fun Battleship and the horror that was Prometheus, a film that managed the neat trick of being pompous, dull and dumb while managing to be not only anti-God but anti-science and anti-intellectual. Only Snow White And The Huntsman was worth braving the headache-inducing 3D for. Until now. Finally, we have a Summer blockbuster that not only lives up to, but surpasses its Himalayan expectations and may just be the film of the year.
It’s been eight long years since the events of The Dark Knight, eight years that have seen martyred District Attorney Harvey Dent almost deified, draconian laws passed in his name and Gotham’s mean streets cleaned up. The forces of law and order have won the War on Crime but it’s a victory built on a lie. Conspiring with Commissioner Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman), the Batman took the blame for Dent’s violent revenge spree, ensuring Dent’s crime-fighting legacy and giving the city the noble hero it needed.
But the personal cost has been high; Gordon’s family left him and he is eaten alive by guilt, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has become a Howard Hughes-style recluse, “holed up with eight-inch nails and peeing into mason jars.” He haunts his empty mansion, his body racked by old injuries, still mourning his lost love. While Wayne’s long-suffering butler and father-figure Alfred (Michael Caine) tries, and fails, to coax him out of the house, it’s two very different women who finally tempt him to end his self-imposed exile; sexy cat burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway, never once referred to as Catwoman) and principled philanthropist Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard). But as Wayne rediscovers a taste for life and Gotham’s moneyed elite attend sumptuous parties and charity balls, a storm is coming. The poor and disenfranchised have grown disenchanted with the corrupt privileged; Gotham’s have-nots want what the haves have. And beneath the city, the brutal, masked terrorist Bane (Tom Hardy) - "Born in hell, forged from suffering, hardened by pain." - is building an army in the sewers, biding his time, waiting for his moment to strike, to bring Gotham to its knees. As the city dissolves into anarchy and with a nuclear timebomb ticking away, all that stands against him is the Batman…
Perhaps more than any other, one scene in particular sums up The Dark Knight Rises. As Bane sets in motion his plan to destroy Gotham and Batman returns to Gotham’s streets for the first time in eight years a fat, middle-aged cop turns to his young wet-behind-the-ears partner and tells him: “Boy, you’re in for a show tonight.” And he’s right. Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises is a spectacular show, a dazzling, masterful piece of cinema. Dark, operatic and grim, it brings the Batman legend full circle, drawing on our fears of terrorism, the anti-capitalist ethos of the Occupy movement and the political anarchy of all out class war to deliver an ambitious, epic, apocalyptic vision of a city, and a society, under siege.
Lacking the cheesy cartoonishness of other superhero movies, Nolan’s film builds on the themes, style and mythology of the previous two films to deliver an intelligent and satisfying climax to his Batman series. Grounded in a gritty reality that sees its beleagured hero all but destroyed, financially and physically, by his foe halfway through the film before rising up from his defeat and fighting back, the script is at least as concerned with the emotional costs of Wayne’s crusades as it is with action. Bale is fantastic in the role, his Wayne a vulnerable, all too mortal hero and he’s ably supported again by Michael Caine, Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman (on twinkly form as Batman’s Q, Lucius Fox) who deliver solid, dependable performances as Batman’s solid, dependable allies.
Even if the mask does make him sound like a cross between Christopher Plummer and a Speak and Spell, as Bane, Hardy physically transforms himself into a virtual ogre; a fearsome, frightening monster ruled by a cold, fierce intelligence who poses a real, and possibly, fatal threat to Bale’s Batman. Potential love interest Marion Cotillard is poised and sophisticated while Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s rookie cop John Blake embodies the idealism and sense of justice that inspired and ultimately broke Wayne and Gordon. But the character who really steals Batman’s thunder is Anne Hathaway’s Selina Kyle. Sexy, sassy and deliciously ambiguous, Hathaway’s turn banishes memories of Michelle Pfeiffer, Halle Berry and even Julie Newmar.
Visually stunning and intricately plotted, the film delivers a series of gobsmacking set-piece action sequences; a plane is hijacked in mid-air, Bane brings the Stock Market crashing down, explosions chase a quarterback across a football field, Gotham’s Bastille like prison is stormed, police and anarchists battle in the streets. Bane and Batman’s fight scenes are bruising, ferocious affairs; unstoppable will meeting immovable force, while the chases through the streets of Gotham and the final battle over Bane’s rogue nuke are intense and visceral. Often accused of being cold and too cerebral a director, with The Dark Knight Rises, Nolan wears his heart on his sleeve providing not only a fittingly cathartic end to the Batman but an emotionally satisfying one. Bold, audacious and thrilling, The Dark Knight Rises is the film you’ve been waiting for all Summer.
Christian Bale, Anne Hathaway, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Gary Oldman, Tom Hardy, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Josh Pence, Marion Cotillard, Juno Temple
Superhero, Action, Crime, Thriller