The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
After* two years of reckless, lumbering, gnawing waiting, after a near pandemic of anticipation that bloody film is finally here – The Dark Knight Rises arrived in cinemas this weekend and just to set the tone from my initial, electrifying screening – yes there was a standing ovation – this may well be one of the finest Hollywood blockbusters I’ve seen, and as a final installment of a critical and box acclaimed franchise it is
difficult impossible to imagine how director Christopher Nolan, screenwriting partners Jonathan Nolan and David S. Goyer could have concluded the series in a more majestic, fulfilling and riveting fashion. Breaking pre-release records as tickets went on sale – the Waterloo IMAX screen alone has had a staggering 42 shows completely sold out for a cool £1 million – the movie was received with near universal critical acclaim, sweeping four and five-star plaudits across the board. I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed such a palpable sense of anticipation since The Phantom Menace back in 1999, but don’t worry, I only invoke such horrendous disappointments as a negative talisman although there may be some spectral allusions haunting both pictures, as just about everything that Star Wars Episode I got wrong Batman III gets comprehensively right. The spoofs, mash-ups and associated nerdisms are already reaching a feverish pitch, I dread to think of what will happen when the film actually gets out there into the sweaty palms of the hordes of fanboys and girls of both the comic book and superhero movie persuasion, as I’m sure that incendarily fierce discussion board battles are already raging around the carnage inducing thread titles of ‘Best Movie Trilogy Evar?’ I think what I’ll do is keep this largely spoiler free except for some plot breakdown, I do have to set some sort of context, and then add a spoiler section in a week or so to give everyone who’s genuinely interested a chance to see it, so consider yourself warned.
Eight years on from the closing sacrifice of The Dark Knight and the legend of the Batman is passing into Gotham history. Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale, I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets another Oscar nomination) has hung up his cape and descended into a Howard Hughes isolation, withdrawing from public life and physically and psychically wounded, much to the concern of his only loyal mentor, and family surrogate Alfred (Michael Caine, ectopically procrastinating as always) whose twitching moments of elderly concern pay narrative dividends further down the films labyrinthine story arc. The Dent act, ushered in after the apparent murder of the crusading district attorney has sequestered the majority of Gotham’s criminals and felons in Blackgate Prison – alas there is no mention of Arkham Asylum in this issue – ushering in an uneasy peace and relatively safety throughout the metropolis’s inviolable streets, but this capricious truce has been predicated on a falsehood, that Batman was the murderer of Dent and numerous police officers during the finale of The Dark Knight, and a terrible reckoning quivers on the disenfranchised horizon. Not all crime has been eradicated however, and the feline cat burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway, purrfect) paths soon cross with our retired hero, and as they say when a black cat crosses your path be prepared for a run of bad luck, as the hulking, monstrous and occasionally incomprehensible Bane (Tom Hardy, terrifyingly terrific) makes his glowering appearance, an analogue anarchist with a virulent, undiluted venom for Gotham and its regal society. Recruiting an underclass infantry from the poor and dispossed whose lives are worlds removed from the pampered elite of the city, he sacks Gotham’s stock exchange and ignites a terrible campaign of wealth redistribution predicated on the acquisition of a weapon of mass destruction, prompting our hero to stirringly discard his cane and reach for his cowl. The forces of justice and decency have been complacent in their privileged luxury, with only Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) feeling a gnawing guilt at the lies foisted on the body politic, with his recently promoted Deputy Foley (Matthew Modine, good to see him back in something of merit) and the curiously hot-headed young police officer John Blake (Joseph Gordon Levitt) buttressing a potential counter offensive to Bane’s complex and dissimulated blitzkrieg of terror. With the sweeping cityscapes (one of Nolan’s trademark flourishes of visual calligraphy) punctuating the vertingious and increasingly mosaic narrative a grandiose, metaphoric scent is formidably set for the final chapter in the chronicle of Bruce Wayne, of his soaring crusade and dizzying plunge into the abyss.
As I’m an idiot I sneered in light derision at the early reports of The Dark Knight Rises being superior to the previous entry in the franchise, and it gives me great joy to report that I was (as usual) completely and utterly wrong – this emotional, torpid close to the trilogy is a phenomenal achievement and is unquestionably the best Hollywood film of the year thus far. It quite clearly will reward the viewer with multiple viewings – I’m still processing much of the films epic design and sheer fuliginous audacity – thus I’m left leafing through the film critics dictionary of clichés for the necessary and needed superlatives – bold, compelling, engrossing, intelligent, kinetic, contemporary and finally elegiac – with the aforementioned emotional core lurking and leeching beneath the masks and kevlar, and it’s as ruthless and genuinely moving a picture that you’ll see this year, or indeed any year. The sheer adroit audacity of Nolan and his crew is truly something to behold, especially as to where the narrative goes, into utterly unexpected territory once the first hour or so has elapsed for my part, coupled with occasional shocking bursts of brutality that elevate the stakes to near operatic intensity. The metaphors are clear, of characters and institutions driven into the darkness and the underworld, a striving for the light amidst near impossible redemption, all umbilically and organically welded to the notion of what truly makes a man a hero, and of facing and conquering his syncretic and symbiotic opponents.
Some of the light comic relief, and boy does this movie yearn for some shards of pearlescent relief among the choking & cloaking darkness, mostly emanates as silken purrs from the mercenary Kyle as she ameliorates some of the increasingly intense tension – I’m not kidding, from roughly the middle of the film to its conclusion I was almost wheezing in anxiety – and even a tiresome purist like me who is prone to roll their eyes in mock disgust at drama reducing quips I found much to enjoy in her lustrous performance. The slightly hectoring Alfred proves the emotional foil to Bruce’s narcissist drives, and Bane is a constant and legitimate spectre of destruction who proves to be an overwhelming and deeply threatening foe, even from behind that muffling mask Thomas Hardy’s villainous turn is quite affecting, even if he isn’t quite as memorable as Ledgers lunatic Joker. There are surprises in store for fans with a necklace of references and throwbacks to the prior movies, at times it can seem overly coagulated in construction, but for the most part both Goyer and the Nolan brothers weave together a personal journey in a vivid cinematic universe, punctuated with their electrifying set pieces, before the final stretch is reached and seemingly impossibly the film ratches up a further gear to a bruising and yes weep inducing finale – and this is where the real achievement of the film finaly resides. After this first screening I fully grasped the sense of an overarcing whole, as one tale subdivided into a trio of arcs that intersect and reference back upon each other, as the central theme of genuine heroism, of impossibly besting your personal demons and failures is achieved in an unparalleled and brilliant fashion, its bravura film-making from its opening frame to its final, expertly paced, revelatory montage. Also, William Devane as the president was a nice touch, with Pope (Ben Mendelsohn) from Animal Kingdom as a slithering corporate vampire and Morgan Freeman as the franchise ‘Q’ also getting their brief moments to shine upon this urban, dark side of the sun.
Nolan is quite clearly one of the finest auters working in the system today, and I finally feel comfortable in elevating him up the Minty pantheon to nestle in the heady heights with the likes of Scorsese and Mann, Hitchcock and early Carpenter, bizarrely there were some portions of this movie that reminded me of Escape From New York – I’m sure he’s relived to finally hear that eh? I’ve started ploughing through some interviews now that I’ve seen the film and was fascinated to hear that the touchstone movies that he screened for his department heads and cast was the eclectic trio of Dr. Zhivago, The Battle Of Algiers and Lumet’s Prince Of The City. His loosely intellectual action films see him working with the same cinematographer, editor, musical score composer and production designer which is a tradition that most of the planets leading film-makers seem to follow, although his DP Wally Pfister – certainly one of the most talented lighting cameramen currently drawing breath – is moving up to directing next with Nolan in the producers chair, now that could be interesting. He has also built a retinue of strong and versatile actors populating his work – Christian Bale, Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tom Hardy and of course Michael Caine, it’s a volcanic blend of performers rather than distracting and increasingly redundant screen ‘icons’ who carry with them the baggage of previous work. Once again Nolan and his screenwriting brother collaborate with David S. Goyer in impugning their tales with significant density and gravitas that some may find overly portentous or ridiculous – this after all is a series of films about a billionaire who dresses up as a big bat and goes punching people – but if you find anything to enjoy in the previous installments then there is much more to enjoy here, as Bruce Wayne’s story finally draws to its deistic conclusion. Those tiresome allegations of his being an icy empathist finally get neutralised in The Dark Knight Rises and its stirring climax, his commitment to reality – always a faintly ridiculous notion to direct to any work of fiction – gets little thrift here, as some of the criticisms I’ve read seem to overtly expect a fundamental fidelity to vérité in these films which is really rather absurd.
It’s not perfect – what is? – it’s a little muddied in its opening hour and for me Bruce’s decision to reprise his nocturnal avenging persona was a little rushed, technically I still found some of the distorted speeches difficult to translate, Nolan still resorts to some clumsy exchanges of exposition laced dialogue and there are a few dropped beats in some cadences of the storytelling tempo, but as whole, as a series of texts charting a mythic character of popular culture this is the ultimate and definitive screen iteration, I can’t possibly see how this could remotely be bettered by the current crop of filmmakers, I’d give it a couple of decades until this 73-year-old icon gets a plausible treatment in a different era. As for the films supposed politics I’m not really in a position to offer an opinion at this time, I’m still processing and will need a second visit (probably a Monday matinée at this point) to conduct such discussions, but the Occupy and class war related atmospherics couldn’t be more tangible, they are pummelled front and center into the narrative like an obsidian fist, with a thundering shockwave of our real world, tangible, extinction level threats, yet the movers and shakers, the central figures and associated clergy are all in the thrall of a wider invisible, incredulous, economic tempest, and it’s under these auscipous flarings that our hero makes the ultimate, liberating, human sacrifice – as the world burns.
It’s difficult to articulate but sometimes when watching a movie you experience those moments that literally send shivers down the spine, when all the forces of storytelling coalesce in brilliant formation, in visual and aural alignment as the music rises – I’m immediately reminded of the childhood reaction that I and many other film fans have to Luke’s renewal of his assault against the old man in Jedi for example – and I guess I had about a half-dozen of those pure, unadulterated celluloid instances of joie de vivre in The Dark Knight Rises. The finesse by which they stitch together the three films, birthed through Bruce Wayne’s initial trauma – and never is such a word so perfectly pitched to encapsulate this trilogy – through to his final fate is unsurpassed in mainstream storytelling of this particular, difficult species, a depth charge under the waters of Hollywood’s busting of blocks. As the pieces of the puzzle are romantically resisted and gothically twixed, as the avengers history is so wrathfully twisted and transcendently glyphed, the opera is complete with a devastating final aria that discreetly emits a final nourishing growl of aphoristic glee, a sonar echo of liberty and liberation. Is this equal – a charged word – to the original old testament Star Wars? Maybe. As satisfying a quest as The Lord of The Rings? Perhaps. My initial instincts suggest that it may surpass both, and as someone who lives, breathes and dies movies as a major part of their life, and has been in a turbulent state of flux in their personal and professional life for the past few years it’s a work that has provided some genuine inspiration and illumination as to what may come next, and how we all can rise – can I recommend it any more than that?
*As previously mentioned, I’m completely ignoring the wider dimensions of the film and those tragic circumstances at this point. Fuck that murderous idiot, fuck firearms and fuck the people and organisations that backwardly believe that weapons are some sort of masculine enhancing, god derived ‘right’ – it’s an obvious but little expressed point that this and this makes for a fucked up world. Also this. If you want to do something to redress this terrible event then donate here, give blood, smile a bit more and be nicer to people, fuck I dunno…..