Tuesday 7 August 2012

Review: The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

A complex, ponderous epic, The Dark Knight Rises begins with a high altitude bang. Bane (Tom Hardy) mounts a breathtaking, if preposterous, escape from sadistic CIA captors. After that, we transition to the outskirts of tranquil Gotham, where Bruce Wayne is moping about his barren mansion. Poor little rich boy, with nothing to do and no one to beat senseless. The film meanders about existential issues and then lurches to an epic conclusion.

Almost two and a half hours long, Christopher Nolan's concluding Batman film is inconsistent but never boring. He even tosses around enough ideas to warrant a second viewing.

Christian Bale is excellent as the retired Batman, crippled by years of physically punishing crime fighting. Bruce Wayne hasn't donned the Batcowl for eight years. The city is at peace thanks to the manipulated 'sacrifice' of Harvey Dent. Bale doesn't appear masked until later in the film, and the movie is stronger for it. The gravelly vocal affectation Bale employs as The Bat is more annoying and out of place than ever. It's when he gets quiet character moments that Bale really shines.

Hardy's Bane is a worthy adversary: ruthless and forever calm, he hijacks not just airplanes but whole ideologies. After seizing control of Gotham, he implements a revolutionary agenda and the rich are thrown down. But that's not the end of it. Not by a long shot. Gotham is put in peril like never before.

Bane's voice (a subject of much controversy, I found him perfectly understandable), a distorted warble over sophisticated accent, is in stark contrast to his hulking physique. A deeper exploration of his motivations might have helped make him even more compelling. We never get past his surface, not really. Yet he's a captivating screen presence.

As Bane's partner in crime, Selina Kyle adds romance, eye candy, and moral ambiguity. She's a Robin Hood style sexpot who robs from the rich and gives to the poor (primarily herself). Considering the value of what she steals, she must spend a lot to remain poor.

Michael Caine gets a chance to chew the scenery as Alfred, and he emotes with aplomb. Unfortunately these Emo scenes feel forced; the presence of the screenwriter's pen can be felt, and they do not mesh with the narrative smoothly. They're essential, but not enough time is devoted to do them justice.

Economic inequality and revolution are explored in a way that few films dare. Nolan has wicked fun at the expense of Wall Street stockbrokers and their Occupy movement counterparts.

The material is fascinating enough, and rolls along at a good enough clip, that plot holes the size of small moons don't derail the narrative.

Certain aspects of the film invite discussion while others must be gleaned over lest suspension of disbelief be irrevocably lost. In the end, The Dark Knight Rises doesn't achieve its lofty ambitions. Nolan's reach exceeds his grasp. But we're better off for his effort.

DKR nevertheless makes for a fitting conclusion to the Nolan/Bale Batman series.

Until I see it a second time and change my mind.

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