Thursday, July 19, 2012

New Release Review: The Dark Knight Rises (Christopher Nolan, 2012)

The most-anticipated blockbuster of the summer (and this has been a summer that has offered up plenty of anticipation in The Avengers and Prometheus) has arrived. The hype surrounding this film has been near-deafening, and considering the career of writer/director Christopher Nolan to date – many fans claim he has already made the superhero film that will never be topped in The Dark Knight – he was under pressure to come up with something suitably epic to round out his trilogy. The Dark Knight Rises is not a perfect film - it has issues, and from a narrative perspective, it is a mess - but this breathtaking sensory experience is a beast of a movie. It is an epic cinematic experience in every conceivable way.


The film kicks off eight years since Batman vanished into the night at the end of The Dark Knight. Once Gotham’s spiritual symbol and hero, he becomes a wanted fugitive after assuming the blame for the death of Gotham’s White Night, D.A Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart). Batman sacrificed everything for the sake of his city – and even Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) has struggled to keep the secret - and most of the city’s criminal activity has been abolished under the anti-crime Dent Act. This act is never really explained, but the city’s criminals are now behind bars and the city is in a state of ‘peace time’.

Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), now in self-imposed exile in his mansion, feels it is required to return to Gotham as the caped crusader when a mysterious cat burglar, Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) breaks into his vault and dusts for his fingerprints, and a masked terrorist known as Bane (Tom Hardy) enters Gotham with unknown intentions and a small army, setting up base in the underground sewer system.

Bane attempts to take control of Wayne Enterprises by way of an investor, Daggett (Ben Mendolsohn), and utilize the company's most impressive piece of equipment by transforming it into a nuclear bomb, in a ruthless and escalating plan that will threaten the entire city. When Wayne learns of Bane’s past ties to Ra’s Al Ghul (Liam Neeson) and The League of Shadows, he realizes his only hope against him is to utilize every ally he can. Newcomers, Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) and Blake (Joseph Gordon Levitt) are amongst them, along with old hats, Gordon and Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman).

The Dark Knight Rises is a stunning visual achievement and Wally Pfister, an Oscar winner for his work on Inception, is the man responsible for offering up images as beautiful as the film is epic in scope. There are tense hand-to-hand skirmishes, thrilling aerial assaults and a spectacular destruction of a football stadium. The thundering sound design and Hans Zimmer’s score are frequently overbearing, but captures the atmosphere of impending doom and works with the ferocious finale. There are intervals that are adrenalin-charging to a chilling extent.



Christian Bale brings his usual bravura and intensity to Bruce Wayne. There is an added level of pain; a combination of being physical and emotionally crippled as a result of his exile, being without his beloved butler/guardian, Alfred (Michael Caine, so good), and facing a very real danger to the city he swore to protect. Though there were no performances like Heath Ledger’s unhinged and chaotic work in The Dark Knight to take charge whenever there is a lapse and distract us from the mechanical storytelling and convoluted plotting, there is a canvas of intriguing characters here that individually add something new.

Hathaway, surprisingly, was a joy to watch and Selina Kyle is mischievous, cheeky and sexy, while Joseph Gordon Levitt’s energy as Blake gave the film a boost when Bane isn’t on screen. It almost becomes a case of Nolan again letting the villain overshadow his hero, and I was impressed with Bane as a screen presence – but not so convinced by his political motivations. Like Ra'a al ghul before him, Bane is beset on transferring control of the city from the wealthy minority to the people of Gotham. Tom Hardy is scene stealing as the masked terrorist; a hulking, physically imposing and fearful figure whose dialogue is tough to make out, but his wily plans plunge Gotham into a state of terrifying deep, dark gloom. He also has a sense of humour, which were welcomed. Still, I left the film thinking: “Wow, never have I seen such an all-encompassing rise of seemingly-irreparable gloom in a summer blockbuster before.”



The weakness here is the screenplay. The film has a story even less coherent than The Dark Knight and outside of the realization late in the game that Gotham is in real trouble; not much emotion is drawn from an audience. I find it interesting that the Nolan brothers (Christopher co-writes with his younger brother Jonathan) can write such great dialogue for some of their key characters, and especially their villains, but allow everything that comes out of the mouths of the extras to be cheesy cliché lines. There is some appalling dialogue. Also, there are few scenes that don’t involve talky exposition. The same contrived tricks and logic-defying moments are present, as well as wasted time spent on annoying sub-antagonists like Matthew Modine's Deputy Commissioner Foley.

Where Rises tops TDK is the somewhat justification of the running time. It is still cumbersome and bloated – 165 minutes is too long, and the film’s pondering first hour actually makes very little sense - but with all of these different story arcs taking place simultaneously there is always a ferocious pace and it never feels unendurable. I didn’t find the story here to be as rushed as the final third of TDK, easily the weakest chapter of Nolan’s trilogy and the part where that film begins to fall apart. Here, Rises is moderately engaging before laying on the intensity and offering up more extravagant spectacle than any Batman fan could hope for. It is certainly one of the biggest and darkest blockbusters I have ever seen, and the tie-ins to Batman Begins (the most necessary background knowledge) are impressive. This is a well-rounded film, and ultimately a well-rounded trilogy, expertly crafted and peaking at exactly the right time.



So, after a murky and wayward opening, Nolan redeems himself with a rim-rattling finale, which brings all of the story arcs together for a tremendous struggle for Gotham. The film’s final hour is where the film hits a new stride and won me over as a fan. Its visual grandeur, genuine stakes and ability to continually surprise makes sitting through some tedious and confusing storytelling well worth the trip. I watched it in 35mm and it was a beautiful big screen experience. I intend to return for another look, and I have to assume most fans will be hugely satisfied. I also imagine that if you are reading this review, you have either already seen the film or intend to see it very soon and it won’t matter what I think anyway, but here it stands.

My Rating: ★★★★ (B)

15 comments:

  1. I think I see what you mean about the story. For the first fifteen minutes or so I thought "Uh oh" but in all honesty, I adored this film. Adored it :) (Bane's dialogue was a little hard to work out at times though, wasn't it). And god I loved Alfred! If I wasn't so pumped up on adrenaline, I may have cried! And Jim Gordon! Loved all the tie ins to Batman Begins as well.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I understood most of Bane's dialogue, actually, and I found him to be both a threatening presence and amusing. Michael Caine was excellent (but, I think he wasn't present enough to be considered for Best Supp. Actor as I have seen some claim). I can't say I adored it - It was too talky, and too confusing a narrative - but I did like it a lot. Especially the last hour.

      Delete
  2. Convoluted screenplay and a bit difficult to decipher what the hell Bane was saying, but the film works -- entertaining and enlightening in equal measures.

    Glad you enjoyed it. My review up today.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I checked out your review. Excellent work. I'm also glad you enjoyed it (more than me, certainly). I was fine with Bane's dialogue, for the most part, it was just the presence of scoffs in the film's middle that kept this from being higher. Logic defiance, plot contrivances, annoying sub characters and cheesy dialogue all were overshadowed by the film's grandeur and spectacle, but still hard to ignore.

      Delete
  3. I would have to say the sensory experience of it all is undermined by how damn TALKY the whole thing is. I mean, it is impressive to look at and to consider all of what he's trying to pack in, but his grandeur of plot undermines the true emotion. It leaves me cold, like "Inception". I just can't get there.

    Good review, Andy. I want to say that it helped put a few more of my feelings on the film into perspective. So thank you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I can completely understand your response. It was very talky, it was lacking emotional engagement, and it makes very little sense for a long time, but I thought the film remained consistently entertaining (except when Modine's character was on-screen) before turning up the action to 11 in the final hour. I loved all of that final act. Unfortunately, the build-up is far less interesting. It will see how it holds up on a second viewing.

      That's great to hear. It was a tough review to write. I went up and down with my opinions as I was processing it. At one point I felt like I didn't like it, and then when I considered the epic scope of the film, and how I had never seen a blockbuster as dark as it before, it improved for me.

      Delete
  4. I'm so glad you mentioned Matthew Modine as an annoying sub-antagonist. Whenever he was on screen, I was confused about where his character was going. If I did letter grades, I would give it a "B," too.

    Where we differ, however, was which half was stronger. I thought the first half was more coherent. I don't know, maybe it's because I prefer talking over explosions 8 times out of 10 but when the characters were running around trying to save Gotham, it just wasn't interesting to me.

    And do we agree that "that" ending about "that" character was kind of predictable? (Not the name thing, though.)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I hated his character. Its the same character as The Amazing Spider-Man, and I didnt like that character either. It makes no sense to include them. It must be a comic-book thing. I'm surprised you found the first half stronger. I also prefer talking to action and explosions (in most cases), but in this case it was so full of exposition that it was hard to engage at all. Whenever Bane was present the film got a lift, but watching Wayne pine over Rachel and Gordon and Foley argue just didn't work for me. When Bane's plans began to escalate, and Wayne and Kyle team up, the film got a big boost.

      Also, I can't remember very well, but it felt to me like Wayne's stint in the prison was a very long period, but back in Gotham Bane's plans seemed to come together very quickly. That was confusing. Picking it apart brings a lot of issues, so I'm not going to think about it all until I see it again and cement my thoughts. Overall, the spectacle won me over, and I think it will again.

      Yes, we agree about "that" ending :-p

      Delete
  5. What is it with Nolan and badly scripted minor cops? - he nails it with Oldman, but with Modine it's cliché after cliché. Although the first 30mins was exposition city, I found it so compelling that i could forgive it for it's sins. Hathaway surprised me in a good way also.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I liked Hathaway too. She brought sassy sexiness to the film and is actually one of the better female characters to appear in a Nolan film. Yes, agree on the badly scripted minor cops. Modine almost single-handedly brought the film down.

      Delete
  6. "The weakness here is the screenplay. The film has a story even less coherent than The Dark Knight and outside of the realization late in the game that Gotham is in real trouble; not much emotion is drawn from an audience." I completely agree with you, couldn't said it better! I, too, was drawn in the last hour and I liked the ending, but overall, I was not blown away by it! Dark Knight is better in my opinion!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I was actually quite blown away on my second view. The flaws in the screenplay became less distracting, and I was actually quite emotionally involved in the finale. I preferred RISES to TDK. I might be alone here, but TDK has never held up on repeat/DVD viewings for me. I wonder if RISES will.

      Delete
  7. มาแรงแซง ทุกบทบาท เว็บตรงไม่ผ่านเอย่นต์
    บรรยากาศ เหมือนจริง สล็อตjoker
    ที่เดียวที่ให้มากกว่าที่อื่น

    ReplyDelete
  8. แตกง่าย ได้จริง ฝากถอนไม่มีขั้นต่ำ สล็อตแตกง่าย
    มาพร้อมด้วย ป๊อกเด้ง บาคาร่า น้ำเต้าปูปลา และเกมอื่น ๆ อีกมากมาย สมัครสมาชิกฟรี

    ReplyDelete
  9. เล่นได้ทุกที่ทุกเวลา ง่ายๆ ด้วยตัวคุณเอง สล็อตpgแตกง่าย
    สมัครง่าย โปรโมชั่นอีกเพียบ คอบลห้ามพลาด พนันบอล
    ทำรายการด้วยระบบออโต้ บริการ24ชม

    ReplyDelete