MFR Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★
Gravity and density and magnitude and awe. Just a few of the thoughts that were spinning around my head as the credits rolled and Christopher Nolan’s epic trilogy departed. Bold and unflinching with scale so magnificent you can only marvel at its director’s genius. The Dark Knight Rises visually obliterates the modern blockbuster with a story of daring boldness, leaving its audience breathless. Nolan’s always favours a cold edge of ideas and scale in his style of film-making, interweaving this with a devastating catharsis. In TDKR, his grandiose style is an unrelenting and marvelous spectacle even if it can feel a little too cold, pulling it back from quite achieving the claim of a masterpiece even if many of its components are deserving of such an accolade.
TDKR is set a full eight years after the events of its predecessor. If 2008’s The Dark Knight had a problem, it was the ease and haste in which Harvey Dent went from the city’s shining knight to a villain filled with malevolence and prepared to kill an innocent child, but his legend remains untarnished in Gotham with Batman (Christian Bale) soaking up his sins allowing the pureness of Dent’s symbol to remain intact. Relative peace has subsequently befallen Gotham under the stewardship of Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) and aided by the Dent Act, allowing the caging of many of the city’s worst offenders but Bane (Tom Hardy) offers a terrifying masked insurgent who has his eye set on the city and forcing Bruce Wayne to reconsider Batman’s exile.
Now, just watch the opening sequence and tell me you blinked.
Bane exerts a physical presence coupled with his heart stoppingly menacing and off-kilter voice-box, making him a terrific villain with intentions not immediately apparent but thankfully unraveled to be more than just rampant madness and actually providing a curious political subtext I’m sure many will have fun delving into. The plot is dense, sometimes seamlessly magnificent but occasionally feeling rather rushed despite the film’s 164 minute running time. Perhaps there’s just not enough attention awarded to smaller scale character detail allowing the film to get a bit carried away in its enormity. For example, at one point a load of city cops find themselves trapped underground for a long period of time without any attention given to their claustrophobia experienced. The script isn’t always quite as slick as it could be, epitomized by a kiss chucked in at a potentially apocalyptic moment to try and provide a shade of intimacy the film otherwise lacks when the Nolan brothers should really know better as it seemed completely ridiculous given the stakes the film has done so well to build. There’s plenty of great lines as well which make up for its faults but with standards so inordinately high, on the rare occurrences the Nolans miss a beat – it is glaring.
While Batman Begins presented the origins of the Batman character, The Dark Knight took more of a step back to look at Batman’s relationship with the city. The Dark Knight Rises takes a step further back to the extent that Batman’s central heroic relationship with Gotham can feel slightly forced to coincide with the narrative. That’s not to say the narrative isn’t compelling, just that Batman himself is the least compelling (and least convincing) part of what is equally the story of Gotham as it is about its eponymous hero. I felt the same about The Dark Knight. There’s nothing hugely engrossing about a rich guy with some family tragedy who decides to dress up in a funny suit and put on a silly voice. It’s what is around him which brings these films to life and that’s where Nolan succeeds in creating such a dense and appealing dystopia. Bane, Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) and young Gotham City cop John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) all add richness to the world, with JG-L providing a particularly impressive performance with a character who’s equally as film-stealing as Heath Ledger’s Joker, even if such parallels may not go a great deal further.
Helped by the IMAX, The Dark Knight Rises is quite simply one of the most beautifully filmed movies I can imagine, perfectly showcasing Nolan’s brilliance with a camera. It looks like a piece of art, every frame is so perfectly considered and beautifully lit. It’s just such a delight to be swept up in something so vivid and graceful, compounded with a story of equal magnitude. His understanding of how to shoot cityscapes is probably the most marvelous thing in modern film making, certainly helped by TDKR taking place almost entirely in daylight, a huge stylistic decision I must admit I’ve only just realised and proving that to be dark, a film doesn’t need to be dark. With minimal special effects there’s a real gravity to so much of the action, allowing the combat sequences to feel genuinely physical. While Batman Begins suffers from too many rapid cuts and closeups during combat, everything here feels so much more intense. Gotham feels like a real place filled with realness while so many extraordinary things occur, eyes remain firmly glued to this epically beautiful illusion of authenticity.
Christopher Nolan is quite simply a visionary and once more confirming himself as one of the greatest artists of the 21st century. The film’s conclusion is appropriate and while it may not necessarily shock, it manages to be devastating in Nolan’s cold, signature manner, bringing it all together. A fitting, hugely satisfying conclusion and what’s even more exciting is what the great man might make next.
Review by David Rank
The Dark Knight Rises is out on 20th July in the UK and US. Certificate 12A (UK). Running time 164 mins.
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