Review – The Dark Knight Rises

Review – The Dark Knight Rises

2012, 164 mins, 12A, Dir. Christopher Nolan, starring Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Gary Oldman

The Dark Knight Rises

Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight was one of the director’s finest achievements, a seminal film of technical brilliance and, as the Joker would see to it, terrifying villainy. With that milestone to surpass, with Joss Whedon’s The Avengers taking $1.4 billion at the worldwide box office, and with critics doubting the audibility of the main villain after seeing the first few minutes of footage, The Dark Knight Rises faced a number of obstacles. But Christopher Nolan is not to be distrusted. In fact, he has made a film that not only puts doubters to shame, but acts as a perfect end to what has already been a supremely exciting series.

We open eight years after the events of The Dark Knight, where the ‘Batman’ has been disgraced and his alter-ego, Bruce Wayne, lives alone, limping around his mansion with nothing to do. Thanks to the Dent Act following the death of Gotham’s former DA, the city is seemingly at peace, although Commissioner Jim Gordon cannot shake off his past. However, there is an entirely new force which threatens Gotham in ways no-one could have anticipated, as the unbelievably strong Bane arrives to wreak havoc. And if that wasn’t enough, Wayne becomes embroiled with a mysterious woman named Selina Kyle who has a lot of things hiding up her leathery sleeve…

Plot twists are a-plenty, and there are a larger number of characters than ever that contribute to the flow of the narrative, but everything is controlled and each of the actors is allowed to shine. Anne Hathaway gives us one of the best performances in the film as Selina Kyle. Although the Nolan trilogy of Batman movies is more grounded in reality (the term ‘Catwoman’ is never mentioned in the script, and the costume is less fantastical than in Tim Burton’s imagining) the sly, rebellious attitude is still there, and Hathaway pulls it off with ease. At the Wayne Mansion in one of the early scenes in the movie, the sudden change from shy, innocent maid to sexy, artful jewel thief is made with one word and a slick change in facial expression. She also drives a Batpod really well.

Anne Hathaway in The Dark Knight Rises

The role of Bane is comfortably filled out by British actor Tom Hardy, and you do gain a sense of the physicality of the character – every knuckle-pounding punch that he plants on Batman is really felt by the audience. He brings something new to the caped crusader, both a physical and a mental threat, and is a truly formidable villain. Christian Bale, meanwhile, turns up the ante as the main character. In the epic finale, when he sports the Bat-shaped cowl, Batman’s passion for driving out crime and delivering Gotham from evil is more effervescent than ever.

The supporting cast is, as always, phenomenal, although the notch has been turned up considerably. Michael Caine gives his most heart-wrenching performance of the series, while Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a delight as John Blake – or is it… no, never mind. One of the most memorable performances is one of the shortest, as a character from a previous film (who I refuse to mention) shows up as a judge, sentencing Gotham’s rich and famous as Bane restores ‘power to the people’.

There’s so much to praise about the acting, but my goodness you could never forget the visuals. The Dark Knight Rises is a sheer spectacle from beginning to end. Whether you see it in IMAX or not, no-one can deny the jaw-dropping nature of the opening plane stunt (which was performed for real, over Inverness), or of the many other action sequences in the film. Nolan pulls out all his impressive stops and in terms of scale this is certainly the largest Batman film, with nearly an hour of the film shot using IMAX cameras (and a bladder-threatening running time of nearly 3 hours). Mercifully resisting shooting in 3D, the director shows his love for the audience, and with his tendency for using practical effects whenever possible over CGI (as well as shooting and editing on film strips, a fact proudly proclaimed in the end credits) he further reveals his tendency for traditional-style filmmaking and heart-stopping theatricality.

Batman faces a moment of panic as the cops close in.

However, we musn’t just thank Nolan for the experience that it is. Hans Zimmer’s score adds to the atmosphere immeasurably, with every pulse-pounding beat making you tremble in your seat. The sound design guys show the true ferocity of Bane’s punches, and mix the film so that in the final hour you have no time to relax as Batman makes his return.

There is so much to pack in to The Dark Knight Rises that at times it can seem a little chaotic. But ultimately the story holds strong, constantly alternating to another round of surprises, and serving well each of the characters. In fact, the running time of the film is never hard-pressing – the time seems to fly by, in fact. It is so impeccably paced and well-edited. But the ending could be the best part of the film. Everyone knew that Nolan is a master of film endings, as we witnessed from the ambiguity of Inception‘s spinning top, but he ends his trilogy here in truly spectacular fashion. We are treated to a series of alternating images that lead us into beguilement and expectation. When the end credits roll, applause is absolutely mandatory, as the jaws of the audience simultaneously drop once more.

The Dark Knight set the standard impossibly high with a first-rate villain and the kind of action never glimpsed before in a superhero film, and despite the many things that make this film great, it just isn’t quite as good as its predecessor. But does it need to be? Chris Nolan has provided more-than-satisfying closure for a monumental series of films, an alarming and exciting tour-de-force of premium intensity that really lives up to the hype surrounding it – in fact, I think it’s probably the best film of the year. I am certainly going to miss the Nolan Batmans, the expectation that surrounded them upon release, the gasps of awe at the incredible action sequences. And I know that I am not the only one. 

9/10

Lord of the Rings all nighter

Thank the heavens for BFI IMAX. The gigantic Waterloo cinema, which sits in the middle of a roundabout, houses not only the biggest screen in Britain but a superb programme of IMAX films… and the occasional all-nighter. It was back in March 2011 when I attended the first of these, a Batman all-nighter, in which I thought it would be a wonderful idea to dress up as the Joker. Batman and Batman Returns were shown in 35mm whilst Batman Begins and The Dark Knight were shown in IMAX, an exhilarating experience. A few months later I was crazy enough to book for two consecutive all-nighters encompassing the first seven Harry Potter films (I dressed up as Professor Quirrell on the first night). On both of these occasions I produced vlogs detailing what was happening during the night and giving my opinion on each film. Given that I was extremely tired throughout most of the night, my opinions were somewhat frayed and unfocused.

Why so serious? (admittedly this isn't a great picture)

Nevertheless, I persevered, and always had a good time. Last weekend I attended yet another all-nighter, this time including the Lord of the Rings films. I produced yet another vlog. I took a break from materialising in the cinema as villains and instead took a more noble approach, as you will see. I was going to write a few paragraphs on it but I’m still having repercussions from the infrequent breaks and vast amount of sugary drinks we consumed over the night. Here’s to BFI IMAX, and to a whole new season of all-nighters.

Now go ahead and check out my other all-nighter vlogs! Generally they’re a lot funnier than this one was.

Past reviews

Before I started this wordpress business, I used to write a lot of reviews of films both recent and old. I’ve carefully trawled through a great load of them (a lot of them aren’t very good) and selected what I feel most represents my stunning body of work as a professional writer. Enjoy, therefore, a presentation of my unparalleled reviewing skills.

I know, I’m not really a professional writer. It’s just a joke.

Review – Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

The first major screen appearance of the sensationally jingoistic Marvel superhero Captain America is an enthralling mix of villainy, patriotism and gunfire. Set in World War Two, it tells the story of the scrawny Steve Rogers who, after being deemed unfit for regular military service, volunteers for a secret experimental project which transforms him into a muscle man with superheroic abilities. Though Chris Evans’ performance lacks emotion, the film benefits from its supporting cast which includes a spectacularly creepy Hugo Weaving as arch-villain Red Skull and a dazzling (and English) Hayley Atwell as SSR Agent Peggy Carter. The set-pieces are better than ever, each explosive scene transitioning to the next with almost no break, and there are some excellent fight scenes between the American soldiers and the disintegration-gun-equipped followers of Nazi cult HYDRA.

It’s undoubtedly cheesy, but in a more comfortable, familiar way, a way that is often associated with Marvel, so it’s forgiveable. The 3D, however, is not. The whole film appears flat in its entirety, even when our nationalistic protagonist tosses his painted shield at the camera with considerable force. Never mind. “Captain America: The First Avenger” is a good bit of old-fashioned, very American fun, which succeeds in whetting our appetites even further for the forthcoming “Avengers” film. Just make sure you stay until after the end credits.

4 stars out of 5

Review – Batman (1989)

Tim Burton’s “Batman” ultimately reincarnated the renowned comic-book character with great style; from the campy, tongue-in-cheek days of the 60s to the brooding, dark shadow we know today. With elements of Frank Miller, Burton brought into existence a Gotham city overrun with dangerous criminals and menacing streets. It is into this unholy world which Batman grapples his way in, ridding it of thieves and murderers. Yet a far more intimidating, lethal villain is rising and could soon rule over the city. As Batman begins to uncover more secrets about himself, photographer Vicki Vale becomes more and more susceptible to this great enemy’s lure.

The art direction in this is simply astonishing. Burton chose not to shoot on location, but instead to craft his Gotham out of extensively complicated sets which would be erected at the time of filming. And the film itself looks stunning. Although “Batman” is dark, it’s full of colour too. The character bringing that colour is unquestionably Jack Nicholson’s Joker – making snappy one-liners, he kills people with crude ‘toys’, such as a lethally electric hand buzzer, whilst laughing manically. Although there are funny parts, this is in comparison to earlier efforts a very serious comic book movie, full of stark imagery and thoroughly explosive action sequences. Although there’s not a huge amount of character development, especially in Michael Keaton’s Bruce Wayne, Danny Elfman’s score is terrific and this will always be remembered as the first truly exciting, tense and sinister Batman movie.

4 stars out of 5

Review – Moon (2009)

Duncan Jones’ thought-provoking directorial debut, Moon, is one of the greatest science fiction films of the 21st century. Sam Bell is an American astronaut who, in the last few weeks of his 3-year contract on Moon, has a very personal encounter that makes him question reality. In a Hollywood smorgasbord of sci-fi rip-offs, remakes and sequels, it’s gratifying to find something utterly fresh, stimulating and original as this, even if Kevin Spacey’s robotic assistant GERTY is somewhat reminiscent of HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Sam Rockwell carries the entire film on his shoulders – a hefty job, but he adapts perfectly and gives a thoroughly powerful, emotional performance. It’s a wonderfully entertaining film with some great set-pieces, but it’s also a poignant tale of growing industrialisation and human greed.

4 stars out of 5

Review – Hard Boiled (1992)

John Woo’s last Hong Kong film before his unfortunate shift to Hollywood delivers much more than any American filmmaker can with about a tenth of the budget. Hard Boiled is action cinema at its very, very best with its intense shootouts, deafening explosions and, in general, its colourful flamboyance. It’s one of the most elaborate and awe-inducing films you will ever experience.

Chow Yun Fat stars as “Tequila”, a tenacious, agile cop who is determined to track down and annihilate a malevolent mob boss (Anthony Wong Chau-Sang) and his associates. Also in the picture is Tony (Tony Leung Chiu Wai) – another gangster… or is he?

Despite the trouble of culture clash, one can distinguish how good the two main leads are. Even through the most extravagant gun battles they convey the deepest emotions – the undercover man, yearning to break free from his vice, and the loyal, aging cop who believes he’s misunderstood. It seems, when directing his own countrymen, Woo can achieve much better performances.

Although the film in its entirety is pulse-pounding, the real sensations come at the end in the climatic hospital scene. Thousands of bullets are sprayed around as cops go up against terrorists and flames are everywhere in a sequence that only further shows Woo’s utter pyrotechnical genius. In one instance, the camera follows Tequila and Tony around as they shoot people in an impressive long take lasting almost three minutes. It’s a unique and fantastic addition that you never really see in an action film, making it all the more flabbergasting. Woo’s extensive use of slow-motion shots and quick, brutal dispatching of characters has become something of a genre in itself as it truly does stand unparalleled.

It’s often been ranked in the same vicinity as his other masterpiece, The Killer (1989). While Hard Boiled doesn’t have as much of a story, the action is certainly on a much higher level. It’s really up to the viewer to decide which they prefer, but one thing is for sure on both sides; that Hard Boiled, the last film John Woo made in Hong Kong, is not to be missed under any circumstances.

5 stars out of 5

And there you have it. I hope you enjoyed reading these as much as I enjoyed writing them (which for one of them wasn’t very much. See if you can guess which one). I’ll be trying to write more review on here especially of more recent films, such as the upcoming Tintin film (which I just happen to be seeing early). Stick with it, I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.