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

Review – Avengers Assemble

Review – Avengers Assemble

2012, 142 mins, 12A, Dir. Joss Whedon, starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson

The Avengers

In a recent survey of thousands of cinemagoers by the ticketing agency Fandango, it was found that The Avengers, or Avengers Assemble as it is called in the UK (for fear of confusion with the 1960s television series), is the most anticipated blockbuster of the year. Statistically more people want to see it than even the final Dark Knight installment. After all, publicity had been building since 2008 with the release of several Marvel movies (The Incredible Hulk; Iron Man; Thor et al) that foreshadowed this moment: the promise of a film that would put several superheroes in the same universe was tantalisingly brilliant. And who better to helm the project than Joss Whedon, the man behind Buffy and Firefly, a fiercely talented writer and filmmaker? Now that it has finally arrived, does it live up to its expectations? Does it truly give us the epic spectacle of action and characters that we were hoping for? 

In a word, yes. Avengers Assemble is an absolute thrill from beginning to end, outclassing every single Marvel film that led up to this – even the really good ones. In fact, it is one of the greatest superhero films ever produced. Instead of just one, Whedon gives us six protagonists and yet still allocates enough time and effort to explore them – their backstories, beliefs and traits. And these characters are well-acted, too. The nonchalant Downey Jr. and spirited Hemsworth are, as always, hard to resist, but Johansson is particularly excellent as Black Widow. As is typical of Whedon’s work, the female character is a strong heroine and not a mere love interest; she exerts an authoritative force that equals that of the men. The Hulk is also interestingly done – Mark Ruffalo is the first actor to play both Banner and the Hulk itself, donning a motion-capture suit for the more charged sequences. Samuel L. Jackson is, as always, charismatic in his role.

Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow

What’s more, the action sequences are fantastic, whether it’s Black Widow beating up three mobsters whilst tied down in a chair or the near-destruction of Manhattan (where else?) by the main villain, Loki: a breathtaking extended sequence which, thanks to splendid work from the special effects department, is utterly seamless and a joy to watch. And it’s funny. Very, very, very funny. Each of our heroes think they are better than the rest and this leads to inevitable bickering, ironic given that a world invasion is taking place. This contest of greatness even makes its way onto the battlefield in one hilarious scene which I won’t spoil. Although the plot is a little thin without the other Marvel films, it is a triumph in terms of dialogue, and we can only hope that the sequel, if there is one, is given due care.

Thor and Captain America get ready to fight Loki’s army.

A load of us, when we went to see Thor, Captain America and the rest, waited patiently until the end of the credits for a sequence that would hint at what was coming next. And I’m glad to say that the time was well-spent. Avengers Assemble is a triumph, a film that combines the best of the Marvel universe and yet still gives us enough time with each character. With its blend of superhero action and intelligent writing, it captures the spirit of old-style comics beautifully. The final battle sequence is an astonishing feat of special effects, an exciting and exhilarating turn of events that is brilliantly directed and edited. And, of course, it’s absolutely hilarious.

8/10