Saturday 21 July 2012

The Dark Knight Rises (2012) - Christopher Nolan

Watching Nolan's third and final entry into his Batman saga is a bittersweet experience.  His films have not only redefined the titular character, but redefined the parameters of what a comic book film should be.  But with The Dark Knight Rises Nolan brings things to a close - this is well and truly the end of an era.

Nolan's film is a masterclass in character.  So many comic book films fail to balance the hero and the man behind the mask.  Surprisingly enough, this is a Batman film with very little Batman.  Instead, Bruce Wayne is central, dragged out of retirement to face his toughest adversary yet.  More than ever, Batman is just a symbol.

The screenplay offers an incredibly satisfying conclusion.  To an extent it goes against the character we know, with less stealthy shadow lurking and more brash technology resulting in all out war.  The film is on a much grander scale than its predecessors in almost every way.  Despite this, it always remains within the realms of Nolan's vision of a believable Gotham that has extended across the trilogy.  This world succeeds in its relation to our own - the terrorist and recession combating parallels are clear and boldly portrayed, but the political message is not overdone and the film's cold, monochromatic feel is artfully shot, lending itself to a sort of hyper-realism.

Moreover, the motorbikes, weaponry and 'the bat' are quite simply necessary in the fight against Bane, resulting in some spectacular action sequences that contain both physical and emotional weight. Batman is well known for his nemeses, especially those which embody aspects of psychology. Bane may not be as instantly recognisable or as witty as the Joker, but he is far from simply a physical foe. Tom Hardy uses his eyes and voice to act through the mask: his timbre suggesting the intellect of a Shakespearean villain, the character's backstory ensuring a sense of humanity that goes beyond the revolution he stands for.

Anne Hathaway may have seemed an odd choice for Selina Kyle, but rest assured her performance is suitably sexual, her dialogue filled with pithy remarks suggestive of the comic book origins but never straying from the bounds of realism. It's less iconic than Michelle Pfeiffer's turn and she's slightly underused - her position as anti-hero with questionable morality could have been explored further. Yet in this predominantly masculine world, the inclusion of some seductive femininity is welcome and her character is an appropriate foil to Batman, similarly seeking redemption.

Christian Bale growls his way through the central role, but truly gets to the heart of Master Wayne.  Psychologically broken, the film is as much about Wayne rising to overcome his grief at the death of his parents as it is the Dark Knight becoming the saviour that Gotham needs - a story that's arced across all three films and finally reaches conclusion.  It's left to Michael Caine's Alfred to pick up the pieces, here delivering much of the film's emotional power.  The inclusion of Joseph Gordon-Levitt's hotshot cop Blake is as integral as Batman himself, in a film imbued with fan service for fans of both the comics and previous films.

The only mar is the sound quality.  Whilst the problems with Bane's speech have been somewhat rectified, muffled dialogue is widespread throughout the film, struggling to be heard over Hans Zimmer's rousing score.  However, this may be a cinema-specific issue and the imbalanced sound levels are not enough to deter from the overall experience.

Looking at Nolan's output (Inception or Memento for example), he has always been an intelligent film director and The Dark Knight Rises is a similarly complex, layered film.  It's almost insulting to mark the series as the best comic book adaptation in cinematic history.  Instead, it's outright an exceptional and smart piece of film making.  Story, character, cinematography and special effects combine to make a cohesive whole - a well-constructed vision and fitting finale to an outstanding trilogy.