The Dark Knight Rises – Review

Has Nolan failed to deliver on the lofty expectations built up by fans, or does TDKR carry on the compelling exposition and immersive character drama that defined the previous iterations of the series?

This is seemingly the question on everyone’s lips; however, it is quite clearly the wrong question to be asking.

Prior to viewing and subsequently judging TDKR, one must first come to terms with the fact that The Dark Knight was a masterpiece in its own right and should be judged upon its own merits. Unfortunately, as is the case with sequels (and trilogies in particular) the subsequent films suffer heavily from direct comparisons, and often falter under the weight of expectations. When applied to this situation, it is fair to say that Nolan has, in the eyes of many, dug his own grave creatively speaking, by creating such a groundbreaking vision of the iconic comic book character.

For those familiar with the franchise, TDKR is very much the spiritual sequel to Batman Begins, with numerous plot points threading directly between the films and adding to the intrinsically linked nature of the trilogy. In spite of all of the blockbuster-popcorn fare, TDKR presents itself as one of the most emotionally dense films of the Batman franchise. The narrative not only deals with Bruce Wayne’s physical frailties, but his mental deterioration since the events of the previous film; in the process, setting up some heart-wrenching scenes with his father-figure Alfred (Michael Caine).

The film takes off at a cracking pace, although the third act, save for the film’s final moments, lacked the emotional depth of the remainder of the story, and ensured TDKR’s bloated run time edged ever so slightly into the subconscious. Furthermore, whilst all of the involved parties were rewarded with fitting and satisfying pay offs, Bane felt criminally underserved after the extensive build up he received throughout the film.

It’s clear that many of the actors involved committed absolutely everything to their roles, which only further augmented the real-world grounding that Nolan worked so hard to cultivate. These performances ensure that the film’s strongest moments come from the quieter interactions between the main players and not from the larger, extravagant set pieces (although the collapse of the football field- as seen in the trailers- is a breathtaking sight to behold).

Whilst, Tom Hardy’s Bane doesn’t have the impact or capture the manic energy of Heath Ledger’s Joker, it doesn’t necessarily mean that TDKR is a poor film, or even that it fails to live up to the hype. Nolan has crafted such a complete and immersive world around Bob Kane’s iconic creation, that the absence of such a magnetic performance from the central villain is not the film’s be-all and end-all. Unfortunately for many, TDKR will fragment under the weight of viewers’ insurmountable expectations, despite its unique brilliance and ability to complete what will go down in history as the finest superhero saga ever committed to celluloid. That being said, Hardy’s Bane is an incredibly intimidating presence that provides the first real physical threat to Batman of the trilogy (which is a very welcome change of pace). Hardy does what he can with the limited facial expression offered by his restrictive mask. Despite this, he manages through his eyes, body language and striking voice to convey an ominous charisma that makes his villain a delight to watch.

On the other end of the scale, Christian Bale has made the role of Bruce Wayne well and truly his own. Following Wayne’s transformation into a symbol of justice through the first two films, his regression into a depressed, broken man throughout TDKR is one of the most adult and compelling performances ever made by a comic book hero.

Fans and critics alike have bemoaned Nolan’s perceived lack of guile in selecting suitable female leads in the past (see: Maggie Gylenhall, Katie Holmes), however Marion Cotillard (unsurprisingly) and Anne Hathaway (very surprisingly) both flourish in their respective roles. Hathaway delivers a noticeably mature performance that expertly mixes humour, volatility and sex appeal without coming off as a cartoonish caricature (see: every previous depiction of the character). In particular, Hathaway’s chemistry with Bale is excellent, surpassing the lacklustre romantic interactions that plagued the first two films.

The supporting actors of the piece also manage to deliver in spades, as renowned thespian Gary Oldman truly embodies the restrained anguish of a burnt-out, guilt ridden Jim Gordon. Michael Caine is superb in his role as Wayne’s voice of reason and the sheer emotional weight he brings to the role is staggering, stealing the few scenes he’s given a chance to shine. Furthermore, in a testament to his growing maturity, Joseph Gordon Levitt manages to portray the often-maligned role of the idealistic newcomer without coming off as too campy or unrealistic.

For all of its triumphs, one of the more noticeable shortcomings of the film was the sound mixing within certain scenes. Whilst Bane’s voice was nowhere near as inaudible as doomsayers had led us to believe, the film’s sound balance at times left a lot to be desired. In certain scenes, not just confined to Bane, dialogue was seemingly drowned out by the cacophony of Hans Zimmer’s score (which in itself was fantastic, if not slightly domineering). It may not have been a consistent issue throughout the duration of the film, but its prevalence in certain areas surely made for a compelling argument that the sound department’s punishment must be more severe for not addressing these relatively obvious flaws.

Despite its minor shortcomings, TDKR is a film that will not only make fanboys and girls squeal in delight, but will blow the minds of the more uninitiated punters. A compelling narrative, stunning visual effects and excellent performances from all of the leads allow the film to coast smoothly through the rather laborious third act. If The Avengers elevated Joss Whedon to Marvel-deity status, Nolan’s Batman trilogy has surely immortalised the British filmmaker, not only in the DC fanboy hall of fame, but, in the annals of cinematic classics.

 

 

The original review can be found here. For more reviews and news, head over to Luna Magazine.

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