Sunday, 22 July 2012

The Dark Knight Rises - review

"Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts. The first part is called "The Pledge". The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal. But of course... it probably isn't."

Forget the threat of Bane breaking the Bat, the real damage to the Caped Crusader was done in 1997 when Joel Schumacher's critical and commercial flop Batman & Robin crippled the franchise and the superhero genre.
When your friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man gave the comic book movie a radioactive bite to the arm, Warner Brothers gave the preverbial keys to the batmobile to Christopher Nolan, a director of critical hits Memento and Insomnia but unproven on a big studio blockbuster.
Nolan set out to prove that Batman could exist in the real world and for the first time with the character, explore exactly how an ordinary man, albeit a billionaire playboy, goes about dressing up as a bat to fight crime.
Batman Begins was intelligent filmmaking on a blockbuster scale and it would be fair to say that the end result was akin to Nolan pulling a bat-shaped rabbit out of his hat.

"The second act is called "The Turn". The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you're looking for the secret... but you won't find it, because of course you're not really looking. You don't really want to know. You want to be fooled."

Ironically for a film called The Dark Knight, the sequel kicked off with a scene set during the harsh light of day. Nolan was giving us a Gotham we had never really seen before and the thrilling bank heist proved to be worthy of comparisons to Michael Mann's Heat and as a terrific introduction to a new take on one of Batman's most iconic characters, the clown prince of crime in Gotham, The Joker. Nolan had received a lot of criticism prior to the film's release for casting Heath Ledger in the role but his faith was rewarded in what turned out to be one of the all-time great screen performances, which won Ledger a posthumous Oscar.
Nolan truly achieved something extraordinary with TDK by not only creating a sequel that was superior to the original (a case that can be argued for most superhero sequels) but he had crafted something that transcended its comic origins to simply become a fantastic film.

"But you wouldn't clap yet. Because making something disappear isn't enough; you have to bring it back. That's why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call "The Prestige"."

And so eight years after Batman, literally, took the fall for Harvey Dent's crimes (and his murder) we return to Gotham City. A Gotham City free of organised crime and thanks to the Dent Act and without the "Batman", or Bruce Wayne for that matter. He spends his days locked away in Wayne Manor as a Howard Hughes-esque recluse "with eight inch nails and peeing into mason jars".
Yet the arrival of a few new faces to Gotham will see Wayne forced bring back his various masks.
The theft of his late mother's pearls by slinky cat burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) and his rapidly disappearing fortune, thanks to a failed clean energy project with Marion Cotillard's Miranda Tate, see the return of the public face of eccentric billionaire Bruce Wayne.
However "a fire rises" in the form of Bane, a villainous masked brute excommunicated from the League of Shadows, who comes to turn Gotham to ashes and in order to stop him, as Commisioner Gordon confesses, "the Batman has to come back, he must, he must...".
But Batman is not the same man he was eight years ago. The physical and emotional scars of his battle against the criminal underworld have taken their toll and Alfred is keen to point out that going up against Bane could complete what he fears to be Bruce's journey towards self-destruction.
Indeed with this being the final part in Nolan's take on the Batman mythology, all the taglines for the film have stated "The Legend Ends", and as Bane's vice like grip over Gotham (and Batman) increases, there is a genuine feeling that things will not end well for the Caped Crusader.
It is not hard to see why either, as Bane has a tremendous physicality to him and anyone who saw Tom Hardy's terrific turn in Warrior will know,he is extremely capable of delivering on Bane's promise to break the bat. Between his imposing and the raspy wheeze and bassy tones of his voice through the mask, there are similarities to another great screen villain Darth Vader, especially when he demonstrates his displeasure at a henchman's mistake.
Whilst it is an incredibly physical role, much of Hardy's amazing performance comes from his eyes. The majority of his face is covered by the mask yet he is able to convey so much range, story and emotion with his eyes, particulary in one scene towards the end of the film.
As one might expect from a Christopher Nolan film, he has yet again assembled a terrific ensemble cast.
Joining Hardy as newcomers to Gotham are fellow Inception actors Marion Cotillard and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Cotillard brings warmth to proceedings as Miranda Tate, the woman who may be able to provide Wayne with a future beyond the bat and Gordon-Levitt has plenty of heart and integrity as Blake, an idealistic cop and strong supporter of the Batman.
Franchise stalwarts Freeman, Oldman and Caine once again bring their A game, as one would expect with actors of their calibre. Caine provides several heart wrenching moments with Bale, who himself delivers his best and most moving performance of the series.
However the real ace up Nolan's sleeve is the casting of Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle. Her casting, like Ledger's, was the subject of much debate but once again "In Nolan We Trust". From the moment that playful smile creeps across her face and she utters "Oops", Hathaway relishes in the sultry, slinky role like a cat that got the cream and is just as capable stealing scenes as well as pearls.
The pearls in question were the ones worn by Wayne's mother on the night his parents died, the event in Batman Begins that sowed the seeds for Wayne's transformation into "a silent guardian, a watchful protector, the dark knight". TDKR really is the concluding part of the trilogy as it revisits and ties into plot elements from the first two films. Bane seeks to fulfill the plans of Ra's Al Ghul and destroy Gotham, a city that has now eradicated organised crime thanks to laws built upon the lie that Harvey Dent died a hero at the end of TDK. A lie that will have severe repurcussions when exposed, both for Gotham and Batman. For the events in this film will force Bruce Wayne to examine whether the city truly needs a Batman to survive but also whether he needs him too.
Each part of the trilogy has had one central theme running through the film. Batman Begins could be summed up in one word - "fear": Bruce .
With The Dark Knight it was "chaos" as The Joker seeked to terrorise Gotham through anarchy. The Dark Knight Rises however focuses on two words - "hope and despair".
Bruce Wayne had hoped for a normal life beyond Batman. A life with his childhood sweetheart Rachel Dawes, but her death has left him in a permanent state of mourning and despair. Batman was meant to be a symbol of hope for the city but instead vilified in order to fulfil the false hope created by Harvey Dent's fight against crime, yet there are still those who hope the Dark Knight will return to save the day.
Bane speaks of the hope and despair he felt during his time in a prison that could be described as a Lazarus pit, looking up at the light and imagining the climb to freedom only to fall again and again, increasing the sense of despair. He plans to torture the souls of Gotham by giving them hope of surviving his dastardly plot, only to tear it down when Gotham's reckoning is finally unleashed.
Nolan's trilogy has always had a layer of social commentary bubbling away under the surface. In TDK for example looked at how society deals with terrorism but with TDKR it would be fair to say that the social commentary is a little more on the nose given its relevance to today's society.
Bane's presents his occupation of Gotham in the form of an insurrection, calling on the masses to break free from the shackles of society and rise up against the bureaucracy and corrupt officials that have kept them down for so long. Angry uprising mobs provoke uneasy memories of the recent Hackney riots. There is a literal attack on the stock market with key characters becoming victims of a financial crisis. At one point Selina Kyle says "there is a storm coming Mr Wayne... You and your friends will wonder how you ever managed to live so large and leave so little for the rest of us" furthering the 99%/1% rationale that fuelled the "Occupy Wall Street" movement.
But beyond the political allusions and themes it may try to explore, given the shocking events this past weekend, it is important to remember that it is just a film and a film's primary function is to provide entertainment and escapism for a couple of hours.
At nearly three hours long, this is a truly epic conclusion to the story. Not just in terms of length but also in scope and action, once again showcased beautifully by Wally Pfister's cinematography and Hans Zimmer's rousing score. Nolan immediately outdoes the thrilling bank heist and truck flip featured in TDK by beginning the film with an audacious mid air skyjack that, as is Nolan's style, was practically achieved in camera as much as humanly possible, allowing little reliance on CGI. So when seen on an IMAX screen (over an hour's worth of footage was filmed in the format), the audience are almost overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the action whether it be a shot of hundreds of Gotham's police battling Blackgate prisoners outside City Hall or the visceral brutality of the first fight between Batman and Bane where you can feel every single punch.
That particular fight closes the first act of the film, which has a definite three act structure (comic book fans might label the acts Knightfall, No Man's Land and The Dark Knight Returns). Yet while there are some that have criticised the film for being too long or too heavily plotted, the first two acts really reinforce the emotional investment in the character of Bruce Wayne that had been built up over the saga so when the final act takes hold, the audience is taken on a roller coaster ride of excitement and emotion that has a such an overwhelmingly satisfying conclusion (both in terms of narrative for the film and for fans of the comics) that it was a surprise to find that tears were being shed. These tears are likely to be a mixture of joy and sadness. Joy at seeing such a perfect end to a wonderful story but also sadness at knowing that the comic book genre is never likely to see anything as good as this again.
With The Dark Knight Rises, Christopher Nolan has achieved the near impossible and not only produced the first great superhero trilogy but also arguably the greatest film trilogy of all-time.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Films watched in July 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man 3D - 3 stars
Katy Perry: Part of Me 3D - 3 stars
Friends With Kids - 3 stars
The Hunter - 4 stars
Magic Mike - 4 stars
Searching For Sugar Man - 4 stars
Batman Begins - 4 stars
The Dark Knight - 5 stars
Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World - 3 stars
The Dark Knight Rises IMAX - 5 stars
The Dark Knight Rises - 5 stars
The Dark Knight Rises - 5 stars
The Dark Knight Rises - 5 stars
The Lorax - 1 star
The Dark Knight Rises - 5 stars
The Dark Knight Rises - 5 stars
The Dark Knight Rises - 5 stars
The Dark Knight Rises - 5 stars
Ted - 2 stars

Films watched in July - 19
Total number of films watched in 2012 - 125
Total number of unique films watched in 2012 - 106