The Dark Knight Rises
Directed by Christopher Nolan. Starring Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Marion Cotillard, Tom Hardy.
The problems were there for all to see in The Dark Knight. Yes, I know, I gave it a five star review, along with pretty much every other hack in the world. Maybe we were blindsided by what the recently departed Heath Ledger had achieved, and over whelmed by the sheer scale and ambition of the project, or maybe, it was 4am, and we were dog-tired, and not in any mood to ask too many questions. But watching it again, wide awake, a few days later, and gawd but that last half hour is rubbish isn't it? The two ferries, loaded with explosives (err, how?) one of them packed with felons, the other with citizens, and each with a trigger to detonate the other. Oh sure, it presents a few questions of the sort that the ambulatory black-clad pin cushions of Cuba St might get worked up over, but the mechanics of the whole scenario were ludicrous, and the pace became deadly dull. If ever there were a film that could have used a leaner third act, and an editor on a bonus for every minute he could leave on the floor, The Dark Knight was it.
And yet it all started so well. Batman Begins remains the best superhero movie ever made. It played the scenario straight, didn't waste a second, and even retained a sense of humour. Comparing Batman Begins to The Dark Knight is like comparing Reservoir Dogs to Pulp Fiction. The second film might be the more popular, but compared to its lean and timeless predecessor, there is a flabby self-indulgence about it that will not age particularly well.
Which brings us to this, The Dark Knight Rises. The film is set eight years after the events of the first two. Gotham is a city at peace. Batman hasn't been sighted in ages. Prosperity and the police rule. Clearly the place is about to catch hell.
Under the city, down in the service tunnels, a particularly 'ornery master-criminal by the name of Bane is hatching a plan, raising an army, plotting his revenge, and doing all that other stuff that master criminals generally get up to. Played by Tom Hardy (Bronson, Inception), this Bane is an impressive chunk of psychopath. Bane is a character from the comic book series Knightfall. Readers of that series know that he is most famous for one horrifying act. And, the writers have him replicating that act here.
But apart from his signature move, this Bane is very different to the comic book character. He is actually a lot closer, in action and temperament, to the leader of the ''Mutants'' in Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns. Which at least has a nice symmetry to it, since it was those books that started this whole craze for the dark, 'realistic' superhero anyway.
Hardy plays him as brute, not witless, but focused and in no mood for games. Hampered by a mask, and a speech pattern that sounds as though he has recently eaten Sean Connery, and is now regurgitating him whole, Hardy still makes this Bane a character to be remembered.
Meanwhile Christian Bale, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman, and Michael Caine are all present and reliable as ever. The script does Freeman and Caine no favours, with Freeman relegated to a 'tame scientist' role, while Caine simply bursts into tears a few times and is then written out of the story. Which is a shame, The Dark Knight Rises could have used a lot more of Caine's wit and integrity. Because the film is, beneath the laughably bombastic score, the spectacular set pieces, the special effects, the stunts, the cod-philosophising, and the marketing campaign, actually not particularly good. The plot is ludicrous, full of holes, while the writers' decision to take the Batman out of the action for the second act is a catastrophic mistake.
A couple of new characters keep the goodies on the board, but the film is adrift without its main engine driving it. This is a franchise that has always pretended to be far more than just 'good guy in spandex' nonsense, and it must be reviewed as such. As a superhero yarn, The Dark Knight Rises is pretty good, but less fun than The Amazing Spider-Man. But judged as a film for adults, with all the expectations of plotting, cohesion, and plausible motivations that implies, then The Dark Knight Rises is a bit of a mess. Lots of sound and fury, lots of smoke and mirrors, but a lumpen parade of events where its story and its heart should be.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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