Saturday, 21 July 2012

The Dark Knight Rises 2012

There will be no end to analysis and commentary on this last part of a truly epic trilogy. Just as there was no end to speculation around it for the past four years since the previous film had graced our screens. So, here's my drop of wisdom in the huge ocean of Batman discussions.

Traditionally, the third part in a trilogy is often the worst. Take, for instance, The Godfather: Part III (1990), The Matrix Revolutions (2003), X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) and Spider-Man 3 (2007) - all were sorely disappointing, especially as they came after a sometimes stronger second instalment than even the first film. Keeping that in mind, The Dark Knight Rises had a lot at stake. If Batman Begins (2005) had started the fire, the reaction to The Dark Knight (2008) could be likened to the size of an inferno. And since then all eyes have been on what Nolan-Bale would do next.

First, let's cover the story very quickly and spoiler-free. It's been eight years since DA Harvey Dent's death and the horrors inflicted by the maniacal Joker on Gotham City. Batman, blamed for Dent's death, has fled the scene. Ostensibly, there is peace all around and Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), now a recluse, finds no reason to be a hero. But as Alfred (Michael Caine) points out, he also seems to have lost all taste for life since Rachel, his childhood friend and hope for a normal life, died in an explosion orchestrated by the Joker. Enter a breath of fresh air, cat-burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway); a young man looking for his inspiration, Officer John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt); a new reason to believe in the future, honest businesswoman Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard); and a new threat to the city that is bent on destroying everything on a much bigger scale, terrorist Bane (Tom Hardy). With the help of trusted Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) and Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman), Bruce and Batman both re-enter the worlds they had exited - in a final bid to save Gotham City and its inhabitants from certain death.

The 164-minute-long film builds slowly, and with many sub-plots, to reach the ultimate hour of multiple revelations and conclusions. To be honest, I could have done without so many minor plots. The story did not need to have these diversions, as the fabric of the main story was already rich enough. But this is somewhat reminiscent of the previous two films - they too had too much going on, which on further viewings always felt distracting to me. Here, they expose another flaw, which is that a lot of questions from these subplots are left unanswered. It would have been a better use of footage to concentrate more on the why and how of some character motivations than having haphazard sub-plots. Also, not having seen this on an IMAX screen, I am not sure, but aside from some breathtaking shots, this did not feel like Wally Pfister's best work to date. The sound recording choices too had me a bit perplexed at times. Other minor quibbles include Anne Hathaway's make-up (red lipstick which 'bleeds' in real life is bad enough, but on screen, where make-up is re-touched after every shot, it is just intolerable), a very unnecessary and cheesy lovemaking-by-the-fire sequence and also, the less-than-impressive action choreography (in places, it's almost clunky and slow, which I partly blame on the cinematography).

Now for the good parts. Despite the slow burn, the film sucks you in anyway. A lot of this has to do with Batman's immense appeal, but a lot more is because of well, quite simply, Christian Bale. The audience wants...no...needs Batman and Bruce Wayne back. And so from his first appearance on screen, we are hooked. Also, my one and only, but fairly huge, complaint about the previous film was that it was the story of the Joker. And aside from a couple of powerful interactions between them (did you not literally salivate when Batman 'interrogates' Joker or when Joker stands in the middle of the road challenging Batman to kill him?), the dark knight was barely worth talking about. It's true that his character arc was deliberately setting the scene for the third instalment, but it still annoyed me that the least impressive character in The Dark Knight, was the dark knight, himself. I have no such complaint about this film. This one definitely is about his rising. It concentrates on what goes through his head, what he sees and why he does what he does. This time I felt invested in his fate - I cared again. I do understand that both the second and third parts got the reaction they were meant to - but that doesn't mean I have to be happy about being so uninterested in Batman last time round.

As for the actors, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman and Michael Caine, get their usual moments in - though I felt I didn't get enough of Alfred this time round. Marion Cotillard does a good job of being dignified and desirable, but then she never needs to do much to put that across (her final scene of the film though, was awful). Joseph Gordon-Levitt carries his role very well - he's real, instantly likeable and never once comes across as weak, which was possible in a story where the other characters are fairly larger-than-life. As for Anne Hathaway, I've heard way too many people say that her Catwoman (a name she's never called by in the entire film) is the perfect rendition of that character. I found it hard to believe before watching the film and I still disagree. Michelle Pfeiffer is Catwoman; Anne Hathaway is a pretty girl in a leather suit with cat ears. On the sexy scale, I'd give far more marks to Scarlett Johannson's Black Widow (The Avengers 2012). So ultimately, though I liked Hathaway in this, she really just seemed to be wearing the suit and doing the character. She never lit the screen on fire.

Finally the forces of good and evil. So, evil first - Bane is meant to be sheer brute force and Tom Hardy's bulk owns that part of the character. But the way he delivered most of his lines sounded like he was constantly asking a question. His intonation was very strange. Also, he never once scared me. I know what his character is known for - and I saw him being brutal and evil on screen. But he still didn't feel menacing. This is a FAR cry from Heath Ledger's Joker, whose very presence gave me the creeps. So, honestly, for me, this film was heavily dependent on Batman / Bruce Wayne - and thank God he was as well-written as the one in Batman Begins. His face, now ageing gracefully, records the journey Bruce has had through the trilogy. There is humility and determination there, very different to the angst and arrogance we remember from his early days in Gotham City. Christian Bale is excellent, as always. He must be the only actor to lend so much dignity to a comic-book character. And everything about his physique is believable - when he leans on a walking stick in the beginning and when he retrains to be Batman, Bale is Bruce Wayne.

Overall, the film is more than satisfying. There are identifiable characters, strong interactions, reasonably interesting twists, a fantastic build-up and a clean conclusion - with some excellent tying up of threads by referring to and including themes we have seen in earlier films. Above all, there is a sexy Batpod!

There's no point in me recommending this film, because every film and comic geek will watch it and will probably take a friend or four. So, I'll just end by chanting Deshi Deshi Basara Basara (what ever language that may be in)!

3 comments:

  1. Good review Sornaya. Yeah, Bane’s no Joker, but then again, what villain really is?!? Hardy is great as Bane, and plays up his physical intimidation, as well as his intellectual one as well. However, everybody else is great here too and gave me the performances I need to hold onto when everything was all sadly said and done.

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  2. You summed it up pretty well. The direction was not what I expected it to be, but over all a good package to end the batman saga.

    Well written

    Furqan Bucha

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  3. I must agree with your assessment of Anne Hathaway’s “Catwoman”. She’s was awesome in my opinion, but not Michele Pfeiffer awesome. Now there was a Catwoman. Pfeiffer had the personality, the suit, everything that made her the definitive portrayal for me. But what a great film. So much to recommend that the negatives seem rather insignificant. I love Christopher Nolan.

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