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18 Jul 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

Epic, but less a work of art than its prequels, this is a worthy finish that's an ideal timeout for the franchise.

Director: Christopher Nolan

Screenplay: Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan

Cast: Christian Bale, Anne Hathaway, Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine

As a life-long Batfan Christopher Nolan's films are my favourite additions to the canon in the way they transform the Batman universe into something that could take place in a world a mere step or two removed from reality, using a cold, hard approach not unlike that of Michael Mann, and reinvigorating the aesthetics of Film Noir for the blockbusters of the new century. Where the previous Burton and Schumacher Batmans were heavily criticised for skimping on Batman's development in favour of indulging the villains and their camp value, Nolan finally made movies that were about Batman first and foremost as a character.

The untimely death of Heath Ledger was a major hiccup in the continuing arc of the Joker as a villain, to get Nolan back on board Warner gave him the chance to make Inception (arguably his answer to Raiders of the Lost Ark in being a melange of all his favourite film genres), and after the wait, we now have The Dark Knight Rises.

Following on from the events of The Dark Knight, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has faded from the limelight and put a halt to the career of Batman. His withdrawal from public life has resulted in his isolation from the worsening fortunes of Wayne Enterprises, now run by Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), which has partnered with international businesswoman Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) on a clean energy project that has been losing money. The coup de grace though comes from the emergence of the terrifying masked supervillain Bane (Tom Hardy). Bane attacks the stock market, causing Wayne Enterprises to go broke. Shifting her allegiances between all these factions, but always looking out for herself is professional cat burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway, and yes, she's never referred to as Catwoman). Meanwhile, police detective John Blake (Joseph Gordon Levitt) has figured out Wayne's secret and becomes a new ally to Batman alongside Commissioner Jim Gordon.

As Bruce Wayne ages and Batman declines in health as a result, things are not looking pretty even with the new hardware including the Bat, the jet/helicopter hybrid serving as Batman's air transport, for Bane's plan is far reaching and he is a link to Batman's past, a member of the League of Shadows, the very cult that Bruce Wayne trained with, bent on the purification of the world through its destruction.

Let's get it over with. The third instalment of Nolan's Batman is epic — epic in scale, epic in budget, epic in cast, and epic in storyline, but its writing is also the thinnest and its emotional impact the lowest, even if it's also surprisingly, the most optimistic of the Batfilms. Most of the characters are sketchy and one plot twist is foreshadowed pretty obviously (Nolan's flaw of overwriting is again present), and everything is in the favour of setpiece after setpiece.  There's car chases, plane chases, escapes, all following on each other's heels without much buildup. Ironically, this film is one out of the Nolan films that shares the strongest similarity with the Burton films of the villain upstaging the hero: Tom Hardy's Bane is a flamboyant, terrifying villain whose bulk and fighting ability are matched by his mental acuity.

How ironic that as well in terms of worldbuilding this instalment seems to have forgotten what made the first two great in terms of consistency. Anne Hathaway's Selina Kyle is the weak link of the film though it's no fault of her own, given that a surrealistic character such as Catwoman pretty much becomes that all-too generic movie heroine of the 'sexy cat burglar in the skintight suit with a heart of gold' mould when translated into Nolan's 'real world' context. Also, it's always a pet peeve for me to see a comic book heroine wear heels onscreen particularly when the result of the actress being hindered at martial arts legwork becomes obvious in the film itself. Skimping on much character development while attempting to be 'current', Nolan's treatment of such themes as terrorism, revolution and class envy remains cartoonish and arbitrary and the movie overall is pretty much a solid, stunning but emotionally uninvolving entertainment.  

Script and story aside, Wally Pfister's cinematography remains enjoyable and the action setpieces are well-shot and choreographed.  Epic, but less a work of art than its prequels, this is a worthy finish that's an ideal timeout for the franchise. And about time too.

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