The Dark Knight Rises

24 Jul

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

So begins Charles Dickens’ classic novel A Tale of Two Cities – a key text for Christopher Nolan and his brother Jonathan in crafting the long-awaited final instalment in The Dark Knight Trilogy which is even directly quoted during the events of the film. The Dark Knight Rises picks up eight years after the events of The Dark Knight with Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) a hermit and his chiropteran, vigilante persona long dormant after taking the rap for the murder of Gotham’s district attorney Harvey Dent. The fact that the seemingly-incorrigible Dent had been successfully corrupted by The Joker into the monstrous Two-Face has been hidden from the public by Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) and instead the authoritarian Dent Act has been passed in his name and, in the intervening years, succeeded in cleaning up the streets at the expense of due process.

Along comes a storm – Bane, a hulking, physical presence that is unlike anything that Batman has faced before in Nolan’s trilogy. He’s not as much of a psychological opponent as The Joker was in The Dark Knight (though he probably is more intelligent) nor is he as memorable but he pushes Batman’s body more than any of the caped crusader’s previous foes. As a domineering force that you wouldn’t be surprised to find mentioned somewhere in Dante’s notes, you’d be forgiven for not recognising the man behind Bane’s punk-Vader mask as Tom Hardy who completely submerges himself in the oddly-charismatic character.

Bane’s plan to destroy Gotham taps into the zeitgeist more than you may expect going in. A Robespierre-like figure, he preaches fairness, urges Gotham’s people to overthrow those people at the top of society’s ladder and, in one memorable set piece, launches an assault on the stock exchange. While the script was in all likelihood written before the Occupy movement came about, it doesn’t look upon any wannabe revolutionaries who want to enact a modern-day Storming of the Bastille in a positive manner. Which brings me to one of the film’s failings – Nolan fails to give us any indication of the effect these events have upon the ordinary people of Gotham. Do they go along with it? We’re not given any indication that they do but we’re not given any indication of resistance either. It’s as if they weren’t there at all but then, of course, there would be no one for Batman to save.

However, Batman/Bruce Wayne is not alone. His loyal butler, confidant and surrogate father Alfred has stuck by him, trying to prise him back into society after years of reclusiveness. In The Dark Knight Rises, the character really has his chance to shine and Michael Caine musters some of the best acting we’ve seen him do in recent years. Joining him by Wayne’s side is Selina Kyle, a slinky seductress and feline felon who is played purr-fectly by Anne Hathaway. Catwoman in all but name, she’s one of the most memorable aspects of the film which unfortunately doesn’t dedicate enough time to paw into her character in more depth. A more law-abiding new addition is police officer John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), an orphan who surprises Bruce with the revelation he’s figured out his secret identity. He proves to be a worthy ally who’s beliefs and virtues are on the same wavelength as Bruce’s own.

Rounding out the list of important new cast members is Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) , a business partner of Bruce’s as well as a romantic interest. However, they don’t have nearly enough screen time together for a relationship to be plausible, never mind believable which leaves certain events in the film feeling a little emotionally hollow. Indeed, The Dark Knight Rises, just like it’s much-lauded predecessor, is not without its flaws: dialogue often feels overly expository; pacing is inconsistent; there’s an occasional descent into cliché. However, these can mostly be overlooked due to the fact that the film is unadulterated escapism of the highest order. Christopher Nolan has taken an adolescent genre and transformed it into a trilogy that feels operatic in its austereness, intelligent in its themes, engrossing in its narrative and is simply entertaining.

Certainly, in an era where many, if not most, blockbusters are just plain infantile, Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy has been a shining beacon – lighting the way for what can and should be done with Hollywood’s millions in a time where, for cinema, the opening of A Tale of Two Cities does seem incredibly apt.

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