Threepenny Thursday – The Dark Knight Rises

26 Jul

If I’m honest, I wasn’t too excited about this movie in the months leading up to its release. The Avengers and Prometheus were much more prominent blips on my radar, and while I was sure The Dark Knight Rises would be an awesome movie, I wasn’t as pumped as some of my friends. Balance that against some of the stuff dropping later this year – The Hobbit, Django Unchained, Looper, Wreck-It Ralph, Skyfall, etc. – and TDKR was just another delicious marshmallow in the cereal bowl of film in 2012. Seriously, this is a crazy year for movies.

As the date approached, however, and I was reminded of what I was going to see, I started to get excited. And I mean bouncing-in-the-car excited, chanting “I’M GOING TO SEE BATMAN” over and over like a sugar-fuelled child. This was it, dude! The end of an era. Christopher Nolan had used these films to cement his status as one of the great masters of cinema, and taken the character and mythos of Batman in a totally unprecedented direction. Batman Begins and The Dark Knight were monumental achievements, not only for their craft and artistry, but for the way in which they validated and legitimized the comic book movie genre. The end of that exciting tale – both Bruce Wayne’s story and that adventure in filmmaking – would have to be something really special.

What I enjoyed most about TDKR, I think, wasn’t just that it was epic – it was actually an epic, in the grand tradition of Hollywood’s Golden Age: huge framing, a massive score, sweeping themes and titanic scope. Apart from Peter Jackson’s work, that’s something that just isn’t done anymore, and it’s exhilarating to see it on that mammoth IMAX screen.

I won’t spend too long talking about what actually takes place in the film, but to wit: The Batman has disappeared on a self-imposed eight-year exile after the events of the previous film, in which the supposed heroism of Harvey Dent, Gotham’s White Knight, led to a state of peace in the sprawling city. A new villain has manifested in the form of Bane, a terrorist with horrifying plans for Gotham, and Commissioner Gordon begs for The Batman’s return. It bears mentioning, also, that the film is based mostly on the Knightfall arc of the Batman comics, in which Bane famously “breaks the Bat” by snapping Batman’s spine over his knee. This is an insultingly sparing synopsis of a wonderfully complex plot, but the delights of watching it unravel should be left to you.

The film is close to three hours long, but there’s an inherent contradiction there because quite a bit of the beginning seems rushed. Events are set up and played out in rapid order, leaving some motivations unclear and some relationships built on too little development. I’d like to make the same argument I made for Prometheus and assume we’ll see those gaps filled in on DVD, but I’m loath to demand unnecessary content. Any re-edit would add runtime and weight to an already lengthy and heavy film, and all of the bare patches are really just nitpicky transitions I can easily piece together on my own. Besides, I do myself a disservice by pulling everything apart in this way, when I should really be enjoying the film and contemplating its themes and ideas. It is a comic book movie, after all, and even though Nolan has crafted a very believable world full of realism and grit, we should still suspend our disbelief. Regardless, much of the exposition for the first third of TDKR felt breathless, and my connection to it suffered as a result.

The rest of the film, though, was bawls-to-tha-wawl.

This is a set photo. As in, a photo taken on the set. There’s no CGI trickery there, folks – that’s all real life Bat-Bale-Brutality. RRRRARGH!

There were several elements that I thought stood out as particularly strong, which I’ve compiled here into laughably convenient bullets:

  • CinematographyTDKR was beautifully shot, crafting a shiny slate-grey world of sharp angles and dark shadows. Each frame was composed like an oil painting. Gotham has never been huger and more foreboding, the pale light of dawn and soft snowflakes darker than any night-time scene. The characters, too, have never been more intimately portrayed, in tight close-up and in brooding long shot. The action, far from the shaky-cam standard to which most movies adhere, was solidly displayed and competently edited, making it easy to understand and thrilling to watch. There’s one specific shot where a henchman is firing a gun at an approaching Batman in a pitch-black sewer, and his muzzle flashes are like a strobe light, where one second Batman is far away and the next he’s right up close. So awesome. Visually, I loved every second.
  • Music – Hans Zimmer has sort of established himself as Nolan’s go-to guy, a similar pairing as John Williams to Spielberg or Howard Shore to Peter Jackson, and likewise his music for Nolan’s films have developed a theme: thrumming bass-filled blasts of sound, also known as “The Inception Effect”, which simultaneously unsettle and excite, and which form the bones of Batman’s theme. They’re enhanced here by gorgeous expansive melodies in the dramatic scenes, and TDKR’s new theme: a repeated Arabic vocal chant which underscores the terrifying Bane and his past. It’s stirring and scary and makes an excellent counterpoint to the other music in the film. Speaking of which…
  • The Prison – Again, I won’t say too much for fear of teh spoilerz, but suffice it to say that Bane’s backstory involves his incarceration in a Middle Eastern prison which is literally just a giant pit in the ground, with the bright sunlight forever beckoning to the inmates below, who are free to try and scale the wall and escape, but who can never manage the climb. It introduces themes of hope, darkness, brutality, survival, pain, and fear which circle back to permeate the flesh of all three movies in this arc. The rhythmic chanting of TDKR‘s score is born in that prison, when the inmates cheer on their fellows as they attempt an escape. Appropriately enough, the chant is formed from the Arabic words for “rise” – another very prominent theme. The scenes in the prison are wholly captivating and make up some of my favourite bits from the film.
  • Choreography – The first fight between Batman and Bane is one of the high points for me from Nolan’s entire Batman series. It is one of the first times when The Bat is physically outmatched, and Christian Bale does an awesome job of conveying his anger and desperation at being so soundly bested. The fight is shot methodically and at range, so we can see both characters and their whole bodies as they move around one another; there are no tight close-ups or quick edits and we can see the savage fight unfold in real time. Their next encounter couldn’t be more different, with flurries of rapid movement and agitated fury. All the fight choreography is appropriate in context, considering the clothing the characters wear and their relative size and ability. The other action choreography, from gunfights to tank and aircraft battles, is supremely well-executed. The way that everything in this film moves is calculated and potent.
  • Callbacks – These are the little things, the tiny details I noticed which harkened back to the other two films and made TDKR a very satisfying conclusion. The way the circular opening to the prison was shot was a direct mirroring of the well into which Bruce Wayne falls in Batman Begins. Bruce’s mother’s pearl necklace makes an appearance, and his training at the League of Shadows under Ra’s al Ghul comes into significant play. There are lots more which I can’t mention. Nolan really ran with the whole Chekhov’s gun thing, which made TDKR feel like part of one huge cohesive story. I can’t wait to watch all three films back-to-back – hopefully they’ll do a Lord of the Rings-style extended cut for the DVD box set, which I will certainly buy despite almost certainly not being able to afford it.

“Master Wayne, the new suit looks splendid. But are you sure the nipples are necessary?”

The characters remain the most awesome element of all, of course, and a select few stand out in TDKR. Every single scene with Alfred is heart-rendingly beautiful, Michael Caine delivering such a spirited performance that I found myself tearing up every time he came on screen. Alfred’s pain and loyalty are achingly palpable and I can’t imagine any other actor portraying the character better. With this film, as if he wasn’t already a total boss, Michael Caine launched himself into the stratosphere of my List of Cool People (usurping an indignant Sean Connery, who proceeded to make slanderous remarks about my mother).

Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne/Batman has really hit his stride, never more broken or indomitable. I would have liked an even deeper focus on him and his character for this final instalment, but as it stands his scenes are as riveting as ever – plus, we get a better Bat-Rasp and an Bat-Interrogation to rival his little tussle with the Joker in The Dark Knight. First we had “SWEAR TO MEEE”*, then we had “WHURR IS SHE”, and now “WHURR IS THE TRIGGER.” We’ve come full circle, people.

The best performance, however, and by far my favourite part of the movie, is Tom Hardy’s Bane. He manages to be both physically and mentally intimidating, a monstrously strong fighter with a dangerously sharp mind. He moves with certainty, unleashing his brutal power in slowly-timed blows, an unstoppable juggernaut. Unlike the comics, in which his mask feeds his body the strength-enhancing Venom serum, in TDKR it is in place to stave off crippling chronic pain, allowing Bane to function at a threshold just above unimaginable agony. This translates into a barely-controlled rage, which lurks beneath the surface of his movement and speech. Speaking of speech, Bane’s voice is probably the best part of the character: muffled by his mask, it jumps from guttural growling to high-pitched wailing, coloured by an untraceable accent and peppered with terrifying sanity. Where Heath Ledger’s Joker was a man who had lost his mind (or perhaps never even had it), Hardy’s Bane is a man who perpetrates atrocities in the full sober knowledge of what he is doing, fuelled by incredible pain and fury. I had to look up this following line of his, because I couldn’t remember it exactly and it makes one of the most chilling moments in the whole series, as he taunts a staggering Batman:

“You think darkness is your ally? You merely adopted the dark, I was born in it… moulded by it…I didn’t see the light until I was already a man, by then it was nothing to me but blinding! The shadows betray you…because they belong to me.”

The Dark Knight Rises was an intense and memorable coda to the awe-inspiring symphony of film that is Nolan’s Batman series. It wasn’t perfect, but neither were either of its predecessors (despite many people’s romantic and unrealistic conception of them, especially The Dark Knight, which has acquired a fandom I’m not sure it wholly deserves). Taken together, they form a story which takes the fascinating character of Batman to places we’ve never seen him go. Batman has long been my favourite superhero, and I couldn’t be more happy that he received the gift of starring in such an amazing film series.

*(Editor’s note: The editorial staff would like to thank Quoter Laureate Steve “1.21 Jigawatts” Peters for this correction.)

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3 Responses to “Threepenny Thursday – The Dark Knight Rises”

  1. jacob July 26, 2012 at 10:08 pm #

    Nice review. I was waiting the whole time for you to touch on the script as an important element to the film. I thought that the predecessors had some great lines, but this really took the cake in terms of quotable material. Something that will stick with me as a favourite in my movie seeing career is the first fight between Bane and Batman. The line you quoted is something I have repeated to my brother a few times since I saw it, just due to how sinister yet witty the character was portrayed. I agree that the beginning was slow and a little bit uninspiring. It did nothing to rival the opening scene of the Dark Knight, and even Batman Begins at that. Anyone who thinks Bane wasn’t the best villain is truly psychotic. That voice….fucking genius.

  2. Your Father July 27, 2012 at 11:55 am #

    Very thorough. I think I’ll go see it now.

  3. buddy2blogger July 27, 2012 at 4:21 pm #

    Superb review. Agree with you about Bale’s performance and pretty every other point you made.

    My favorite line:
    “First we had “SWEAR TO MEEE”*, then we had “WHURR IS SHE”, and now “WHURR IS THE TRIGGER.” We’ve come full circle, people.”

    Cheers!

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