Over the past few weeks, Den Of Geek writers have been voting for the films of the year. In fourth place is Christopher Nolan’s conclusion to his Dark Knight trilogy. It might have divided audiences a little, but it’s the kind of film that a second viewing does the world of good for…
The Dark Knight Rises
There was a lot riding on The Dark Knight Rises. Just ask yourself this: when was the last time a film carried so many expectations on its broad, caped shoulders?
Even in a year that brought us a Joss Whedon superhero mash-up, Peter Jackson’s Tolkien reunion party and Ridley Scott’s return to the Alien franchise, nothing could come close to the fervent anticipation whipped up by Christopher Nolan’s franchise closer.
And, in a cruel, Hitchcock-style tease, he’d made us wait four long years for it. Four years populated by rabid, feverish debate. Could it do for the superhero trilogy what Spider-Man 3 couldn’t? Would Tom Hardy’s Bane rival Heath Ledger’s Joker? Was this really Nolan’s and Bale’s swansong to the Bat franchise? What the hell was Tom Conti doing in this? It was enough to make mere billionaire masked vigilantes quiver in their boots.
But performance anxiety? Nolan has obviously never heard of it. Or, if he has, he must have suffered from a Memento-style bout of anterograde amnesia. Pretenders to the superhero crown had reared their head since 2008’s The Dark Knight. Avatar staked its claim as the modern blockbuster writ largest. But TDKR soars high above the chasing pack, an airborne Bat to the grounded civilians below.
It’s a film made with a swaggering confidence. Faint praise, perhaps, when you consider that in an age where Transformers 3 can earn over a billion dollars, Nolan could have released a shot-by-shot remake of Adam West’s Batman movie (Tom Hardy is rubber shark!) and still raked it in.
But Nolan, along with brother Jonathan and David S Goyer, seem undeterred by the conventions that hold so many films prisoner. Set up, conflict, resolution. Rather than in throe to them, TDKR is enriched by them, telling an almost Christ-like parable of resurrection and empowerment. It reaches its climax halfway through the film in the Bane-Batman face off, starts all over again, then ends with an emotional coda to rule them all. And then … well, it just gets better.
True, there are moments where it seems less steady on its feet than its predecessors. This is the first Nolan Batman film where you start to question the internal logic. How does Bruce Wayne get back to Gotham in time for the finale without any of his wonderful toys? Let’s leave that one for another time.
It’s only because Nolan has created so believable a Gotham over the course of the franchise that this really tells. And, in a way, frailty is what makes TDKR what it is. Bale’s aged, vulnerable crusader is the equivalent of that two-days-from-retirement movie cop , the fear that he might not make it out alive hanging like a dagger above him. Hathaway’s damaged Selina, Oldman’s Gordon worn down by guilt, or, best-of-all, Caine’s aged Alfred, a father tearing himself away from his son to save him.
And what of its action credentials? Following in the footsteps of The Avengers, Nolan had his work cut out. For all those wonderful Whedon touches sprinkled throughout, Marvel’s epic get together can’t shake the feeling that it’s one long build-up to a climactic battle.
TDKR may not have a set piece as grand as this. Or its predecessor’s middle eight tanker chase. But think about this – TDKR is a film that doesn’t need set pieces, things to punctuate the exposition. We’ve been lulled into thinking that a film lives or dies on these fleeting moments of spectacle because so many blockbusters, for so many years, have been too lazy to put anything of substance between them.
Nolan doesn’t fall into such traps. Those Michael Mann comparisons always focus on the cityscape vistas, the sweeping grandeur, but what they rarely mention is how Nolan shares Mann’s love of drama as the real action. Take out Heat’s bank shootout and it’s still a five star experience.
Likewise, TDKR’s greatest triumph is how little it has to rely on the stock-in-trade of the modern blockbuster. Nolan’s action scenes may leave you gawping and your ears ringing (name a better score to an action film this century and I’ll tip my hat to you. Or whatever people with hats do to convey respect), but they aren’t the most exciting thing here. They’re just part of a much bigger picture.
And what a picture it is. All the talk of 3D and 48fps has overshadowed what we should really embrace as the future of cinema – IMAX. And IMAX treated as lovingly as it is by Nolan. If you missed it on a big big screen, you missed a trick. Nolan’s film can stretch its wings, and here you feel its real crowning achievement – this is a world that feels achingly real. Hard, cold, brutal, unforgiving. The kind of world where a man dressed up like a bat seems kind of believable.
Nolan may have dropped a cheeky wink with that set-up ending, but it’s best not to think of it as a set-up. It’s just another reminder of how good he is at creating a mythology, at making you feel that these characters may actually live outside of what we see on screen, and making us want them to. That’s cinema at a level few filmmakers are capable of. The Dark Knight Rises is just the latest reminder that Nolan is one of them.
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