Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Dark Knight Rises or: I grinned for nearly three hours.

Like I detailed in my last post, my excitement regarding the release of The Dark Knight Rises has heralded a level of anticipation and gleeful hand-clapping. It's a level almost unheard of even for me, someone known for constantly unrealistically high expectations when it comes to things I'm looking forward to. But at along last, I finally got around to seeing DKR a couple of Sundays ago, an agonising four days after it was released. Four days. Pure torture, it was.

So. What think?

Right off the bat, I'll declare this much: it blows The Avengers and Prometheus out of the water. I know that during Prometheus I was a bundle of cinema good-time joy, and was speaking very loudly with wildly waving limbs after leaving the cinema. However, in the days that followed I couldn't help but notice all of the gaping plot holes that had abounded. The Avengers was fun, but I distinctly remember thinking during the first act "Man, I hope this gets good, and soon". That isn't to say that I didn't get a giant kick out of it, but I suppose my stupidly high expectations weren't met. However Dark Knight Rises had me giggling hysterically and grinning like a madman throughout the entire running time. Not because I found what was going on particularly amusing - although there are a couple of choice comedic moments - but more because the excitement I felt was such that it had to physically manifest in some way. No mean feat that, with the film clocking in at a Lawrence of Arabia-esque 165 minutes.

The film began, and my arms actually began to make sharp, excited gleeful, jerky movements. My hands were balled up into fists and I was trying to stifle giggles of wound-up excitement. I am not even exaggerating, not one smidgen. The anticipation! The expectation! The Batman love! The pressure resting on the shoulders of Nolan and co, to do justice to this generation's and/or century's defining trilogy. The Matrix, if you will, if it hadn't ended up sucking. 

Now I'll attempt to keep this a spoiler-free zone, but you'll please forgive me if I overstep the bounds of what you don't want to hear. 

The third installment of Christopher Nolan's re-imagining of the Batman movie franchise opens with Bruce Wayne looking more on the Rescue Dawn area of the Christian Bale body bulk spectrum than in the two Batman outings that came prior to DKR. Perhaps that's an exaggeration, but certainly Mr Wayne looks somewhat more haggard than usual. This surprising transformation is a result of the eight-year gap in time between The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises; Master Wayne has holed himself up in Wayne Manor, seeing and speaking to no one. Thanks to the Dent Act (Harvey Dent! Remember him? Isn't it all coming back to you now? Isn't this exiciting??), Gotham City's found some semblance of peace, but oh my, is it still ever gritty gritty gritty. Organized crime is at an all time low, prison populations are at a high, and poor old Bruce is wallowing in despair, self-loathing and a leg injury.

"Michael Caine talks like this"

It's at this point that - obviously - the time is nigh for characters, overlapping plots, intrigue and danger to begin stacking up like the piles of rubble that inevitably litter Gotham City at each film's close.

Seriously, as a citizen of Gotham wouldn't you get sick to death of having your neighbourhood totalled on a regular basis?

I'm tempted to say that the first half of DKR suffers from an over-abundance of characters - new and old - and a slight murkiness of plot that makes it difficult to distinguish how and why things and people are doing what they're doing. I didn't find that to be detrimental while watching the film and almost jumping out of my seat whenever Bruce Wayne did anything vaguely cool, but certainly it's something to consider. There's Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a driven young cop, Gary Oldman as the police commissioner, and Marion Cotillard as Miranda Tate, a millionaire do-gooder who might be able to save the struggling Wayne Enterprises. There's ever-present Alfred (Michael Caine), and Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), as well as Matthew Modine as another cop type, and a couple of other billionaire types. That's not even counting the other two pivotal "superheroes" of the film: Catwoman (Anne Hathaway), and Bane (Tom Hardy, looking about the size of a truck). It really is a cast of thousands. 

To describe what ensues would be complicated and fairly long-winded, as well as rife with spoilers. This much I hope will suffice: Bane is operating out of an underground stronghold, Miranda wants to help Wayne Enterprises with an energy source, Catwoman meets Batman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt begins helping the commissioner snooping around. Bane extorts some money, seems hell-bent on destroying Gotham, but also in inciting a monumental class war/revolution. What's his Bane's true motivation? Will Bruce Wayne don the Batman cape again? Will Gotham be saved? Will Batman survive this one? How did Tom Hardy get so BIG?

Dark Knight Rises does clock in at the monumental 165-minute mark, but I for one didn't feel like I was sitting through anything vaguely marathon-like. That's even taking into consideration the fact that I desperately had to pee for most of the film's running time (but that's a different story entirely). The film rollicked along at a steady pace, the set-pieces were exciting as all hell - albeit slightly shorter than The Dark Knight. It's almost a given that the performances in DKR are pretty spot on. You could say they're as solid as Tom Hardy's Bane. To say he's doing the two-suitcase walk would be an understatement...

Seriously though, the merry band of Nolan's acting posse are all in top form. Special mention to Michael Caine, who spends just about all of his scenes on the verge of tears, delivering monologues. Not that tearful monologues are an instant tick in the "GOOD ACTING" box, but he does it pretty damn well.

Christian Bale - badass. Boss. I was always going to think that of him, but goddamn, I'm continually rediscovering/re-remembering how much I enjoy his Batman. Okay, here's how much I enjoyed the performances: I usually find Anne Hathaway to be incredibly annoying. Sure she's hot, but you know ... hit and miss in my opinion. Here though? Badass. She brings just the right amount of the crazies and the right amount of something likable to Catwoman. Am I gushing? Apologies. I did warn of the fact that I spent most of the film giggling with excitement and doing that stupid finger-flicking move that indicates one being impressed by something badass or epic or worth expressing in a way more immediate than waiting until the credits roll to grab the arm of the person next to you and hiss "THAT WAS SO FUCKING GOOD" with wide-eyed manic excitement.

What was I talking about? Performances. Performances, they were good. 

With regard to the inevitable comparison between Bane and the Joker, I have this to say: it is futile to compare them. They're different villains. For Nolan, Hardy et al to attempt to one-up the Joker would be an exercise in failure. Sure, Heath Ledger's Joker was the type of performance that doesn't often come around, but let's not forget the truly awful abundance of guys dressed in purple jackets and shitty face paint at EVERY HALLOWEEN PARTY that The Joker inspired. I am sure it'll be those wannabe Jokers who have "Why So Serious?" in their Facebook quotes section who'll be most vocal about that particular gripe. In all seriousness though, it is unlikely that Bane was ever destined to have that same manic, malicious humour, nor the sense of dangerous unpredictability. Nor was it ever going to be wise to attempt that sort of character again. Bane is menacing and terrifying, but in a more hulking, sense-of-doom, what-the-hell's-his-story kind of way. The pounding clang of his footsteps as he storms toward a very battered Batman (I promise that's not a spoiler, of course they're going to have at least a couple of showdowns), it sent me into a knees-up-on-seat stressed out wail. I wasn't kidding when I said my reaction to the film was a very physical one...

If I'm going to allow myself one beef with Bane though, it's undoubtedly with his voice. In his initial scenes especially, his voice seems almost comical. I am certain the first few trailers I saw for DKR, Bane's voice was rather more menacing, gravelly, terrifying. Also slightly indecipherable, which I guess prompted the change. Surely though, there's a happy medium somewhere in the middle of "indecipherable" and "cheery Darth Vader". His slightly smart aleck-y, Darth Vader with less asthma-esque voice to me seemed to be at odds with the hulking, formidable frame of Bane, as well as the menace in his eyes. They say the eyes are the window of some description, but coupled with that voice the two halves of Hardy's performance occasionally just didn't add up. I refer to the first act for the most part in this gripe; as The Dark Knight Rises rollicks towards its conclusion, I completely forgot about my issues with Bane's voice. Perhaps that's because his voice became as menacing as his actions, perhaps that's because I was swept up in the goings-on. 

I can see some elements of Dark Knight Rises as being destined to irritate people, some leaps of faith/suspensions of reality I'm sure some won't be willing to take. And it's true, I suppose I was always going to attempt to see the best in Dark Knight Rises. I was always going to take that leap of faith. I took those couple of occurrences glaring with unbelievability and I just went ahead and rolled with 'em.  After all, this was the film that I'd been counting down until for months. Honestly, DKR could have probably been at least half an hour shorter. I mean, I'm not complaining - I looked at my watch at one point and rejoiced that there was still SO MUCH FILM LEFT. But yes, it definitely could have been shorter. Furthermore, the last act could have been a bit less confusing. In my defense I did have to pee and it was completely excruciating and I even undid the belt and the top button of those stupidly tight jeans in order to hang in there BUT at times I was unsure of why certain things were happening and exactly to whom.

Then again, even while saying that I can't help but only remember how much of a good time I was having. Multiple times I jumped forward in my seat and actually exclaimed, "Oh, SHIT!" because someone onscreen just did something super cool. Personally, I think any time a film incites that sort of a reaction from someone is no mean feat. The action set-pieces aren't quite as long as those in Dark Knight, but certainly they do showcase the myriad ways in which Batman is a complete badass. Eluding cops, attending charity galas, hanging out in the Batcave; he really does do all sorts of things quite well.

I'm afraid this has turned from "review" into something more closely resembling "ramble". For this I make no apologies - just the way I make no apologies for being so fidgety in my seat while in the cinema. Firstly, I really needed to pee. Secondly, The Dark Knight Rises was exciting! I enjoy being immersed in Gotham's dark, gritty, fucked up world full of fucked up people feigning at being superheroes. I totally get a kick out of delving back into Bruce Wayne's damaged psyche, seeing what drives him to don the cape again. I love a good showdown. I love explosions and Anne Hathaway beating up dudes and cities getting leveled and I really do dig me some Gary Oldman. And Christian Bale. Boy oh boy, is Christian Bale good. Somewhere within me a part of me had a bit of a problem with the ending of The Dark Knight Rises but most of me was giggling and grabbing at the sleeve of a viewing companion. Can I just take this moment to assure you all that I'm not usually obnoxiously loud and hyperactive while at the movies. It's just that THIS WAS BATMAN. The end of the trilogy.

There are things wrong with The Dark Knight Rises. Of course there are. But at the end of the two-and-a-half hour sojourn in Gotham (while getting visually punched in the face by an Imax screen) I immediately turned to Mike and Ev and exclaimed "Let's do that again! Seriously. I want to see that again. Right now. Fuck me, I'm going to see it again THIS AFTERNOON."

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