Friday, July 20, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

As I begin writing this review, it is 3:23 AM Eastern Standard Time. I got back from the movie theatre minutes ago, having seen The Dark Knight Rises at its midnight premiere in IMAX format. This for me is a first on a few levels: it’s the first time I’ve ever gone to see a movie at midnight, and it’s also the first IMAX movie I’ve ever seen. It’s also the most exciting movie I’ve gone to see in a while. I have awaited The Dark Knight Rises ever since I saw The Dark Knight. I looked forward to this movie more than The Avengers, more than Inception, more than The Dark Knight itself. So does the movie deliver or does it fall flat?

The Dark Knight Rises clocks in at an epic 2 hours and 45 minutes, but the movie doesn’t feel like it’s taking that long. There’s a lot of story to cram in, and although the first half hour or so is mainly build-up, when the action kicks in it does so with a vengeance, and everything builds up to the most spectacular conclusion I’ve ever seen in cinemas… and I’m choosing my words carefully.

Plot details on this movie are thin, but you probably all know the obvious points: the terrorist Bane has taken over Gotham City and Batman, who has been missing, must return to defend his beloved city. (It’s kind of tough seeing how Bruce Wayne has spent the last eight years as a recluse, and is a partially disabled man.) Anne Hathaway is Selina Kyle/Catwoman. Marion Cotillard plays a new character named Miranda Tate, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays another new character, police officer John Blake. Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, and Christian Bale all return to their familiar roles. And also returning to the director’s chair is Christopher Nolan.

If you are looking for me to spoil the movie, you might as well turn away now. I won’t tell you if Robin appears, nor will I tell you why Liam Neeson returns in a cameo. I won’t tell you what Bane’s plan is for his takeover of Gotham City. I won’t even tell you if Bane breaks the Batman’s back as he does in the comic book Knightfall (which I vaguely remember reading years ago). This review is going to be as spoiler-free as I can make it. If you want to find out all these answers, go see the movie. Honestly, if you’re going to look up the Wikipedia page to read the plot summary, you’re only spoiling a good story for yourself.

And man alive, the plot is delicious! All those mysteries I’ve been going mad over are explained without any of that maddening sequel-bait! Yes, there’s a really good reason for Liam Neeson’s cameo! (There’s another, far less publicised cameo that is even more delicious than that!) But far more important than that for the purposes of this blog: there are some excellent elements of detection in this film! Bane’s plan for the city is an excellent one, and we follow around one of the characters as he pieces this plan together… but is the realization going to be too late? There’s also several twists at the end, and although none of them employ the traditional use of clues (I can’t imagine Dr. Fell going over this crime scene), the viewer is not cheated either. All these revelations make for really satisfying ending. How satisfying? Well, the crowd at the theatre gave the film a standing ovation when it ended. I joined in, something I don’t often do.

I could tell you all what I thought of the cast, but we all know the villain matters most. The villain can make or break a superhero movie. So how was Bane? I don’t know how Tom Hardy pulled it off, but his Bane is even more terrifying than Heath Ledger’s Joker. He’s definitely more nihilistic and brutal, murdering several people with his bare hands. I know people have complained about his voice, but I personally found it fantastic. Tom Hardy infuses Bane with a sardonic (and at times somewhat sadistic) sense of humour. When a boy sings the national anthem at a football game, prior to Bane’s takeover of the city, the villain remarks that the boy has a lovely voice. In the stunning opening sequence, when asked what his plan is, Bane, his voice dripping with irony, remarks that it’s obvious: he’s going to crash the plane and ensure there are no survivors. Of course, the slight British accent only helps to add to this effect. (I suspect that is why many are irritated: not only is the voice slightly mechanized, you have to interpret a British accent through it as well. I had no trouble at all with this.)

The rest of the cast was fantastic as well. What else did you expect with such big stars and such talent writing the screenplay? Of the new cast members, Anne Hathaway is particularly worth noticing. She plays Selina Kyle, a. k. a. Catwoman. Although the name “Catwoman” is never used in the movie, she is still Catwoman, and cats are often referred to when people confront her character. Selina Kyle is one of those gorgeous femme fatales, and Anne Hathaway pulls off this aspect beautifully, as well as kicking some serious ass in the action scenes.


But something else to take into account is the director, Christopher Nolan. He is a genius. I do not say this because it is cool to say this; I say this because it is the truth. I discovered this years ago when my love for Robin Williams’ serious movie roles led me to discover Insomnia, an underrated but excellent Chris Nolan movie. I fell in love with Nolan’s style, and his style really shines through in The Dark Knight Rises. You can just tell when a movie becomes a CGI-fest, but Nolan prefers to use extras and stage the stunts and fights. It makes everything seem so much more realistic. But he also uses flashbacks and monologues to maximum effect, and he manages to misdirect his audience beautifully at times. I could hear a collective gasp from the audience at one point in the movie, where a major plot revelation occurs. And when I realized just how neatly Nolan tricked me into assuming something untrue, I felt like applauding.

Is this movie worth seeing in IMAX? Yes!!! This movie was shot largely in IMAX, and you can really tell. It looks positively stunning, especially during the big action sequences. The picture is really clear and sharp and so much detail can be crammed into one shot. It looks absolutely beautiful, and I can’t imagine any other format doing the film any justice. This is a visually fantastic film and it’s worth the extra $5 to see it as it was intended, in IMAX. And as cliché as it sounds, that isn’t a publicity gimmick.

The poster I got at my IMAX screening
Finally, there’s the music by Hans Zimmer. I had the pleasure of purchasing the entire soundtrack and listening to it on my brand new MP3 player. By itself the music was pretty good… but when it accompanies Christopher Nolan’s visuals, a layer of sheer epicness is added. That recurring chant motif becomes positively haunting. When the final action scenes occur, several familiar themes reappear but a sense of dread and urgency is added into them, echoing just how high the stakes have become in this film. You can appreciate the music even more once you have seen the movie.

So that’s my review of The Dark Knight Rises. I encourage everyone who enjoyed the first two movies to see this movie. (A word of warning: if you have not seen the first two movies you could quite easily get lost in some sequences since the movie assumes you’re familiar with the first two movies.) If you’re already looking forward to this movie there’s almost no way you can be disappointed. The only drawback is the movie’s length—3 hours is a considerable amount of time to devote to watching a movie. But honestly, I wouldn’t cut one second out of this movie. I enjoyed all the build-up, the false starts, and the way Chris Nolan created suspense so naturally. I loved the actors’ performances. I loved Bane. I loved how an entire world was being created in front of my eyes, only for Bane to wreak havoc. I loved Hans Zimmer’s music. And I loved the story. The conclusion is one of the most epic, spectacular endings I have ever seen.

All in all, The Dark Knight Rises is one of the most memorable movie experiences I have ever had. No words of mine can do justice to this movie. If you’re a Batman fan—and I think we’ve already established that I am—this movie is one for you. And if you’re assuming that this review marks the end of Batman on this blog… you are very mistaken!

Notes: Since I was at the midnight IMAX screening, I got a free poster for the film which portrays Bane staring out ominously, with the Bat symbol cleverly incorporated. Also worth noting: the movie starts with a special preview of the upcoming James Bond movie Skyfall, in which we finally find out some plot. Apparently it involves a missing hard drive that contains the identities of all the British spies embedded in terrorist organizations… and I’ll say no more. It’s gotten me very excited for the upcoming Bond movie! There’s also a really quick teaser of Man of Steel, an upcoming Superman movie directed by Zack Snyder and produced by Christopher Nolan. Not being a big Snyder fan (as my recent Watchmen review established), I might very well avoid that movie unless something more interesting catches my eye.

5 comments:

  1. Exciting stuff Patrick (I mean your review) - sad that the whole experience has become clouded by the dreadful events earlier today, but I certainly hope to catch the movie soon as I loved the previous installments and am a huge Nolan fan (MEMENTO is really wonderful). Did James Newton Howard co-write the score as before or is it all Zimmer this time by the way?

    Can't wait - thanks Patrick for a terrific spoiler free review - just what I needed to get me looking forward to the experience.

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    1. Hi Sergio,

      I was very saddened to hear of the tragedy when I woke up this morning. It has really cast a dark shadow over a fantastic movie's premiere. Because I did not look up anything on the Internet prior to writing this review I did not see anything about this tragedy... which may be just as well because I doubt I could have written a coherent review with something like that in mind!

      I am also a big Nolan fan and love "Memento", although I do confess a personal love for "Insomnia" which is really a top-notch, perfectly-cast crime story/thriller. (It blew my mind away when I discovered it was a remake!)

      Hans Zimmer did the music by himself, though James Newton Howard does get a special thank you on the soundtrack. The most memorable tracks on the album for me are "Imagine the Fire" and "Fear Will Find You". By itself the soundtrack is just "good" -- it's not as brilliant as Zimmer's brilliant "Pirates" score or that lovely one for "Gladiator" -- but I have gladly listened to it several times now.

      It's not a perfect movie but at the end of the day the positives really outweighed the negatives for me... and I truly do think the ending is one of the most spectacular action sequences ever put to film! I hope you enjoy it!

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  2. A surprisingly positive review but interesting nonetheless. I do think you should include a spoiler alert about Neeson's cameo as you say you won't confirm whether or not there is one and then talk about it. The positives do outweight the negatives and the ending is good if rather similar to True Lies.

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    1. I didn't think a spoiler alert was necessary. Prior to the movie's release, one of the mysteries I kept talking about with co-workers during the long shifts was "What on earth is Liam Neeson doing in this movie again?", right up there with "Will Robin appear?" and "Will Bane break Batman's back?". It's no secret he's *in* the movie, I just refuse to provide a reason for it.

      Yeah, there are similarities to the ending of TRUE LIES, but TRUE LIES itself was a parody of many similar such movies and so contains similarities to *those*. It's not something I was particularly bothered by, and the epic scope of the story was more than enough to satisfy me.

      I focused a lot more on the positives than on the negatives -- mainly because the negatives were nitpicks that would have necessitated a lot of spoilers -- but really, at the end of the day, I wouldn't change a word of praise in this review. I *have*, however, resolved to never again write a review at 3:23 AM.

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    2. Patrick - I avoided your review until seeing it, but I certainly hadn't heard about Neeson being in it (although I actually assumed he would have a bigger part). Certainly none of the publicity that I've seen over here has mentioned it. Unfortunately I had heard very early on about one piece of casting with the character's real name being used, which was a bit annoying.

      It's a great film, certainly, and highly recommended, but I personally felt part of the conclusion - the big fight and the vehicle chase - were a bit undewhelming after what had come before. The final sequences more than redeemed it though.

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