By midlandsmovies, Apr 8 2014 04:38PM
Here’s a fact: I’ve never walked out of a Chris Nolan Batman film fully happy. It’s true. For me, Batman Begins was covering the same ground as Burton and I didn’t “get” the fuss surrounding The Dark Knight. Time appears to have healed my jadedness like a crippled Bruce Wayne as although initially disappointed, I now feel both films (Dark Knight especially) are brilliant, dark and distinct comic-book crime films which I have continued to reassess in my own mind with a certain two-facedness if you will.
So, to the new film itself. Eight years have passed and an isolated Howard Hughes-esque Bruce Wayne (Bale) has left Batman behind in the wake of the Dent Act – the lie Gordon perpetuates that now keeps Gotham safe but like a steroid-induced Oswald Cobblepot, a villain rises from the gloomy sewers in the form of Bane - a man-hulk bent on sending Gotham into a spiral of economic revolution. In the middle of this Nolan throws in the morally (and sexually) ambiguous Anne Hathaway as Catwoman (that particular name is never mentioned, fact fans) who is a sultry thief who plays all sides like the best noir femme fatales of old. And alongside Oldman as Gordon is another Gordon (Joseph Gordon-Levitt to be precise) who plays a beat cop as morally incorruptible as Batman himself.
And so why my initial reticence this third time? Well, first up, Bane/Hardy is just not the villain The Joker is – not an icon, not fully fleshed but a well-designed thug without the bite and possibly one of Hardy’s least charismatic acting stints since This Means War. Also, the film is very long (obviously epic but definitely plot heavy) and I also began to think, how much did we really see of Batman? Nolan does not want to over egg the omelette, I get that, but I can only remember three full sequences containing Batman. It’s got the least Batman of any Batman film! Some of the chemistry was also sadly a bit lacking between all the characters too, even previously established ones like Fox and Wayne didn’t have the usual spark and I think that Hathaway could have been used more as some of her story threads started and then suddenly stopped.
The good parts? Well, the production values are second to none, Wally Pfister’s moody cinematography is exemplarily (as usual) and the solid story arc takes Gotham to hell and back whilst giving nods to characters and themes (including the League of Shadows) from the previous films. Clearly a great three-quel, Nolan doesn’t disappoint but neither does the film escalate to the heady heights of the last caper. The action is a highlight (although it is as rationed as a Wayne foundation austerity budget) with vicious fight scenes, as brutal as you’ll ever see in a 12A. This compliments the exciting bat-bike chases and the introduction of “the bat” (a new hover-plane vehicle of sorts) where Batman avoids cops by sweeping between city skyscrapers by road and air. Along with the drawn-out end sequence these thrilling set-pieces suddenly make your heart go boom like some sort of exploding stadium and help provide moments of intensity to break up several of the rather lengthy and dreary political exposition scenes.
The standout moments continue with a makeshift “people’s” revolutionary court, some poignant speeches from old voice-of-reason Alfred Pennywhistle (Caine) and a smattering of smart rooftop one-liners between the cat and bat themselves. Too few though were any truly great scenes like the one involving a bridge/building façade and some flaming liquid which was probably my favourite scene in the whole movie and one of the best kept secrets of the film (sorry, no detailed spoilers here).
Ultimately, the gloomy film contains solid but not spectacular acting (Bale is probably best of the bunch here) and I’m trying not to judge too harshly until I get that elusive second viewing in order to further enjoy the multiple meanings contained within. Although it is somewhat ironic that the film with the most “layers” (Nolan’s “Inception”) struck a chord that made me love it first-time around, The Dark Knight Rises however had me back in the familiar old not-sure-I-really-like-it mode. If my own past rises then the inevitable re-watch will have me addressing these issues again in 6 months time and claiming it as a masterpiece but as I walked out the cinema I couldn’t accurately judge whether Nolan had served up a film like a faithful maestro or delivered a disappointing pile of guano.
Midlands Movies Mike 8/10