Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Dancing With The Moonlit Knight

And it was good. As good as expected or better than expected? I'm still not sure. But it was certainly good. Very good.

Critics' rumblings about The Dark Knight Rises being too long, too complex and too flighty really proved to be groundless.

I was surprised how Christopher Nolan's conclusion to his Batman trilogy flew by, even if weighing in at 164 minutes is close to The Lord Of The Rings territory.

But whereas Peter Jackson's three-part interpretation of Tolkien's literary leviathan presented, at times, serious endurance issues for the glutinous maximus, Nolan's three rebooted Batman adventures have zipped along with enough edge-of-seat thrills to not have to worry about one's hind quarters ever going to sleep.

In closing his turn at the Bat franchise with TDKR, Nolan takes few prisoners and certainly doesn't tinker with the formula he has polished. Christian Bale is as brooding as ever, as preposterously throaty in his delivery of The Caped Crusader's lines, and as painfully ambiguous in treading the thin line between vigilante and folk hero.

If there is one criticism I have of TDKR it's that its pace sometimes restricts plots-within-plots to develop. Like, I suppose, frame-by-frame comic books, there is a disjointed rapidity to Nolan's Batman style, which at times means that peaks inside the hero's soul are fleeting. There is depth, but much like the darkened well that provides metaphors in both Batman Begins and this one, it's hard to see how deep Bale's Bruce Wayne descends.

It is here that one can't help but compare the various custodians of the Batcowl with the Bond actors - Connery's brutishness, Moore's ageing playboy, Lazenby, Dalton and now Craig nailing the character's inner anguish. The Batmen, perhaps, haven't been as well scrutinised, perhaps largely for the colour of the spectacles they've found themselves in from the likes of Tim Burton and Joel Shumacher.

Michael Keaton - a brilliant comic actor (Night Shift and Johnny Dangerously are absolute classics) played the character with playful quirkiness, whereas Val Kilmer and George Clooney were just miscast.

Bale has been the actor to finally exorcise the Adam West campness of the Dark Knight. Of course, the 60s TV show, Nolan's take on the franchise bear few scripted similarities to the TV series, but the classic Batman cues are there - the punch-ups with the chief villain's gang, thugs in woolly hats, the prominence and central plot importance of Gotham Police Department, and so on. But what has made the Nolan Batman so over utterly absorbing has been the unwitting immersion the viewer goes through in what could otherwise be a fairly formulaic comic book screen adaptation.

Tom Hardy, as Batman's ultimate nemesis, Bane, probably had the hardest job of anyone on TDKR. How do you follow Heath Ledger, whose Joker in The Dark Knight was one of the greatest dramatic peformances of modern cinema? No screen villain will probably ever be able to replicate criminal insanity in the way Ledger's searingly mesmerising portrayal of The Joker did.

Hardy, however, unrecognisable with his freakishly bulked-up appearance, doesn't give the audience any time to dwell on his predecessor in The Rogues Gallery, as from the off he smashes through Gotham City like the human wrecking ball he is.

Bane remains masked throughout the movie, which, to confirm some critics, does hinder the clarity of Hardy's delivery (it was a smart move on my part to watch a subtitled version in a Paris cinema), but what comes through - part Brian Blessed, part Ian McKellen as Magneto - adds to the sheer menace of the part.

There are other standout performances - Gary Oldman plays an even more pained and vulnerable Commissioner Gordon, Michael Caine superbly doddery as Alfred, and the excellent Joseph Gordon-Levitt - who for me is still the gloriously deviant old man in teenage form, Tommy Solomon in  3rd Rock From The Sun - is excellent as Gotham's most ubiquitous cop, John Blake.

The involvement of Selina Kyle/Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) is still debatable. Without giving too much plot away for those yet to have seen TDKR, there were times when Catwoman's inclusion seemed like an add-on distraction. A welcome distraction, nonetheless.

She is and always has been the franchise's biggest flirt, and as Lee Merweather, Julie Newmar, Eartha Kitt, Michelle Pfeiffer and Halle Berry before here, Hathaway provides a wonderfully provocative perv-clad 'meow' to the film.

But, once again, it is Christopher Nolan's vision that makes The Dark Knight Rises the epic experience that it is. Directors of the other comic book franchises - from Spider-Man to The Avengers - may have invested heavily and rewardingly on thrills and spills, but only Nolan has been able to make the action sequences part of a fabric rather than the spectacle itself.

Sure, the Bat-toys are cool, but from the beginning of the trilogy, Batman Begins, they have been components, rather than pillars of the drab collage of the Dark Knight story Nolan has painted. It's a landscape that provides Bale with the shadows of night into which he can disappear, as both Batman and Bruce Wayne, a tone rarely seen in mainstream characterisation since Al Pacino took on Michael Corleone.

If you prefer colour, brightness and cinematic gaety, you will avoid The Dark Knight Rises like an agoraphobic avoids pop festivals held on large farms. But if you want to get a sense of closure on the character, while at the same time refreshing and nourishing your love of dark cinema and melancholy action heroes with anger issues, The Dark Knight Rises will satisfy you considerably. And whatever you've read elsewhere, the Paris audience I sat amongst applauded riotously as the closing credits rolled. For a hard-to-please crowd like that, an achievement in itself.

As for me? I'd had July 20, the US premiere, marked in my diary for over a year, such was my own fervent expectation. Events in Denver that opening night took some of the shine off the excitement, and although it's taken me two weeks to actually fulfill my expectation, I wasn't disappointed. The Dark Knight Rises is as good as the first two and, in the knowledge that it was Nolan's last tread on the Batman franchise, a thoroughly satisfying conclusion.

1 comment:

  1. Really was a fantastic movie. Very close to the comic.