Movie review: The Dark Knight Rises (+trailer)

By Russell Baillie

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Herald reviewer Russell Baillie reviews the last instalment of Christopher Nolan's epic Batman trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises.

Jeez, this was meant to be easy. It's a superhero movie after all. Passing comment on The Dark Knight Rises should only really require a contemplation of awesome-ness.

Maybe offer a comparison or two to its recent lighter, brighter superhero competition The Avengers (awesome fun!) and The Amazing Spider-Man (awesome new kid!). Or to its predecessors in Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy - the surprisingly awesome reboot Batman Begins and the awesome-because-of-Heath-Ledger-as-Joker The Dark Knight.

But no, pondering The Dark Knight Rises requires something other than the popcorn flick crit-phrasebook.

For it's a film which sets its own homework assignment with its allusions to a world beyond that of the vintage DC comics character. Some come from the contemporary real world, like its nods to the global financial crisis and the Occupy Wall Street movement and here Gotham, which was vaguely Chicago in the previous flick, is identifiably New York's Manhattan in this and TDKR harks back to the post-9/11 themes of Batman Begins.

While some of movie's attempts to add brains to its brawn come from further back - my notebook emerged with many question marks alongside the names MC Escher, Nietzsche, and Charles Dickens, whose last lines from A Tale of Two Cities are - literary spoiler alert - almost the last lines of this.

So no, it's not easy entertainment, this finale which brings Bruce Wayne back from a self-imposed exile eight years after the last film left Batman a wanted, damaged but now forgotten man.

Sure, TDKR still comes with the standard superhero movie sequel arc - return, minor victory, heavy defeat, bit of a rethink, second coming and so on ...

But all that is wrapped up in a film that gives over a good deal of its near-three hours on screen to contemplations of mortality, fear, despair, class warfare and revolution, with sideline tutorials in Nietzsche's motto about "what doesn't kill you ..." - that last one involving a prison seemingly designed by Escher as a perpetual pit of despair.

All of which makes TDKR a madly ambitious heavy metal concept album of a movie. It's unrelenting, portentous and it doesn't quite know when to stop. And sometimes you just can't hear the words either.

Of course it looks grimly fabulous with Nolan using his preferred IMax big-format film cameras to even greater effect than he did last time. Delivering images as vivid as they are vertiginous, it's impressively immersive right from the skyjacking prologue which introduces new nemesis Bane (Hardy), to when he effectively takes Batman's hometown hostage. He does that with talk of a people's revolution and a storming of the local Bastille and the imprisoning of the police force beneath the city.

But while the pictures are quite something, the sound can't keep up.

Tom Hardy's hulking Bane wears a mask which covers his mouth in a brutal grilled gasmask from behind which Hardy can sound menacingly eloquent. "Can" because much of the time Bane can also sound garbled and indecipherable - think Ian McKellen shouting into a baked bean can. Combined with Bale's caped crusader peculiar rasp, things can get pretty murky sound-wise, especially when Hans Zimmer's drums-of-doom soundtrack kicks in yet again.

Fortunately, there are a surfeit of mask-free characters to explain what's going on, especially Michael Caine who as Alfred, the faithful butler cum kindly uncle gets in multiple farewell speeches. The movie's only gals help keep the drama interesting with Anne Hathaway's terrific Selina Kyle/Catwoman bringing some sexy sarcastic fun to the sidelines, even if her character motivations swing all over the place. Marion Cotillard's boardroom-brainy beauty is apparently just who Bruce Wayne needs to bring him out of his shell.

They all help breathe some life into TDKR, a great grinding machine of a movie that reaches the thrill levels of its predecessor only once it lets loose in its final act.

As a film, it's flawed and overwrought, attempting to make Batman a movie as pointy-headed as his costume is. But as the closing chapter of what's been a genre-reinventing trilogy, it's still a hell of a send-off.

The Dark Knight Rises
Cast: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Gary Oldman, Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine
Director: Christopher Nolan
Rating: M (violence)
Running time: 164 mins
Verdict: The exciting, exhausting grandiose finale.
Stars: 4/5

* For another view on The Dark Knight Rises click here.

- TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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