Reviews

Gotham’s Reckoning


 
 
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Starring Christian Bale
Distributed by Warner Bros.
 

One of the biggest, most important cinematic releases of 2012, The Dark Knight Rises was released worldwide on July 19. It’s the last Batfilm in a Batrilogy directed by Christopher Nolan – arguably one of the most influential and successful directors of the last 20 years. Returning for what is probably his last time in a Batsuit is Christian Bale, playing an older, world-weary, and shut-in Bruce Wayne. His ever-loyal Batler, sorry, butler, Alfred, who is portrayed by Michael Caine – seemingly the most awesome geriatric in Hollywood about now – has cared for Wayne doggedly. The big name trio is rounded off by the return of Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox, Wayne Enterprises CEO and technological extraordinaire. Joining them once again is Gary Oldman as my personal favourite character, Commissioner Gordon of the Gotham City Police Department.

The fun doesn’t stop there, mind you. New to the franchise – and continuing the Nolan’s Inception mini-reunion – are Joseph Gordon-Levitt, as a beat cop-cum-detective-cum-super tactician, and Marion Cottilard, as philanthropist Miranda Tate. Perhaps the most significant role from an Inception alumnus is that of the main villain, Bane – brought to the screen in gargantuan proportions by Tom Hardy. Finally, Anne Hathaway puts on a very impressive turn as Selina Kyle, cat burglar – never is she referred to as Catwoman.

From this point on, major spoilers may take place. By the time this goes to print, I will likely have seen the film four times (including twice on the day it came out); so should you have, and shame on you if it’s not the case! As most people expected, The Dark Knight Rises delivers excitement, drama and utter coolness from the moment the deep bass of Hans Zimmer’s score shakes you in your seat. Much has been made of new highs in acting for a Batman film, not to mention the glorious action set pieces that we have now come to expect from Christopher Nolan. There is none of that frenetic shaky-cam that ruins so many action films – rather, every shot is positioned and choreographed for maximum effect. With complex and yet accessible cinematography by Wally Pfister, plus Nolan’s adherence to physical, rather than CGI stunts where possible, this film (and indeed most films of Nolan’s) achieves something resembling realism in a totally unbelievable world.

As is my habit when I’m interested in something, I have become something of a Batman obsessive in the past week, devouring Wikipedia articles about comics, Batmobiles, videogames, underlying themes and goodness knows what else. Whilst I wouldn’t proclaim to be a Batman expert by any means (though I was tempted to buy up graphic novels on Book Depository), I have learnt a whole lot of useless stuff that will occupy my mind to the exclusion of mental maths skills.

One of the reasons for the success of the Nolan trilogy is the acceptance by many die-hard Batfans of characterisation from page to screen. Since the 1980s, Batman has become a much more nuanced, human character through significant works by graphic novel doyens Alan Moore (subsequently of Watchmen fame) and Frank Miller (who also wrote 300 and Sin City). Heroes and villains alike were fleshed out, with backstories added and removed, creating the Batman aesthetic that was replicated to some extent by Tim Burton in Batman (1989), with the realism and character elements emphasised by Nolan in his own films. To fit his more realistic universe, Nolan modified the origins of the villains, in keeping with their comic book stories but more grounded in reality. For example, Liam Neeson’s evolution from bit part actor to career badass with his portrayal of Ra’s al Ghul saw a man only pretending to be immortal, rather than the 600-or-more year old man of the comics.

The trend continues in this film, with Bane’s origin manipulated out of his characterisation and into the origin of the character that is actually the REAL antagonist; Bane, despite his tactical instinct and vast, charismatic intellect, boils down to a mere mercenary, albeit one with some nice things to say. As another example, one of the big reveals (CONTINUE READING IF YOU DARE) at the end of the film is that John Blake’s birth name is Robin, and, when you consider Nolan’s reality-grounding efforts, this makes more sense than having an acrobat in yellow pants leaping around on Batman’s cape-tails – Blake is still the closest thing to a sidekick Batman has in this trilogy, and he does well at it.As much as I would love to wax lyrical about just how awesome I thought this film was – it’s not without flaws, but I’ll get to those – and how I think Gary Oldman is everything you want out of a character actor, this is a political magazine and so asks for some discussion of deeper, more meaningful things.

Perhaps the clearest theme of The Dark Knight Rises was proletarian anarchy and its effect on those who would otherwise be the safest people possible. This is underlined initially by Selina Kyle, whispering seductively to Bruce Wayne that he will soon wonder “how he could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us.” After Gotham is explosively cut off from the rest of the continental United States, Bane proceeds to release every organised criminal in the city from Blackgate Prison. He claims they were wrongly imprisoned, based on the Harvey Dent Act’s foundation in the lie that Harvey Dent wasn’t actually an evil, two-faced lawyer. The rich and privileged are dragged into the streets by both the ordinary citizenry and former prisoners, emphasising the very thin, delicate line between organisation and utter, chaotic anarchy. I’m inclined to think that the sort of unpleasant, murderous, proletarian uprising we see portrayed on-screen is two things – extremely resonant in America, where the economy is worsening faster than this film’s box office returns are accumulating; and also over-emphasised, because we know that much of Gotham is made up of the worst kinds of people, and then some. I certainly hope that this kind of revolution wouldn’t occur in this day and age, but some of humanity has shown itself to be pretty nasty when it perceives itself not to be getting a fair go – think France and then, 150 years later, Imperial Russia. The parallels between revolutionary France and Gotham are thinly veiled – indeed, the cheeky references to (red) Robin may as well be to the Scarlet Pimpernel.

In a full circle from Batman Begins, Ra’s al Ghul’s destructive legacy is continued. Bane aims to ultimately destroy Gotham, to wipe the slate clean and cleanse society of this hotbed of evil and environmentally harmful consumerism. The flipside of the coin of destruction is to appeal to people’s better natures, and this is what my brief foray into International Relations called liberalism. Liberalism what Batman and Friends are attempting to use in their combat against crime and unpleasantness; and it seems they’ve had some considerable success in that prior to Bane’s interruption. However, everything that Batman, Gordon and pre-evil Harvey Dent worked for turns to a hideous, realist ‘told you so’ fantasy when authority comes crashing down. As an analysis of human nature, so much in The Dark Knight Rises seems to want to say that ‘nice guys finish last’, but enough characters hold out against the anarchy to suggest that, as has been rehashed in so many works of heroic fiction, most people have some capacity for good.

Christopher Nolan has created, over the last seven years, the thinking person’s Batman. It’s a series that die-hard Batman comic fans have been waiting for more or less since the character’s first appearance in 1939. Nolan proves with The Dark Knight Rises that he was certainly an excellent choice by the Brothers Warner to helm a series that so few people realised they wanted. Finally, this new Batman also proved something important to 1960s Batman: that some days, you just can get rid of a bomb. Go and see this film at the cinema – you’ll regret not doing it the moment the film starts if you wait for the DVD.

*

You’ve probably noticed a glaring omission from this review – I have not discussed the tragic and abhorrent cinema massacre in Colorado. It is unfair to the hard work of Christopher Nolan, the cast and the crew that their film will be forever associated with this dreadful, criminal act, and I think in reviewing it, a degree of separation needs to be kept. I began this review before the shooting had even occurred, and by the time State goes to print, many, many thousands of words will have been written about the incident by people far more qualified than I to comment on its ramifications. Famed film critic Roger Ebert wrote a short piece about it, which is well worth reading. I will write this, however – it’s becoming abundantly clear that stricter firearms regulations may be necessary in the United States. Let’s be brutally honest: no ordinary citizen in a nation like the United States needs an assault rifle in a suburban home. We do well enough in this country without them!

By Myles Parish

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