The Dark Knight Rises

Art & Culture

And so at last comes the film we have all been waiting for. The world awaits my verdict, and so I turn to Shakespeare for words of wisdom. And this film is, as Macbeth said about life, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. I wish it wasn't so, but I have to say it as I see it.

In my preview for the film, I suggested that we might miss Heath Ledger and I was all too accurate in my prediction. What this formless, overlong, multi-narrative goulash of a film is crying out for, is an adversary worthy of our hero. Instead we have Bane (not, as paranoid right-wing commentators suggest, a reference to Mitt Romney, but simply a name meaning destructive), whose mouth is covered by a Lecter-like apparatus. This means that his voice, while not inaudible, is a struggle to comprehend, and his face is all but invisible. He has no presence, apart from his physical bulk. Equally, his purpose in life (or death) is never really clear. He pretends to be a liberator of the people, but the gameplan has nothing to offer other than blowing stuff up.

A brief recap. Batman is retired; a recluse alone at home with only Alfred (Michael Caine) for company, hobbling around on his stick, out of the game. He's been blamed for the death of Harvey Dent (now acclaimed as the hero of Gotham City), and is mourning the loss of his lover. Elsewhere, rookie cop John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is patrolling the streets; Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) is operating as a highly skilled cat burglar; Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) is still running Wayne Enterprises; Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) has suppressed his knowledge of what really happened with Harvey Dent, and there's a new woman in town, Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) who has been helping finance plans for a clean source of energy. You see what I mean about too much narrative, as well as too many characters.

The opening sequence of the film sees Bane (Tom Hardy) being rescued from an aeroplane, in a piece of bravado film-making, whereupon he proceeds to recruit an army of thugs who create chaos in the city. It is up to Batman to come to the rescue of the citizenry, assuming he can cope with the unstoppable brute force that is Bane, as well as treachery from unexpected places. And from then on in, it's nearly three hours of shooting, fighting, high speed chases, stuff being blown up, and a veneer of deeper meaning, which slightly escaped me. Something to do with loyalty and duty, I think. There's some kind of contemporary relevance suggested by Bane and his goons taking down Wall Street, which some commentators have suggested is a negative reflection on the Occupy movement. I think that is somewhat fanciful. Bankers and stockbrokers are always a popular target.

No, my concern is that it simply doesn't really hang together. I simply didn't believe in the people, the situations they found themselves in, or their emotional reactions. The script feels as though as it was created in order to make it possible to justify large scale action sequences, without much thought for whether it rings true. A couple of arguments have that artificial quality which is the clue to a lack of coherent thinking. People do things because the script tells them to, rather than because you can imagine them doing so. I sound as though I'm being gratuitously negative, but I am not completely down on the film. It looks great, has a fantastic cast, and is as full of high-octane action as Chrsitopher Nolan's films usually are. But it suffers from the same problem as Inception did. It is all surface and no substance.

Comparisons with Heath Ledger and The Dark Knight are inevitable. The notion of a villain being the dark half of the hero is not new, but it is a powerful one, and when done well, as it was in that film, it works. Ledger's Joker was an appealing as well as an appalling character; he was fun to be around with his manic glee at the mayhem he caused. Tom Hardy's Bane is a lump, and it's impossible to tell if he's enjoying himself since no facial expressions are visible.

I imagine you and most people you know will go and see this film, and why not? It's got a lot going for it. But if I can caution you to moderate your expectations, I may be doing you a favour. It's not as delightfully wicked as its predecessor, and although the trilogy is now completed, it does look as though there may be more films coming down the line, judging by an ending that leaves its options open.


By Phil Raby

Front Row Films

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