How do you make a sequel to one of the greatest movies ever made? How do you escape the Cinema Threequel Curse? How do you meet the expectations of millions and millions of fans who want something better than stuff that’s already perfect? The White Knight of Hollywood Chris Nolan takes all these questions, wraps them around an atom bomb and punches the trigger.
In the four years since 2008's The Dark Knight the fandom for Nolan’s Batman trilogy has grown to astronomical levels - you’d have to live on a different planet to not be familiar with these films. Nolan’s lavishness in imagination and passion for real emotions has made the first two parts transcend from mere films to spiritual experiences. The Dark Knight Rises is also not just a movie, it’s a moviemaking miracle and a buffet of eyeball orgasms – one that contains enough visceral thrills and proof of Chris Nolan well and truly rising as the superhero of the greedy movie industry. Not only did he reject 3D because he didn’t want to shoot in a format just to charge people more, but he also shot almost half the runtime of the movie in groundbreaking, spectacular IMAX. There are plenty of big action scenes and excellent character moments, and it makes for a sprawling epic in every possible way, the darkest, most complex segment of Nolan’s Batman trilogy.
If Batman Begins was a surprisingly serious and smart, no BS gritty opener and The Dark Knight was an extraordinary sequel of Godfatheresque levels, then The Dark Knight Rises improves in ambition upon the latter. The whole thing is so bombastic and behemoth in scale that every minute of it continually breaks the trilogy curse. In fact the stakes in The Dark Knight Rises are high enough to make its predecessors look quaint in comparison.
The first two movies were character and technical triumphs on their own, but it is obvious that Nolan was saving all the goodies for last. The Dark Knight Rises just obliterates the bar with the gritty physical effects sprinkled with CGI. If The Dark Knight had an overturning truck, this one has a whole damn flying bat and exploding bridges. The effects are so realistic it’s impossible to make out between real and CGI, and they are seamlessly woven into the sweeping exhilaration of Wally Pfister’s cinematography. All doubts over Nolan not being a great action director are dispelled as the quick-cutting fight scenes from Batman Begins make way for long, uncut, brightly lit brawls between Batman and Bane and even spectacular large-scale chase sequences. The big prologue involving Bane has to be seen on the largest IMAX screen to be believed.
It is in your best interest that you keep away from the story details before watching the film – know that the plot takes eight years after the events of The Dark Knight, and Bruce Wayne (Bale) has turned into a recluse, as the villainous Bane (Tom Hardy) not-so-silently plots an apocalypse. The film moves at a breakneck pace and eventually becomes sort of a Die Hard With a Vengeance with gigantic dosages of amphetamine, grit and pizzazz.
At a mammoth two hours forty five minutes The Dark Knight Rises tends to have a slightly bloated middle section. In creating the biggest superhero blockbuster of all time, rough edges are inevitable, and editor Lee Smith is guilty as charged. The film shifts to a cave under the sands of Jodhpur and fast forwards three months without much consistency, and certain story threads just disappear leaving a couple of plot holes and unnecessary characters. These setbacks are mildly jarring but never catastrophic, because The Dark Knight Rises is an immersive experience. Over the next few weeks I foresee complaints along the lines of Bane not being as awesome a villain as Heath Ledger as the Joker, but that complaint becomes irrelevant, because no one can possibly be as awesome as the latter. The few flaws and an obvious plot twist never weigh down on the film. One never loses interest or gets confused, unlike the case in the Matrix, Star Wars and so many other threequels that are made with haughtiness and contempt for their audience. To make up for the choppy middle section, the third act of The Dark Knight Rises is basically an hour long post-apocalyptic action set piece and is one hell of a rousing stretch of eye and ear candy. It’s not just noise and fire, it is narrative coherence and a progression to an utterly fantastic finale that smashes your mind to smithereens.
The recurring cast including Gary Oldman holds a more poignant resonance this time around, and Bale is particularly excellent as the tormented superhero. The pain, frustration and fear Wayne feels in losing everything in life is intimately felt by us, as is the strength he finds in himself to eventually Rise. Michael Caine is unforgettably haunting as the distraught butler seeing his surrogate son fall, radiating warmth and helplessness towards Wayne. Anne Hathaway isn’t as sexy as she is oddly endearing as the Catwoman, but Joseph Gordon Levitt is great as a Gotham cop. Bane may not be The Joker, but Tom Hardy does all he can to emote with his face covered - and in one incendiary scene after another mouths some cold, mechanical lines between reducing the Batman to pulp. The only real problem is that Bane’s voice is still not completely audible, and watching the movie in a theater that doesn’t have very high quality speakers will make Bane almost entirely incomprehensible. But even in the lowest quality speakers, Hans Zimmer’s music is guaranteed to blow you away.
Even with its ginormous set pieces, monstrous scope and SFX, The Dark Knight Rises separates itself from other blockbusters because it rarely loses sight of its humanity and its mission to meet insane expectations. It’s outstanding entertainment, a victory of mad passion and cinematic artistry, with a sly final payoff that gives you goosebumps and leaves you desperately drooling for even more.
(First published in MiD Day)