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The Dark Knight Rises

Here be spoilers. Go away if you don’t want spoilers. Stop now. Or just stop if you don’t want to read stuff that has flowed from my head, which is a very sensible thing to do. This is a brain dump, you have been warned.

The Mondo teaser poster. It is lovely.

So, I went to see Batman. As someone who has a signed photo of Adam West on his windowsill and a Val Kilmer era Batman bubble bath statue sat beside his Invader Zim house it was inevitable. I even bought the Blu-rays of the first two Nolan films the day before so I could have a rewatch of the middle one to make sure I remembered how good Heath Ledger was as the Joker. The main thing I took away from my rewatching was that the little bits that annoyed me on the first time through didn’t annoy me so much, and that many of the bits I remembered were much better in my brain than on screen. If that was the case for Dark Knight, a film I still really like after seeing it again, then I’m not sure about the prospects for Dark Knight Rises.

First of all it is a good film – it is long, but has action, weepy bits, twists, turns, callbacks to the last two movies and general goodness prettiness from the frame. However, it has many bits in it that make me feel slightly bemused, things that I don’t think fit in the movie in a similar way to many of the bits that annoyed me about Dark Knight.

First up is the easiest fruit to pluck – the Bat-bike. In the previous installment a momentary scene when it ran up a wall and did a flippy thing to turn round dropped me straight out of the narrative and into a world of ‘why would you do that?’ Why would you end a tension breaking scene with a competent but weird bit of CGI (or stuntwork that looks like CGI)? In this instantiation the bike continues to be stupid, with its fat tires still not making it look like its moving with any speed or contact with the road. When it does sharp turns by spinning the front and back wheels at 90degrees to the norm it gets the same reaction – why? If you’re putting out an attemptedly realistic look at the Batman mythos why would you put rubbish gimmicky things on the bike that only focuses attention on its outlandishness. Suspension of disbelief only goes so far.

Next up, Bane. Tom Hardy can stand still in a sack and I’d still watch him, but hiding his face behind a mask and removing his voice makes him a difficult character. He acts excellently, bringing an incredible physicality to the role, but, as was pointed out by Mark Kermode last week, the hiding of his mouth makes him hard to understand – much more of our listening to people speak is about watching their mouths than we often at first realise. I can barely understand people if I can’t see them talk, so it was especially hard for me, and with the over-processed Vader voice and slightly weird accent it led to annoying confusion. Christian Bale’s Batman voice is silly enough (although moderated more in this film than the last) but to have both goody and baddy with silly voices was a bit much.

Also on Bane – his removal. If you have a bad guy who we’ve spent some time investing in then please give us a moment to appreciate his death – you’d do it for a good guy (apart from Michael Bay and the Jazz incident in Transformers, although everything about that film is an insult to the viewer) why not for the key baddy? Not only does he disappear in a shot from the rubbish Bat-bike (which must have excellent brakes to cope with recoil) but seconds before his demise the damaged and loyal character that is built up over the preceding five minutes is discarded as he turns against his mistress’s wishes and goes to take off Batman’s head with a shotgun – the same Batman that he’d forced to watch the destruction of Gotham from within an underground prison cell, and who he had just been told to allow to sit and feel the heat of nuclear death on his face.

Next up – the breaking. As a reader of Knightfall back in the day (having heard it during the short amount of time that I listened to Radio 1 at school) I had a good idea where the film was going – Batman was going to end up with a broken back. I knew that the recovery process would be training montage style, but I was hoping for something a little more cursory than a quick bounce off Bane’s knee at the end of a fight for the actual breaking. It’s a big point in the Batman story and while someone who doesn’t know about it may not have noticed it wasn’t the crippling it was meant to be, I felt they could have made more effort, especially as Bruce Wayne is shown not being able to do much apart from writhe in his prison bed (until someone punches a vertebra back in…). As the end of that section of the movie, the end of Batman’s resurgence in Gotham, it could have had a bit more gravitas.

Something that hadn’t crossed my mind during my first watching of Dark Knight popped back up again in my repeat watching and a similar situation appeared in Rises – real world systems operating in a strange way to push the people in the story along. In Dark Knight and Rises one of the reasons why Harvey Dent is not unveiled as the killer of some of the bad guys and the kidnapper of Gordon’s family is that if he was exposed then all of the people he had imprisoned would be freed. Now, I know that America’s legal system is a bit weird on occasion, but if a DA has his fiancĂ©e murdered in an attack that also leaves him with permanent physical scars and mental damage that has led to him being chained to a hospital bed, then if he is freed by the person who caused it all and then goes on a madman’s rampage then I’m suspecting that it wouldn’t reflect on his previous cases. Similarly, stock trades done during an armed assault on a stock exchange by people who hacked the trading system would most probably not be so easily counted as genuine (‘fingerprint ID’ or not) and would not lead to the dissolution of Bruce Wayne’s fortune and the swift cutting off of his electricity. They are both horrible “we can’t think of a way to get this to work so let’s just do this anyway” plot pieces which cheapen the rest of the story.

The tone of the film jumps around, in a similar manner to that in Dark Knight. In that film The Joker’s ‘who will blow up the other people’s boat?’ thing provided an unnecessary way of giving Batman time to track him down (with the whole ‘hostages dressed up as kidnappers’ element being much more interesting) other than to do a dual purpose societal comment of ‘people who haven’t committed crimes aren’t necessarily good guys’ and ‘people aren’t as bad at heart as you think they are’. In Rises the whole ‘5 month countdown while Gotham disintegrates’ is a way of allowing Batman to ‘realistically’ recover from his broken back and give a comment on the nature of society. It’s a confused comment that doesn’t seem to say very much in the end. I’m sure that section will be great in the computer game.

And a couple of cheap bits of complaint: John Blake’s first name is Robin (although I want him to lead the next movie, if there is one); and Gary Oldman is in the back of a truck with a bouncing around soon-t0-detonate nuclear bomb and comes out unsquished (and a generally strange tonal mix of realistic action [people get punched and fall down; lots of people die] and comic book action [cave-ins an explosions all over the place with no injuries]);

That all said, the introduction of Talia al-ghul was well done and despite assuming trickery caught me by surprise; Gary Oldman and Joseph Gordon-Levitt were both as good as ever; Anne Hathaway didn’t suck, as many people said she would, and the camera didn’t linger anywhere near as much on her bum while she was riding the Batbike as I assumed it would; I like Cillian Murphy; and all in all it was fun. After all of the complaint I even liked the ending – very Inception-like, open to interpretation and ready for Christian Bale to reinvigorate his career as Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s mentor a few years down the line if the movie offers start drying up.

Addendum: If you go to the cinema at 9am to watch an fairly empty (about 20ish people in a multiple hundred seat cinema) showing of a film you expect them to be the geeks, like myself. You expect quiet throughout the film as the effort made to go to a cinema at 9am on a Sunday, talking your way past the Westfield security guard to do so, shows a certain sign of commitment. I would also hope there to be some awareness in those people and that they wouldn’t bring a sub-1 year old child to the screening. The 12a screening that recommends that children only be taken if they are up to the fairly harsh nature of the movie. And in the case of a small child, the loud changes in volume, darkness and flashes from the screen that they probably can’t see or understand. I would also expect that said couple wouldn’t take seats towards the back of the cinema in the most crowded area. I was in my chosen place of further towards the front (in front of the overly priced premier seats rather than behind) and heard the small child whimpering during a quiet part towards the end. It seems like said baby was well behaved, so well done it (I could not get more specific at a distance in the dark), but I still reckon some mild slappage for the parents is due.

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