The Dark Knight Rises - Review

I have an odd barometer for movies. It's not how good the acting is, or how stunning the cinematography or how jaw-dropping the special effects. It's almost sixty years old, my barometer, and crotchety would not begin to describe it. 

Step forward Larry Donaghy, my dear old Dad, who took me and my mate to see my first 15-rated movie when I was 12. Cliffhanger, in case you're wondering...and we went with our fake date of births memorised off by heart, presumably expecting the couldn't-give-a-toss attendant to be some sort of CIA agent on work experience.

Dad and I would have been regular cinemagoers for almost a decade. Sadly I was never able to impart upon him the inherent awesomeness of sci-fi or comic books, so while we did go and see many a genre movie, the bar had to be set very high for him to express his approval. Of course, Dads being Dads (and I say this as one) he did throw a delightful bit of paternal randomness in there from time to time; he is possibly the only person in the World who thought Judge Dredd was better than True Lies

When I saw The Dark Knight with my other half, it was a revelatory experience. Most movies start slow and build to a climax. TDK started with a climax and built to bigger and bigger ones, like a Dr Ruth column on celluloid. Liked the ultra-efficient bank job with the robbers knocking each other off one by one until the superlative reveal of the Joker? Wait 'til you get a load of the Hong Kong rooftop assault sequence. Liked that? Let's top it with the Chicago chase sequence and the flipping 18-wheeler, the destruction of the Tumbler and the emergence of the Batpod. Had enough? How about the ferry sequence, the SWAT Team assaults, Batman's final race against time...

All of this anchored by four unbelievable performances from Bale, Eckhart, Oldman and of course, Heath Ledger as the Joker. Nothing was wasted in the movie. Not a single scene, not a solitary line of dialogue felt spare. As an aspiring writer, as someone who's tried to craft a superhero screenplay http://www.fanfiction.net/s/2205039/1/Spiderman_3, watching The Dark Knight was akin to being proud of making the mash potato hill from Close Encounters only to find someone's sculpted the entire tableau of Da Vinci's Last Supper out of grated cheese. 

It was so good that I dragged my Dad to see it. Once there, I spent the entire movie excitedly bouncing up and down in my seat, punching his arm and saying "you think this is good??? it hasn't even started yet!!".

Of course, being a 50ft nerd with atomic fire breath and a hunger for Tokyo, I couldn't resist having a go at writing what came next. I'd gotten some good reviews for my screenplay continuing the story of the frankly mediocre Superman Returns, in which Superman faces off against Richard White who's been transformed into Metallo, gains some help from the Eradicator, and learns that Krypton's destruction was caused by General Zod: http://www.fanfiction.net/s/3105238/1/bSuperman_b_bReturns_b_II_bMen_b_of_bSteel_b

I wanted to carry on that story but I couldn't resist the lure of a good World's Finest tale so I went the crossover route and had Gotham call for Superman's help in bringing down the fugitive Batman. Naturally, hi-jinks ensue; the two heroes are suspicious of each other's methods and motives, Batman is convinced to assist in an operation removing Superman's powers and transferring them to himself. Unfortunately the spirit of Zod hitches a ride and begins to corrupt Batman, forcing a powerless Superman to tool himself up (with the ready and able help of Alfred and Lucius) and try to take Batman down. http://www.fanfiction.net/s/5188190/1/bSuperman_b_Batman_Dark_Knight_of_the_Soul

The spectre of the Joker hangs over my screenplay. Batman's ambushed by some clown-clad devotees in the beginning and, armed with Superman's powers, he finds himself very tempted to tear open the walls of Arkham and deal with his deadliest foe once for all to prevent further bloodshed. Joker shook Batman's world to the core, was responsible for the death of his beloved Rachel, bested him at almost every turn. Other supervillains in other movies tie the girl to the railway tracks and threaten to blow up hospitals. The Joker kills the girl. The Joker blows up the hospital. Other supervillains get caught through the ingenuity of the hero. The Joker gets caught through his own ingenuity. 

All of which - finally! - brings me to The Dark Knight Rises. I had heard the buzz, had remained unspoiled bar knowing the plot beats - Bane as the villain, 8 years have passed since last we saw everyone, Bruce Wayne is now a recluse. It seemed an odd choice to me, but let's not forget that the most critically acclaimed Batman story of all time - The Dark Knight Returns - has a not too dissimilar premise. I was sure that when Bruce had seen enough, been away long enough, we'd get one of those classic movie "tooling up" scenes and see him standing, cape billowing, ready to make his grand re-entry into the Gotham night. We got that, but I'll come back to that.

The Dark Knight was so smooth plot-wise that you couldn't see the joins. TDKR, well...if you couldn't see the lines where Maguffin A had to get to Protagonist B via coincedence C, I can only assume it was because you were too busy concentrating furiously trying to make out what Bane was saying. Despite a post-production cleanup, Tom Hardy's dialogue remained 25% incomprehensible to me, and what I could make out of the voice sounded comical. It reminded me of the voice Seth McFarlane does for those Victorian circus strongmen with the little moustaches "Alley oop! Hup! Hah! Ho!" from Family Guy; plummy and overly jovial.

(from here we go into spoiler territory, so be warned)

For an early example, the letter Gordon has in his jacket pocket, a letter handily setting out the truth about Harvey Dent's villainous turn as Two-Face. He decides not to use it for his keynote address at Harvey Dent Day (good call, Jim: what was going to be your next trick, defrocking Santa as kiddies Daddies on Christmas morning by holding a gun to their beards?) and tucks it back into his jacket pocket...where it remains until he's captured, two days later, by Bane and the letter removed. So now Bane knows the truth about Harvey, and Bane is able to unmask this truth when he takes control of Gotham.

It's okay. It's what movies do. It's not, however, the standard I'd come to expect, the standard that The Dark Knight had so effortlessly set. What frustrates me about it is that Bane doesn't need to expose the truth about Harvey at that time. He's already taken control of the city. Why not have Gordon expose the truth to his trapped cops, as a way of telling them that the Gotham they're now shut off from is based on a lie - why not have him tell the story of Batman's heroism and finish by saying - he's coming for you, boys. A hero is coming. A real one.

An order of magnitude worse is the Alfred daydream midway through the movie. Jeeeeeeesus Christ. I think that was the point where I thought - you know what, this may be good, but it won't ever be great. It was cheesetastically awful, completely out of place, and worst of all from that moment on I was overwhelmingly sure that the final shot of the movie would involve a reprise of that daydream with a different ending...and lo, so it proved. It may have worked if Batman Begins had had any dialogue with Alfred and Bruce upon the latter's return from self-imposed exile where Alfred gave any indication he was disappointed to have Bruce back, but it didn't.It may have worked if Alfred hadn't been so needlessly specific about the place and had simply said - I would have loved to have seen you, sometime, far from Gotham and all that it's brought you.

As I mentioned, we get our Dark Knight coming back from retirement. We get that great line from the older cop to the younger one - "son, you're in for a show tonight." My heart was pounding. And the action scenes that ensue, the chase, the debut of the Bat, were great. Suddenly all the Phantom Menace territory of boardroom majorities and energy surpluses melts away and we're watching Batman kick ass and growl names. We purr right along with Catwoman. Sadly, it's not to last. Another few boardroom scenes, a too-quick Batman-Catwoman team-up in the sewers and it's Bane v Batman, and while I could guess the outcome even if I hadn't read the comics (c'mon, the hero never beats the villain less than an hour into the movie's runtime) suddenly the Bat is broken and it feels like Batman Forever before Batman Returns. 

Okay, what about Catwoman? Well, what about her? She wasn't bad in the role, she was a googolplex times better than Halle Berry was allowed to be (or could have been, ever), but what did she really bring to the table? What was the point of her sidekick? The beauty of Dark Knight's character roster was that here were four men engaged in a struggle for the soul of a city, each one bringing their own motives, their own methods, their own souls to the conflict. What was Catwoman's goal? To make a quick buck and get outta Dodge with her fur intact. That's it. And she gets to kill Bane? I was sure Bane was going to rise up one final time and have to be put down, but no. One quick boom from the batpod's rockets and he's gone, for the sake of a one-liner about guns.

We come to Joseph Gordon-Levitt's character, John Blake. I actually thought Levitt belonged in another movie, and I don't mean that as a criticism. If TDKR is to be an origin story for Levitt's Batman, then it works, but we didn't go to the cinema to see someone else slowly hit the right story beats to wear the cowl. He shows his initiative. He develops a loathing of guns and of killing. He realises that organised law-enforcement sometimes doesn't get the job done. What was glaringly missing, for me, could have been a couple of scenes in the overrun Gotham showing Blake trying out a mask of his own. Maybe show Bane's men getting a hold of the names and addresses of all cops from the GCPD database, starting to crack down on cop families. Blake knows if he causes trouble, it'll be the boys home that pays the price, so he embraces the anonymity of a mask. 

I'll need to see the movie again to really come to a proper conclusion, but here's the thing: with The Dark Knight, I couldn't wait to take my cape-hating crotchety old Dad to see it again. With TDKR, the thought of sitting through its three hour running time...? Hmm.

When's the Blu-Ray due out again?

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