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New Release Review - The Dark Knight Rises

Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy, Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman, Juno Temple, Aidan Gillen, Matthew Modine, Cillian Murphy, Tom Conti

Bruce Wayne (Bale) is bankrupted by terrorist Bane (Hardy) and exiled to a far off prison whose only previous escapee was Bane himself.
If the plot rings a bell then you're probably a fan of classic literature, or were force fed it in school. The basis for Nolan's third installment in the blockbusting series comes straight from the pages of Alexandre Dumas' "The Count of Monte Cristo". Sadly it's nowhere near as fun as Kevin Reynolds' great adaptation of that piece.Working as co-writer with his brother Jonathon and veteran scribe David S. Goyer, Nolan has decided to base the movie's main themes on recent headline-making stories. Gotham's entire police force (only 3000 cops in a city of 12 million?) are trapped underground for months like Chilean miners. Bane and his army "occupy" the city's stand in for Wall Street. After sealing off the city (basically the island of Manhattan) from the mainland by destroying it's bridges and tunnels, Bane provokes an uprising of the working class leading to a montage of scenes that could have been lifted from coverage of the London riots. Nolan's clearly aiming for lofty ideas but lacks a natural storyteller's ability to blend those themes into a smooth flowing tale. At two hours and forty-five minutes, the movie could be subtitled "Batman Forever, and ever, and ever...", yet you can't accuse the film of rambling. There's little in the way of padding, it's just that Nolan is trying to cover far too much ground for one film, resulting in scene after scene of expositional dialogue. The clunkiness of the script makes genuinely talented people like Caine and Cotillard seem like shoddy actors.
The most controversial aspect of the film's production was the casting of Hathaway as Catwoman (although she's never referred to by such name in the actual film). Ironically she's by far the best thing about the film and makes you realise how fun a movie like this really could be. Not only does Hathaway give a great performance but her character gets the only dialogue that, while at times cheesy, comes across naturally and not like it's there just to explain plot points. The early scenes between her and Bale are the film's highlight by a country mile. Sadly she disappears for most of the movie, imprisoned for no discernible reason as if the writers simply didn't know what to do with the character.
Hardy's role could have been filled by any beefy lug as his features are covered up so much by his mask. The sound mix of his voice is one of this film's biggest problems. His dialogue is often unintelligible, like listening to Patrick Stewart perform a monologue through a brick wall. This wouldn't be such a major issue if so much of his dialogue wasn't there solely to explain the plot to us.
Though I wouldn't go so far as to call him an auteur, I've admired Nolan in the past for his simplistic and clear direction, never falling into the shaky-cam or slo-mo trap of so many of his peers. Here though there are several moments when he fails to convey simple information visually. For example, there's an obstacle preventing Bale from breaking out of his prison but Nolan never shows us clearly how much of an obstacle it actually is. There are other moments which lack basic coverage such as a character being rescued from the back of a bike. How was he pulled off? There's no shot provided to answer this.
Should anyone come out of this trilogy with a deservedly enhanced reputation it's the fantastically named cinematographer Wally Pfister. If "The Dark Knight" was shot like an eighties Michael Mann crime drama, this film's aesthetic has more in common with gritty seventies cop flicks like "The New Centurions" and "Fort Apache, The Bronx". Nolan is a proponent of keeping the film format alive and insisted his press screenings were projected on 35mm film rather than digital. I'd almost forgotten just how much better the old format looks and it's a shame paying audiences won't get to see this movie look so good.
The movie's tagline "The legend ends" seems a bit redundant given this movie's ending which, without giving anything away, seems to set it up for further installments, even introducing a pivotal character. Nolan has said he won't make any more which, on this evidence, is probably a good thing. It's not that he's run out of ideas, rather he has too many and can't seem to focus on one to give us a well told, entertaining story.
5/10

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