THE DARK KNIGHT RISES
* * * *
Cert 12A, 164 mins
Bruce Wayne isn’t well at the start of Christopher Nolan’s concluding film to his Batman trilogy. Failing health means he needs a stick – though noticeably not a Zimmer frame – to walk.
And he has the sort of facial whiskers that are usually only grown by the mad or the sad.
Like so many economies today, the billionaire philanthropist is financially stricken, too.
Clearly there would be no film unless he could pick himself up, overcome a series of challenges and take to Gotham City’s skies again as Batman. But how?
In a lighter world, he’d be seen as Rocky all over again.
Only instead of The Eye of the Tiger, it’s the ears of the bat cowl that’s part of the driving force behind cinema’s latest comeback kid.
The world loves a hero the first time around. If he can fall from grace and return to the top a second time, even better.
Just ask Muhammad Ali or Arnold ‘I’ll be back’ Schwarzenegger.
The entertainment world, though, has changed remarkably since I saw the most eagerly anticipated blockbuster of the summer at Empire Great Park on a night which included a live feed from the London premiere.
Little more than 18 hours later, alleged gunman James Holmes was marching into a Denver cinema and shooting at random, killing 12 people and injuring many more.
Given that this all happened at midnight might well put a squeeze on the increasing trend for such late night screenings in the UK.
These have, of course, partly been driven by major studios wanting to ramp up their opening box office weekend take.
For the rest of us, the question is this: Is a film like The Dark Knight Rises a mirror to society... or a trigger for a lone extremist to wreak terror upon his fellow humans?
Until the horrific incident in Denver, the concluding story to Christopher Nolan’s trilogy of Batman Begins (2005) and The Dark Knight (2007) could have been summed up as ‘Batman and robbers’, a battle between good actors trying their best and even the most outstanding special effects sometimes struggling to convince.
Just like the winged creatures in Avatar, anything invented for take off looks jumpy in flight and we currently don’t have an IMAX cinema in Birmingham to make the most of the 72-minutes of IMAX footage.
Dominated by a wealthy few, Gotham’s corrupt society is at the mercy of a fearsome terrorist called Bane (Tom Hardy) who was ‘born to the dark’.
Keeping him behind a mask with no sign of any close ups into his eyes, plus having a shouty, distorted voice that requires effort to hear his words, will divide opinion as to his effect on the film’s overall quality.
I could have taken him in smaller doses, but Bane’s power does add A Clockwork Orange virtuoso element to the script’s Watchmen-style layers working beneath the surface.
Gotham’s police have been rendered virtually powerless but its members will – admirably, for those of us who seek protection from fanatics – see value in carrying on the fight regardless of their own safety.
Just like Batman has overcome losing his own family and is, even now, still determined to serve the city which has declared he’s a villain in the post-Harvey Dent era.
Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle / Catwoman is athletic in high heels.
And she arguably gets the most apposite line: ‘There’s a storm coming, Mr Wayne... you’re all going to wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us’.
There are strong performances from Gary Oldman (Jim Gordon), Morgan Freeman (Lucius Fox) and Michael Caine as Alfred, ramping up the Cockney melancholy with lines like: ‘You hung up your cape and your cowl but you didn’t find a life’.
And there are two clever cameos from other Batman-defining characters though not, of course, the absent Joker.
The Dark Knight Rises opens with a stunt that could have come from a James Bond-style pre-credits sequence.
It requires wires to suspend the action, but it’s all so rather pointlessly spectacular that its inherent lack of tension infects the rest of the film.
More positively, Nolan interweaves his own previous movies into genuine Batman history and delivers an ending (after some ludicrous cheering) which ties the whole project up beautifully.
Sadly, just like The Dark Knight was almost taken to another level by what turned out to be a posthumous performance from Heath Ledger as the Joker, nobody will never be able to watch this film without thinking of the poor souls in Aurora, Colorado.
Quite what children and babies were doing in a cinema at midnight is anyone’s guess.
Is this the only way we can entertain youngsters today?
And, if so, what kind of thrills are they going to looking for by the time they are 24, like James Holmes?
Here in the UK, the BBFC ought to re-examine whether the 12A certificate is suitable for this type of film.
It’s an adult thriller in all but 15 certificate name, heavy duty in every respect and packed with shootings and violence that no youngster, surely, is going to fully understand.
With lines like ‘I see you’ve got your taste for wanton destruction back’, not since Heat (1995) and The Town (2010) have the streets been so alive with infernal danger.
The Dark Knight Rises has foreboding visions about greed, corruption and terror that are universally relevant. Working from the template of a character created by Bob Kane during the economically and politically perilous real world of the 1930s, Christopher Nolan has every right to make films his way.
And, though he will undoubtedly be distressed by events, he should not feel guilty that in Colorado last week, one man decided to ensure that life – and death – could imitate art.
It’s the BBFC’s duty to recognise that this film is a long way from the lighter, more obviously superhero movies, of which current hit The Amazing Spider-Man might be classed as one by comparison.
Only then might studios be encouraged to think more about the age-appropriate ethics of their works than the box office.