Thursday, July 19, 2012

THE DARK KNIGHT RISES - a short film review

I stopped reading comic books about half a century ago, about the same time I stopped going to the picture theater with my older sister on a Saturday afternoon to see black and white episodes of Batman and Robin. Back then, in the early sixties, Batman and Robin was complete with balloon dialogue, which would appear in the fight scenes to describe the action of these caped crusaders. Words such as BIFF, BANG, ZAP, ZOWIE were the order of the day. Batman didn’t have much of an arsenal to draw upon and relied very much on surprise, stealth or brute strength to capture criminals. 
I think by now most people have seen the block buster films Batman Begins (2005) and The Dark Knight, 2008 (with the late Heath Ledger as the Joker) on television or DVD. I have to admit that although I've seen the films I've never seen them on the big screen and that’s why I took myself off to see The Dark Knight Rises (Christopher Nolan, 2012) at the Rivoli Cinema this morning. I felt a little daunted by its 168 minutes running time, but really didn’t notice the time disappear because this is a great action film with a plausible narrative and good acting.
Those who have read the comics would be familiar with the character of Bain, who was born and grew up in a penitentiary environment, however I was not privy to this information and found him with his almost cybernetic masked face and deep, breathy voice to be somewhat akin to Hannibal Lector, particularly in the scene in Silence of the Lambs (Jonathan Demme, 1991) when he is placed in a straight jacket and muzzled (like a mad dog) so as not to damage anyone in his vicinity, and Darth Vader in Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977) whose full helmeted head apparatus facilitated his breathing and gave him other worldly charisma. But really, Batman is not the only masked character; there have been many in the franchise and it is the mask that suggests to us that the characters are not always what they appear to be. I’ve never been convinced that there was a clear division between good and evil in any of the Batman films because Batman was often depicted as aggressive, destructive and murderous as the criminal he hoped to save Gotham City from. And this is certainly true of Batman in TDKR for although the narrative in the beginning of the film centers on his reclusive life after the death of Gotham City's district attorney Harvey Dent, Batman’s return to ‘normal’ life heralds his return to aggressive behavior.
This is an extremely loud and action filled film, however midway the cacophony is briefly arrested by an amazingly quiet scene in which a young boy sings the Star Spangled Banner in the center of the packed velodrome prior to a football game. The crowd stands silently to listen to the child’s beautiful voice and then spontaneously burst into applause as he finishes. This scene functions to establish childhood innocence as well as America’s obvious patriotism, important since the film engages directly with terrorism and its potential for creating death and large-scale destruction. The scene is all the more potent for the fact that it precedes one of utter devastation and a pronouncement of further almost unimaginable carnage on Gotham City. Two further scenes towards the end of the film, one of a vast mushroom cloud rising from the ocean and another of bats circling above Robin’s head as he enters the Bat cave captured my imagination for their utter beauty and contrast to a film filled with convincing CGI scenes of absolute ruin, colliding vehicles and almost unrelenting violence.
In the end I was left wondering if this film was really about class division and general unrest in American society during the recent economic depression, for much was made of the decadence in Gotham City and the potential power of ordinary people to rid themselves of that one percent. Even Catwoman (Selina Kyle) speaks of class warfare after being caught stealing from Wayne's safe. However it did highlight in numerous ways that the one percent were somewhat responsible for creating opportunities for others, such as Wayne's financial support for the local orphanage and Wayne Enterprise's development of a contraption that could create future sustainable energy. I would highly recommend this film not only because it is pure escape, but because it engages with weighty issues.

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