Monthly Archives: July 2012

Review – The Dark Knight Rises (12a) [2012]

Star Rating: 5/5

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Once in a decade, perhaps, are audiences treated to a trilogy wherein the three films are not only worthy of five stars each, but also raise the bar over the movie that preceded it. Ten years ago, it was Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings, which culminated beautifully in the epic The Return of the King. Now, it is the turn of Christopher Nolan and his Dark Knight Legend saga, which has climaxed spectacularly with The Dark Knight Rises.

The monstrous-looking, hulking Bane (Tom Hardy). Ra’s Al Ghul’s successor intends to finish off Gotham once and for all, forcing Batman to come out of his virtual retirement.

Eight years have passed since Bruce Wayne/Batman (Christian Bale) defeated the Joker, killed the District Attorney, Harvey Dent, and disappeared. Since then, Gotham has branded Batman an enemy, after he took responsibility for Dent’s crimes to uphold the reputation of the ‘White Knight.’ Whilst away from his former exploits, Bruce has been a recluse, investing some of his considerable wealth in peaceful nuclear energy and the Wayne Foundation, where he uses the expertise of Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) to good effect.

However, Gotham now faces a new threat. The League of Shadows has returned and is led by the masked, super-strong Bane (Tom Hardy), who is out to destroy Gotham and Batman with it. After Commissioner James Gordon (Gary Oldman) is wounded trying to take out Bane, leaving the police almost solely in the hands of the young idealist officer, John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Bruce feels that the time has come to don the bat-gear again. But how will Gotham take to his return? And what will Batman do with the criminal Selina Kyle/Catwoman (Anne Hathaway), who has a mysterious interest in Wayne Manor and Wayne Enterprise?

Rises’ plot might be slow-moving for the first hour and it certainly requires great levels of concentration for the entire 164 minutes; yet, the film is intellectually-stimulating, absorbing and multi-layered. It also builds up to a stunning, well-thought-through climax, ensuring that those who give the movie their full attention will be rewarded.

One of the most satisfying aspects of the storyline is that Nolan cleverly links Rises with Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, the two previous instalments in the series. He does this by making the caped crusader rise to a new mental and physical challenge, which is a direct result of his prior victory over the League of Shadows; and by illustrating the relevance of Batman and Harvey Dent as symbols of hope against injustice and corruption. (Not to mention demonstrating how susceptible the fabrics of society are to implosion when the symbols are smashed.)

Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) wearing her figure-revealing ‘cat’ outfit while she steals what she needs at night and fights her way out of trouble.

Furthermore, Nolan intelligently incorporated genuine, present-day issues and analogies into the previous two films to make them relatable to the epoch. He does it again in Rises. Like in The Dark Knight, he throws in moral and ethical dilemmas here to illustrate just how tough and messy decisions can be for our political leaders (in the war on terror). And, like in Batman Begins, Nolan underlines how sophisticated, scientific technology can be used as weapons. In the first film in the series, it was the dangers of microwave emitters. In the third, it’s the threat posed by ‘peaceful’ nuclear programs (Iran) and what happens should they fall into the wrong hands.

Arguably, Rises lacks a character with the charisma of the Joker, especially as he is Batman’s traditional nemesis. Nevertheless, the astuteness of the plot and the excellence of the cast make up for this absence. Christian Bale superbly reveals the psychological torment and the multifaceted nature of Bruce Wayne that makes all other comic-book based protagonists, such as those in Fantastic Four, The Avengers Assemble and Spiderman appear immature and superficial by comparison; Anne Hathaway looks as eye-catching in tightly-fitted latex as she plays; Michael Caine again gives a touching performance as Alfred, Bruce’s wise fatherly butler, as does Morgan Freeman as the humorous Lucius Fox, the head of Wayne Enterprise; and, lastly, Tom Hardy is terrifying as Bane.

Just as Nolan did with the villains Scarecrow, the Joker and Two-Face in the other movies, he’s turned Bane from a pantomime fool (as was seen in the unwatchable 1997 Batman & Robin) into a complex and sinister character, with a distressing backstory. It is not merely Bane’s brute strength and intelligence that’s scary, it’s also the glint of frightening fanaticism in his eyes which was probably last seen with Ayatollah Khomeini, the late leader of the 1979 Iranian Revolution.

Batman (Christian Bale), with renewed vigour, battling it out with Bane to save Gotham from destruction.

While the actors do their parts splendidly, so too do the special effects team and Hans Zimmer. The effects look so real, viewers have to remind themselves that CGI was used. Similarly, the score may not be as grand or uplifting as the one composed by Howard Shore for The Lord of the Rings; nonetheless, the dark disposition of Rises entails that Zimmer’s gothic-style music is apt and augments the scenes exponentially.

Over-all, The Dark Knight Rises is an engrossing and special conclusion to an exceptional trilogy. Christopher Nolan has transformed the Batman story from a joke into a dark and very human tale that has relevance to the current era, making all other comic-book based movies seem light and casual in contrast. Once more, Nolan has used intelligence and a phenomenal cast to outdo himself in the same way that Peter Jackson did almost a decade ago. Heaven knows, it might be another ten years before we see a series of such brilliance again.

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Review – Snow White and the Huntsman (12a) [2012]

Star Rating: 2.5/5

Hollywood has a thing for bastardising stories. With varying enjoyment, films like Troy, Kingdom of Heaven and Eragon all had little to do with their original narratives to the extent that one might be surprised that their respective creators bothered to keep the right names for the characters. Similarly, Snow White and the Huntsman might be entertaining, but it has little to do with the German folklore tale, ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarves’, that was first written down by Brothers Grimm in 1812.

Queen Ravenna, in all her splendour, furious to learn that there is one fairer than her.

The film opens with three drops of blood falling onto snow after Queen Eleanor (Liberty Ross – Thinly Veiled, W.E.) pricks herself. Eleanor is praying for a beautiful and fair daughter with raven-black hair, and the strength of a red rose against snow. Yet, not long after she gets her wish and gives birth to Snow White (when young played by Raffey Cassidy – Dark Shadows; when of age played by Kristen Stewart – Twilight I-V, On The Road, Still Alice), Eleanor dies. Shortly afterward, King Magnus (Noah Huntley – The Chronicles of Narnia I, Your Highness, Jappeloup) marries Ravenna (Charlize Theron – Monster, Prometheus, Hancock I & II), a woman with terrible supernatural powers to keep her forever looking young and strikingly attractive.

No sooner is the king betrothed to Ravenna she usurps the throne and locks up her young step-daughter. As the years go by, Queen Ravenna regularly turns to her magic mirror to remind herself that she is the fairest of them all. That is, until one day when the mirror tells her that Snow White is fairer. It is then that Ravenna orders her brother, Finn (Sam Spruell – The Hurt Locker, Defiance, Enemy of Man), to bring her the imprisoned princess.

But it is then that Snow White escapes, fleeing to the Dark Forest where Ravenna has no power. So Ravenna hires Eric the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth – Thor I & II, The Avengers Assemble, Red Dawn) to find and kill her…

Snow White and the Huntsman is an enjoyable movie. Set in a medieval-like world (even though the story originates from around the eighteenth-century), the sceneries are fitting, and the towns and villages, not to mention their inhabitants, are filthy in a realistic way for the period.

Snow White, wet and filthy, trying to defend herself against Eric the Huntsman in the Dark Forest.

Nevertheless, the plot has as much accuracy to the Grimm Brother’s tale as Patroclus does being Achilles’ cousin in Troy (when he is meant to be his lover) and Arya having reddish-brown hair in Eragon (when she is meant to have raven-black hair). Indeed, Snow White and the Huntsman has a multitude of storyline deviations, such as Queen Eleanor shedding three drops of blood (since that comes from another folklore story, called ‘Snow White and Rose Red’) and the huntsman being hired by the evil queen to find Snow White (since in ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarves’ he helps Snow White escape to the Dark Forest to save her from Ravenna).

Ravenna as the ‘evil queen’ is one of many clichéd characters in the film. On screen, Ravenna rules in a typically cruel manner and is invariably screeching wicked commands at her advisers; Snow White is an idyllic (dull) angel who hardly knows how to hold a knife, let alone kill someone with it; the huntsman is the stupid, axe-wielding, drunken lout turned noble protector of the princess; and the seven dwarves (at least that stays true to the original story) are almost as one-dimensional as in the 1937 Disney cartoon animation.

Thor… Eric the Huntsman ready to bury his axe into anyone attempting to hurt Snow White.

Due to the lack of depth in all of the characters, the cast has little room to show their talents. Oscar-winner Charlize Theron gives a distinctly ordinary performance as Ravenna; Sam ‘Anders Breivik lookalike’ Spruell is nothing short of wimpish and pitiful; Kristen Stewart gives a stronger performance than she does in the Twilight saga, but she only ever has one expression on her face throughout the film, and her pre-battle speech is laughably appalling; Chris Hemsworth’s display is ostensibly the same as his hammer-swinging one in Thor and The Avengers Assemble, just with a humorous Scottish accent and minus the overt arrogance; and Ian McShane (The Golden Compass, Pirates of the Caribbean IV, Jack the Giant Killer), Bob Huskins (Hook, Made In Dagenham, Aleksander Rouge), Ray Winstone (The Departed, Edge of Darkness, The Sweeney), Nick Frost (Shaun of the Dead, Paul, Cuban Fury) and Toby Jones (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Hunger Games, The Girl) are all funny as the gruff dwarves, but they pale in comparison to Peter Dinklage’s performance as the deeply complex, witty Tyrion Lannister from Game of Thrones.

All-in-all, Snow White and the Huntsman is an enjoyable film with decent settings and an attractive cast. The actors might give average performances and the characters they portray might be over-simplistic caricatures of good and evil, but it is the movie’s drift away from the original tale that is most striking. Just like with The Iliad, the history of the Third Crusades, and Eragon, Hollywood has shredded a good story in an attempt to make it fit a narrative supposedly more suitable to modern day audiences with a derisible outcome.

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