The Dark Knight Rises (at 5am for the opening view).
Four years ago I paid an impromptu visit to the Odeon cinema in Cardiff Bay after a long night working, too wired to sleep, intent on seeing a film – any film – that might kill a few hours in the dark. It was a rainy morning and that summer, like this one, had had way too many rainy summer mornings.

I opted for the Dark Knight – it was that summer’s must see blockbuster and a film that, having enjoyed Batman Begins, was appealing enough to pay some cash for, without generating any great levels of excitement or expectation. There was, sadly, an intrigue in seeing the film for Heath Ledger on account of his tragic and untimely death that year.

Sitting in the theatre with no more than twenty other similarly loose-ended punters, I sipped a coffee and let the film wash over me – becoming ever more drawn into the story unfolding. Of the battles against corruption, the cop and the lawyer trying to do good against a tide of bad – aided by this mysterious superhero, sidetracked by a wild clown faced terrorist. At the start of the film I was tired, sleep deprived. By the end I was exhausted – worn out and oddly emotional. This was a bloody comic book adaptation for heaven’s sake. What was there to get emotional about?

Leaving the theatre that day I distinctly remember the thought that continued to swirl around in my head – Had I just watched the greatest movie of all time?

Looking back I would probably have to concede that perhaps I hadn’t. That perhaps there were other, more worthy films that could claim that prize. Nevertheless, rarely has a film engaged me more thoroughly than the Dark Knight. A film that dared to take a superhero story, a typical summer blockbuster franchise idea, a story that has been done before and let’s be honest, put through the wringer a little too often – and then lace it with intelligence, believable, realistic characters and a story of depth – a story that took Shakespearean themes of vulnerability, corruption of power and, more than any other, of tragedy and thoughtfully work them through a story about, well about Batman.

Frankly, I was blown away.

So, when this morning I ventured to the 5am showing of The Dark Knight Rises, I was aware that, for me, this was a movie that had a lot to live up to. And, for the first hour or so I suspect that the film suffered for this comparison. Not because it wasn’t as good – not at all – but simply because the last time had taken me by surprise. I found myself comparing. Does the story have the same depth without the charisma of Ledger’s Joker? Without the central story arc that we had with Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart)?

Well, not to put too fine a point on it – yes.

In the Dark Knight Rises, Nolan has delivered another master class at how to turn a big budget action-adventure in a work of beautiful and thoughtful art simply by staying true to the notion of good story-telling. An opening act that has the courage of its convictions to take its time – choosing to focus on the fragility of the central character, the relationships and the apparent calm of the city while, with our early (and spectacular) introduction to the film’s villain Bane, allowing a tension and sense of foreboding to bubble and rise. And when the tension finally cracks and the terror is unleashed it comes in a spectacular, devastating fashion.

Bale revels in the lead role, bringing an edgy blend of heroism and self-destructiveness as we feel the full weight of his pained, troubled double existence as the grief-stricken billionaire and the redundant vigilante that had brought a sense of purpose to his former life. Bale is ably supported by Anne Hathaway’s impressively sultry, femme fatale turn as Selina, aka Catwoman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the young cop with intriguing parallels to Bruce Wayne and the ever brilliant Michael Caine and Gary Oldman as Alfred and Commissioner Gordon with the former’s portrayal as Wayne’s butler / surrogate father, standing helpless as his beloved employer sinks deeper into the abyss, a truly heartbreaking aspect to the film.

As for the villain of the piece, Bane (Tom Hardy) may suffer slightly by having to follow Ledger’s turn as the charismatic Joker but he delivers a performance of genuine threat and malevolence nonetheless, bringing a similar sense desire for destruction, albeit born out of misguided purpose rather than the Joker’s gleeful nihilism.

This is a wonderful film that enhances an already magnificent series – the Dark Knight may rise, but not without plenty of fall’s that are painfully deep and uncomfortably believable. Nolan is a brilliant master of infusing the fantastical with the real – as seen in his last epic hit Inception. In his Bat World it is the blend of superhero with everyman, turning the ultimate cops and robbers stand off into a battle scene straight from Middle Earth and in, what is surely a deliberate nod to Inception, a deliciously typical Nolan finale that again asks us to question what is real and what is fantasy.

GJH 2012 (@lenny_n_carl)

PS – Have Just heard news on radio of the awful tragic events at a showing of the film in Colorado. This is a truly tragic occurrence and really rather overshadows all of the triviality above. Condolences to all tragically effected by this news.

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