At last! The wait is over! The prologue to The Dark Knight Rises is finally here… just to ratchet up our already maxed-out expectations for the climactic chapter in director Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy and make the wait for the whole thing (due July 20) feel even longer. The follow-up to The Dark Knight — set eight years after the Joker made a mess of Gotham City and a killing joke out of the caped crusader’s brand of vigilante justice — stars Oscar winner Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne/Batman, but the prologue (which actually represents the first several minutes of the three-quel itself) is all about Bane, a smart and seething brute with a mecha-malevolent mask played by Thomas Hardy (Warrior, Inception). If you’ve seen the prologue at select IMAX theaters showing Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol, or if you’re planning to this weekend, we’d love to read your reactions in the message boards below. I hope you don’t mind if I get the conversation started with my thoughts about…
The Spectacle. It’s a good thing Mission: Impossible is an exhilarating action movie with a couple How The Heck Did They Do That? sequences. The Dark Knight Rises prologue — which suggests a movie of epic scope and a conflict with global implications — includes an action set piece so spectacular it would upstage almost any other full-length feature presentation that follows it. I don’t want to describe what happens play-by-play, blow-by-blow, and I’m pretty sure I’ll go to Arkham if I tell you about The Thing That Everyone Is Going To Be Talking About Involving The Thing That Happens To The Thing. Please: Just see it. And in a theater, too. What made the biggest impact on me was the bigness of it all, how Nolan and his collaborators picked locations and conceived action and framed shots that so perfectly fit and fill that monolithic IMAX screen. There’s an establishing beat of an airplane flying over low mountains that approaches the sweaty-palmed awe that you feel from one of those IMAX nature-porn docs. The whole prologue resonates with Nolan’s signature grand-and-gritty vibe. His much-talked-about preference for practical effects over computer-generated effects — or, at least, creating the illusion of practical effects, to avoid that whiff of uncanny valley fakeness –- has been applied to a scenario that one would think could only be achieved via animated trickery. Maybe it was. And I don’t know if I really want to know.
Bane. I was never a fan of his comic-book manifestation. I hated the villain’s look — the ridiculously exaggerated physique, the lucha libre wrestler attire. It was a significant barrier of entry into the character’s otherwise fascinating backstory and complex psychology. My disdain was also surely shaped by the taint of the silly, sensationalistic creative stunt that produced his most iconic moment: The time when he broke Batman’s back by cracking him across his knee like kindling. Bane appeared in Joel Schumacher’s franchise-killer, Batman and Robin, and while that version — a serial killer-turned-inarticulate flunky to Uma Thurman’s Poison Ivy — was a shallow caricature of the comic book character, it nonetheless embodied the essence of my low (snooty?) opinion.
This is all to say I wasn’t turning fanboy cartwheels when I heard Nolan was going to pit Batman against Bane. He seemed to lack the iconic heft and terrifying depth of the Joker. So I came to this prologue wanting Team Nolan to make me a Bane believer. Mission accomplished. I was immediately seized by a larger-than-life presence. Hardy has bulked up to flesh out Bane’s imposing silhouette, minus the cartoonish conflations. He’s tough and hard, an elemental force of nature… though there is that perversely unnatural mask. Which strikes me as both medically necessary and cosmetic, part breathing apparatus, part dog muzzle. Something Malcolm McDowell’s Alex from A Clockwork Orange might wear during a night of ultraviolence in a smog-choked future. And then there’s the unsettling voice, deep and accented and muffled. You can’t really understand him in the prologue, for various reasons, including some that are unique to the chaotic circumstances. Some viewers might be frustrated. I wasn’t. By making me work hard to make out Bane’s words, Nolan and Hardy drew me deeper into the scene, into the character. The few things I could glean suggested a fiend of great intelligence, awful ambition, and prone to pulpy poetics. Bane captured my imagination and now haunts it. Joker who?
The Story. I am forbidden from spoiling anything, and I don’t know if I could if I wanted to, given Bane’s creepy garble. At the same time, I never felt “confused” per se watching the prologue. I always felt like I was in the hands of a storyteller who knew exactly what he was doing. And while the details are fuzzy, the impressions created tell you everything you need to know, which is actually very little. Remember: This “prologue” is actually the first few minutes of the film itself. What is “confusing” in the context of a fragment screened out of context of its greater whole will most likely be experienced as an invitation into menace and mystery when we see the finished movie.
The Sizzle. Following the blast of Bane, a buckshot of images, including Anne Hathaway as Selena Kyle (a.k.a. Catwoman), a high tech new roadster for Batman (hint: it makes roads irrelevant), and a shot that represents an extension of the just-released teaser poster. To be honest, these bits bounced off me. It was like I had just been served a savory appetizer, and then suddenly someone started pelting me with crumbs and teeny little cubes of cheese. If Warner Bros. releases the prologue to the Web, perhaps more can be gleaned from these fleeting beats via frame by frame study.
Bottom Line: Apparently, Bane’s slogan is “Fire rises.” So does my anticipation.