I have seen the first six minutes of The Dark Knight Rises, and I’ll give Christopher Nolan this: He doesn’t waste time. With an opening salvo that unfolds at what appears to be 400 miles per hour and 10,000 feet, I left the theater enamored by the thought that at one point during the shoot, there was probably a day where three massive airplanes had to fly in close formation to get some of these dazzling establishing shots.
Warner Bros. made it clear to those New York reporters who attended a special IMAX screening of The Dark Knight Rises prologue on Monday that we were not to divulge specific details of these key opening scenes, in hopes of preserving a sense of surprise for the audiences who would see this opening sequence ahead of Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol at 42 select IMAX screens. While introducing his footage Monday, Nolan said he had picked these IMAX venues in a bid to give his footage an added wow factor — to immerse the audience in the experience. To that end, the prologue left me enthralled, not only by the sheer scope of the ferocious high-wire act that serves as Nolan’s newest curtain raiser, but also by the efficiency of the setup in wiping clean the Dark Knight slate, evoking the dawn of a new reign of terror.
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To summarize with as few spoilers as possible: The prologue begins near a rural runway, takes to the air on board a CIA airplane, pivots around a mid-air double-cross masterminded by our evil, mask-wearing villain Bane (Tom Hardy), and – like so many of Nolan’s films – puts the emphasis on physicality and stunt work rather than computer-manipulated special effects. Think back to the rotating cityscape of Inception, the eerie billowing fog of Insomnia or the sonar night vision finale of The Dark Knight; Nolan structures his action scenes around simple concepts that afford striking visuals. So it seems appropriate that the most thrilling aspects of this opening sequence involve the most basic laws of physics: wind, speed, distance, height, orientation and tensile strength. As chaos erupts at 10,000 feet between multiple airplanes, it’s hard telling where the live-action ends and the computer graphics begin. Most impressive to me was the depiction of what happens to the structure of an airplane when it goes from horizontal to vertical at hundreds of miles per hour.
Following the linear narrative, this prologue also includes a one-minute rapid-fire montage of additional Dark Knight Rises imagery. We briefly see Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) in full Catwoman attire. There are multiple shots of the Batmobile — racing, shooting, burning and, in one brief aside, flying. Fans of the Batman comic already know that once upon a time Bane broke Bruce Wayne’s back, and there’s a brief homage to that fact near the end of the montage, as Bane drops a shattered Batman mask. It’s that image that exploded on the Internet yesterday, with the release of the cryptic new Dark Knight Rises poster (see above). Is it conceivable that Nolan’s new epic would kill the Caped Crusader?
Beyond the prologue’s kinetic 70mm images, Batman purists will be most intrigued by the depiction of Bane. Cunning and obscured by a black facial mask, much has already been posted online about his dialog here in this opening sequence, which becomes increasingly garbled and indecipherable as the ambient noise of the airplane intensifies. Several pundits have dubbed the hard-to-make-out dialog a major glitch, noting that it will almost surely be fixed in later sound mixing. But I have a hard time believing Nolan would rush out a flawed product for such a high-profile debut. He alluded to MovieWeb that the garbled audio was intentional, but one never knows if the filmmaker was just having a bit of fun with the bloggers.
Whatever the truth behind the cryptically scattered dialogue (which I personally thought made the whole aerial showdown that much more interesting, leaving the viewer in the dark as to the who and why) what’s immediately clear is that Bane is a vast departure from the Joker. While Heath Ledger’s creation was a genius sociopath who waged a form of psychological warfare, it’s clear that Bane is less talk than action, and that he has the kind of backing to take on the likes of the CIA. If the previous Batman villains in the Nolan universe have been scientists, schemers and flameouts, it would appear that Bane represents something new, a brute force, with an army at his disposal.
Nolan said he was taking the time to tour with this mini-print primarily to call attention to the quality of the IMAX apparatus; he says he filmed twice as much (close to 60 minutes) of The Dark Knight Rises in the expanded format, and relishes the opportunity to create images that are larger than life. And sure enough, with the six minutes of footage here, he has once again put the world’s biggest screens to good use, bringing the audience inside a meticulously choreographed spectacle. If this is merely the opening lap, Nolan has added some major horsepower to his Dark Knight universe. Expect fireworks.