Holy smoke! The Dark Knight Rises rocks

FILM
THE DARK KNIGHT RISES
Cert 12A | By Steve Dinneen
*****

UNLESS you’ve lived in a cupboard for the last six months, it won’t have escaped you that there is a new Batman movie. Even if you have, you’ll probably have heard about it anyway. You’ll have seen a trailer through the little crack in the door, or just absorbed the essence of it through your pores, like a plant leaching nutrients from the soil.

The Dark Knight Rises represents the tricky third part of Christopher Nolan’s Batman saga. Final installments demand bigger, louder, longer, darker. More villains, more locations, more explosions. Nolan delivers on all fronts and still succeeds in making The Dark Knight Rises feel stripped down. Even the most extravagant set pieces (and there are some very, very extravagant set pieces) feel eerily clinical, giving the proceedings a sinister whiff of plausibility. Nolan isn’t the type to give his characters two words when an anguished grunt will suffice, nor to use CGI when he can just throw a few cars or aeroplanes about.

The script borrows themes from Frank Miller’s seminal graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns, with an older, more jaded Batman forced out of self-imposed exile. This time Bane, a barrel-chested force of nature with a metal gas mask carved into his face, is the villain. While he was never going to match the terrifying madness of Heath Ledger’s Joker, Tom Hardy succeeds in creating a genuinely frightening opponent – Batman’s physical, rather than mental, superior, who speaks like an Etonian Darth Vader (everyone will have a different take on exactly what it sounds like. My personal favourite is “Stephen Fry talking into a yoghurt pot”).

The first two thirds of the film lag marginally behind the second installment, solely on the basis that Ledger provided the greatest ever comic-book villain performance. The bravado finale, though, lifts it above anything we’ve seen before.

Nolan’s trilogy has reinvented the superhero genre. In fact, it might just be the best action movie ever made. And if that isn’t reason enough to see it, you should probably get back to your cupboard.

MUSIC
PROM 6
Royal Albert Hall | By Zoe Strimpel
****

PROMS often obey a formula: one specially-commissioned piece, one “greatest hits”-style show-stealer and one slightly less great, but still interesting, hit.

Prom Six, on Wednesday, was no exception. An orchestral work by Hong Kong born Fung Lam (a youngster, born in 1979) kicked off proceedings. Called “Endless Forms” (a yawn of a title if ever there was one), Lam’s premise is an interesting one: Darwin’s Origin of the Species and the idea of evolution, but also, as the terrifyingly scholarly programme notes told us, “reflecting the Buddhist concept of a journey towards spiritual enlightenment’.

It sounded wafty and sensual, forming a sweeping soundscape, so in that sense, Lam did a perfectly good job of it. But the reason I – and the rest of the packed-out crowd – were there was the performance of Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto by the almost supernaturally gifted Russian-born Kirill Gerstein. The concerto is a cascade of stormy emotion and soft recalibrations, making it ferociously difficult (anyone who has seen the film Shine will know how technically demanding its sister concerto, the Rach Three, is to play). But Gerstein made it all look like picking some grass, or drumming idly on a table, while infusing the music with immense emotion, delicacy and tumult.

The second half was Prokofiev: Symphony No. 6 in E Flat Minor. It was punchy and expert, though not a good listen for a first-timer. Look out for Proms with meaty concertos: they tend to pack the most satisfying punch. But beware, if you haven’t booked yet, you may find yourself in something of a squeeze.

ART
METAMORPHOSIS TITIAN
National Gallery | By Zoe Strimpel
***

THIS show has the ring of something too complex for its own good. Titian meets ballet meets modern art…what? This collaboration with the Royal Ballet that “celebrates British creativity across the arts”, is, in fact, an absorbing, even entertaining, exhibit. There are only three Titian paintings: Diana and Actaeon, when Actaeon surprises Diana and her chaste entourage of nymphs bathing, to his peril; Diana and Callisto, where Diana turns on one of her nymphs when it turns out she’s pregnant, and the fabulous Death of Actaeon, in which Diana turns Actaeon into a stag and shoots him dead with her arrow for having glimpsed her bare-chested. Titian was inspired by Ovid’s Metamorphosis – in which “my intention is to tell of bodies changed/To different forms”.

The other rooms take up Ovid’s theme: Chris Ofili proffers five large paintings imagining Ovid on desire, lust and so on, in his trademark sexual shapes and vivid, purply hues. In another room, Conrad Shawcross has turned Diana into an industrial robot, who moves with strange grace and aggression, with a flashlight on the end of her wand with which she probes the fallen Actaeon’s antler. It’s oddly moving and hypnotic.

Then there’s the ballet: costumes for Diana and Actaeon and an unexpectedly captivating film reel showing different directors working with ballet dancers to get Diana and Actaeon’s tussle right.

It’s not a big exhibit, so it’s worth popping in if you’re in the area. It’s a neat riff on a theme once deemed great by Titian himself.

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