Batman and Sly Stallone fight it out for a place on your Christmas list!
The Dark Knight Rises (Warner Home Video) unfolds eight years after the events depicted in The Dark Knight, with Batman forced into hiding after carrying the can for the death of influential District Attorney Harvey Dent. Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), the billionaire playboy behind the mask, is a broken man both physically and mentally, and only the perplexing appearance of cunning cat burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) manages to prompt Wayne out of his reclusive torpor. Far more dangerous, however, is the emergence of Bane (Tom Hardy), an enormous masked terrorist whose demented plans for Gotham City leave Batman questioning whether or not he is still man enough to defend the city he loves…
With its brutal labyrinthine story of a Gotham City in chaos, The Dark Knight Rises feels like a suitably apocalyptic conclusion to Christopher Nolan’s epic Dark Knight trilogy. However, while it is arguably the weakest of the three movies on a standalone basis, fans will almost certainly appreciate Nolan’s textured, all-inclusive approach, which finds room for a number of old protagonists without lapsing into clumsiness. In terms of new additions to the cast, both are a good fit, and rumours of Hardy’s incoherence and Hathaway’s unsuitability have been grossly exaggerated. While Bane is the arguably the series’ least cerebral villain yet, his blunt-force style has a terrific impact and prompts some of Nolan’s most evocative visuals yet, not least the awesome scene in the American football stadium.
Importantly, considering its extreme length, and the abrupt introduction of two key protagonists, The Dark Knight Rises rarely feels bloated, and Nolan manages to wrestle the weighty narrative in the right direction throughout. It may be too early to describe his series as a ‘classic’ trilogy, but the finale definitely stands toe-to-toe with its much-loved predecessors and gives the franchise an enjoyably ambiguous slant. Brutally entertaining stuff.
The Expendables 2 (Lionsgate) sees Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone), Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), Yin Yang (Jet li), Gunnar Jensen (Dolph Lundgren), Toll Road (Randy Couture) and Hale Caesar (Terry Crews) – alongside new recruits Billy the Kid (Liam Hemsworth) and Maggie Chan (Yu Nan) – dispatched by shadowy CIA operative Mr Church (Bruce Willis) to Albania to retrieve a mysterious item from a crashed plane. The seemingly simple mission quickly turns problematic however, when the hardboiled mercenaries encounter the sadistic Jean Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme) and his own squad of mercenaries, The Sangs, who wants to obtain the same item, and happily murders an Expendable to prove his point. Naturally, the Expendables are compelled to seek revenge in enemy territory, and run into a few old friends along the way…
What follows is a grunting, sweating mass of bullet-strewn middle-aged mayhem – much like in the first Expendables movie. Simon West (taking over directorial duties from Stallone himself) previously helmed the incomparable ensemble action movie Con Air, but in truth, little of that magic rubs off here. Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger reprise their cameos from the first film, but both blot their copy-books by indulging in an increasingly cringe-worthy array of puns referencing their iconic catchphrases. The surreal cameo from Chuck Norris is similarly distracting, but at least boasts an appealingly loopy charm.
The Expendables 2 isn’t a complete write-off however, thanks to a series of solid action scenes, including a great Statham dust-up inside a church. Unfortunately, it is far more self-indulgent than its predecessor, which does detract from – rather than add to – its appeal. That said, for all its faults – and there are quite a few – mid-life crises have rarely been this entertaining. With an Expendables 3 already rumoured to be on the cards, the future looks bright enough for Sly Stallone’s creaky franchise. Whether it can withstand the possible involvement of post-ponytail Seagal, post-prison Snipes and post-bankruptcy Nicolas Cage is anyone’s guess, however.