Monday, December 24, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

Batman Begins, the reboot of the Batman film franchise, took me completely by surprise. After the travesty that was Batman & Robin I had zero expectations for anything about this character, so when this ended up being amazing I was not prepared for it. Christopher Nolan was now a made man in the geek community.

With expectations riding high on Nolan’s follow-up, The Dark Knight, we all feared that he would somehow drop the ball and give the fans something to complain about for the next few months following its release. He delivered and then some. It ended up being more of a crime thriller than a superhero movie and was elevated to the Nth Degree by the outstanding performance of Heath Ledger as The Joker.
Now that the hype was at a fever pitch for the final film in the trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises, the fan community had little doubt that Nolan would knock this installment out of the park once again. As far as I am concerned he did, but there are some who think otherwise. Sure it’s not a perfect movie, but few are. The previous films in the series were far from perfect, but like I said, this was being held up to unrealistic standards by the fans. I was just looking for an entertaining film and that’s what I received in addition to some perks only Nolan can provide.

Picking up eight years after the events of The Dark Knight, we find that Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has retired The Batman in the wake of the deaths of Harvey Dent and Rachel Dawes. Now a reclusive hermit with extensive injuries sustained in battle he has allowed the police to take care of the remaining criminal elements in Gotham. When a militant revolutionary named Bane (Tom Hardy) comes to town and begins waging war on the wealthy alongside a notorious cat burglar (Anne Hathaway), Wayne revives The Batman in order to save the city. The only problem is that he may have to sacrifice his life in order to do so.
As with all the other films in this franchise the acting is phenomenal. Every single cast member is at the top of their game and treats the material as if it were Shakespeare. We all know that Christian Bale excels as both Bruce Wayne and Batman, and that Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine are all amazing in their roles.

But what of the actors who are new to the franchise? I will go on the record to say that from here on out I am a fan of Anne Hathaway. I haven’t been able to sit through a movie she’s starred in for years mostly because she has terrible taste in projects, be it Bride Wars or Ella Enchanted. Her “aren’t I adorable?” shtick just irks me in all the wrong ways. But after seeing her fierce turn as Catwoman I am firmly in her camp. Not once did I see a wannabe Julia Roberts, I saw only Selena Kyle. I believed that she could do all the crazy acrobatic fights as well as threaten somebody’s life just by looking at them. She put her all into this part, and even though I was extremely skeptical when I first heard of her casting I now feel that she is the Heath Ledger of this film. This is her big breakout in my eyes.
Tom Hardy, whose performances I’ve admired for years starting with Star Trek: Nemesis all the way through Inception, had the daunting task of taking on the odd role of Bane. In the comics he’s a massive hulk of a man that injects himself with a poison to gain super strength. In Nolan’s more realistic universe he’s a damaged man who needs to constantly inhale an anesthetic to function via a facemask. In the trailers and the preview that was shown some six months prior to The Dark Knight Rises’ release his voice was completely muddled through this mask, and understanding anything he said proved to be a task worthy of Job. With a little tweaking on Nolan’s part his performance manages to not only come through via his body language and expressive eyes, but by his gentlemanly voice. It was a strange choice to have this brute, who is not only supremely intelligent but is always two steps ahead of his competition, to speak like a member of British royalty. It works wonders for his character’s somewhat contradictory nature. This is most evident in his character’s final moments in the film.

Marion Cotillard is the only weak spot. She is a fantastic actress and I cannot fault her for the problems with the script, but I thought her big reveal to be completely predictable even before the clues started to pop up (once they started talking about a certain character’s child I knew I had predicted correctly). One rule I’ve always bet on is that “If you’re going to cast a major star in what amounts to a bit part, you know that down the line they’re going to end up being the villain”, and that I saw coming a mile away in her case. I felt she sort of gave it away early in the movie via her body language and the looks she throws Bruce’s way. Plus, her death scene is one of the worst I’ve ever seen and is almost laughably hokey.
Enough about the acting, what about the plot? It definitely borrows heavily from the “Knightfall” comic book storyline wherein Bane breaks Batman’s back, but it’s the class warfare arc that intrigued me the most. We have Catwoman on one hand stealing from the rich so that she can survive as well as serve Bane’s cause, and when she tells Bruce Wayne that “There’s a storm coming, Mr. Wayne. You and your friends better batten down the hatches, because when it hits, you’re all going to wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us” she pretty much lays out the overall plot for the film. Gotham is a decadent city rife with corruption and Bane wants to wipe it off the map to make a point to the world in the name of the League of Shadows. For someone of my own monetary situation I can definitely sympathize. When I saw the trailers that showcased this thematic choice I felt it was somewhat prophetic since at the time it was released the “Occupy Wall Street” movement was just beginning. Nolan saw it coming and took full advantage. Kudos sir.

Hans Zimmer’s fantastic score makes even the most dialogue driven scene more epic, and while James Newton Howard’s presence is sorely missed (his quieter moments of the previous films’ scores were just as awesome as Zimmer’s bombastic themes) I have to give credit that Zimmer pulled off yet another amazing musical coup.
There are some plot holes which I assume cropped up due to pacing, like how Bruce managed to get back into Gotham after the lockdown was in effect, or why Lucius didn’t just flood the reactor facility when Bane was holding him hostage. I can only assume that Bruce still has his methods and contacts to allow him to sneak into Gotham and that if Lucius attempted to flood the facility Miranda would have broken her cover and stopped him. A lot of people had issue with Alfred choosing to leave Bruce because of his choice to become Batman again. People I know said that he would never leave Bruce no matter what, but this isn’t the Alfred from the comics. I totally bought that this version of Alfred, an ex-military man, would abandon Bruce to show him just how opposed he was to him putting his life in danger again, and the last time he did it people he cared for lost their lives. He even went as far to use the death of Rachel as leverage to prove his point. The bottom line is that this is a movie based on a comic book and there’s bound to be issues like this that pop up from time to time. It didn’t bother me at all and seems like needless nitpicking to me.

My main issue is the action scenes. The fight scenes are filmed in extreme close-up again (like in Batman Begins) and they are so short, darkly lit (in the sewer scene) and badly choreographed that at times I couldn’t tell who was hitting who. I can understand Nolan not being skilled at filming scenes of this nature, or maybe not even being confident enough to pull them off properly. In that case he should stop being such a control freak (he directs and oversees EVERY scene in his movies with no second unit as back-up) and bring in people who are comfortable shooting stuff like this.
My other issue is minor, and that’s the “Robin” name dropping in the epilogue. I had heard in interviews that Nolan would never utilize that character in any of his films, but then he goes ahead and has one character turn out to be him in the end. Sure he most likely will not be the character when all is said and done, but I still felt it was silly and unnecessary.

A satisfying conclusion to Nolan’s Batman trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises hits all the right notes and themes to close out this series on a high note, minor quibbles be damned. The sad part is that we will not get another film in this series. Well, we might, but not from Nolan. I just hope that the person who takes over the franchise has a vision that compliments the characters just as perfectly.

4.5 out of 5

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