Wednesday, July 25, 2012

"The Dark Knight Rises"

Directed by Christopher Nolan, written by Nolan, Jonathan Nolan, and David S. Goyer, starring Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Gary Oldman, Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and Marion Cotillard - Rated PG-13

"When Gotham is...ashes, then you have my permission to die."

There has already been way too much online controversy concerning The Dark Knight Rises (hereafter just Rises) after the first few negative reviews came out.  I don’t want to get into a whole film criticism in an internet age debate, but I will say that having a different opinion is not a big deal.  It makes no sense for people to freak out about a bad review, especially if they haven’t seen the movie yet.  When I heard about a handful of negative reviews, I had a little impulse to get defensive as well because I am a Batman fan.  I didn’t freak out and write a threatening letter or anything, but I did start to think, “What a bunch of crap! They just want to be different.”  Maybe that actually is true (there are certainly people out there who only want to be contrary to get a reaction), but odds are there are people who honestly won’t like Rises. 
I bring all of the critic backlash stuff up because Rises is destined to be a victim of hype and that is certainly why “fans” are defending a film they haven’t seen.  I also think that some critics (or people like me, who are not “professional” critics) will be negative because their lofty expectations were not met.  That is an unfortunate way to judge a film (and I am guilty of doing it from time to time).  The Dark Knight did not face this same fate because people were pleased with Batman Begins but did not freak out about it.  Heath Ledger as the Joker got people hyped up for the film and most people were blown away.  That’s a hard act to follow and it’s easy for someone to be disappointed if the exact same type of film is made for the sequel.  I am not one of those people.  I loved the newest Batman film and I think director Christopher Nolan has delivered an amazing endpoint to a great trilogy.
Rises is closure in the best sense of the word.  Batman Begins was all about Gotham City and whether or not it deserved to be saved.  Bruce Wayne/Batman (Christian Bale) lives only to save his city.  In The Dark Knight that idea seemed to be focused more on the people rather than the city itself.  Batman wasn’t trying to save the physical city; he was trying to save the soul of the city.  In Rises, the city itself is up for grabs.  In fact, nearly everything is up in the air in this film.  All of the buildup has led to this giant film about the fate of a troubled city.
Gotham has never felt more real.  There has always been a personality to Gotham City in these films, but it’s been a growing process.  Gotham just feels like more of a character in this film than the others.  That is immensely important since the whole point of the film is whether or not the city survives.
Of course, the main reason to watch the film is to see the people fighting for the city, and there are a lot of them.  There’s the usual crew of Batman, Alfred (Michael Caine), Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), and Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman).  Added to the lot are young cop John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), philanthropist Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), and veteran officer Foley (Matthew Modine).  Then there’s Selina Kyle, a.k.a. Catwoman (Anne Hathaway), who plays both sides to her advantage.  And finally, there’s Bane (Tom Hardy), the masked mercenary who wants to destroy Gotham and make Batman suffer immeasurably. 
Sounds like a busy film, right?  It is.  In fact, when I first heard about the extended cast I started to worry if this film would make the same mistakes that so many sequels do: overstuffing to try and please everyone.  I was surprised by how well it all tied together.  Sure, some might complain that some characters do not get enough attention (Batman, for instance, feels nearly like a supporting player rather than the hero), but I thought the film was perfectly balanced.  In fact, the lack of focus on one individual adds to the point of the film: Batman is not meant to be an unmasked hero, but a persona that anyone can step into to do good.  Who said the Dark Knight had to be Batman or Bruce Wayne, anyway? 
This brings me to why this trilogy has been so special in the first place: themes.  Sure, themes can be applied to all films, but there’s something about Christopher Nolan’s trilogy that always makes me think a bit more than other superhero films like, say, The Avengers.  Perhaps it’s Batman’s constant preaching about what Gotham needs, but I always find myself thinking about what it means to be “good” in society and when, or if, it is ever okay to lie a little to protect a lot.  No matter, these films have a self-importance to them that doesn’t come across as pretentious but rather makes everything happening onscreen that much more compelling.
Thankfully, what’s happening onscreen is also pretty awesome.  Nolan has always been able to bring the goods when it comes to cinematic set pieces and he keeps it going with Rises.  I don’t want to go into specifics, but what impressed me the most was the transformation of Gotham.  Aside from that, just know that you get to see every dollar that was spent on this movie.
The characters of the Batman world have always been the real appeal, though.  No offense to Mr. Wayne, but as a character, both he and Batman have grown a bit less interesting with age.  This went unnoticed in The Dark Knight because everyone loved the villain so much.  But is Bane an interesting enough villain to keep things fresh?  I say yes.  The mask and the physicality of Tom Hardy make Bane an imposing villain already, but the boldness of his actions and his words make him interesting.  I still like the Joker more, but Bane is right up there with him.  As for the whole voice controversy, I did have trouble understanding him here and there and the sound of the voice is kind of jarring at first because it seems too loud, but I got used to it and, after a second viewing, really liked it. 
The other big addition that had everyone talking was Catwoman.  (To be clear, she is never really called Catwoman, but it’s easier to refer to her that way.)  I have never been a fan of the character so I was very skeptical about her inclusion, but I was dead wrong.  This is mainly thanks to Hathaway’s performance (and her physicality doesn’t hurt, either).  She does a great job of playing the victim, then quickly reverting back to her natural survivalist state.  She definitely livened up the screen when Bane was away. 
Gordon-Levitt was a bit of a shot in the arm for the franchise, as well.  He seemed like a pointless addition when I heard about it months ago, but once again, I was wrong.  His do-gooder cop works well with Oldman as he keeps things moving in the film when they would otherwise come to a crawl.
The rest of the actors do their usual fine job as their characters haven’t changed very much.  I will point out that Bale was a bit better this time as Batman.  His growling has been toned down a bit and didn’t sound as ridiculous as it did in The Dark Knight.  I also liked his portrayal of Bruce Wayne as a broken man.  This may be the best performance he has given in the trilogy.  
The Dark Knight Rises simply delivered everything I wanted in a final chapter to my favorite superhero franchise.  This is not a perfect film or anything, though.  But I’ll ask what I always ask: is there such a thing as a “perfect” film?  Many have written articles about the faults of the film and, to be honest, I agree with a few of them.  But I did not really notice any problems while I watched it.  I just loved it because I am a dorky fanboy and if I get to see Bane and Batman throw down, I can ignore some logic problems with the story.  And I write this having seen the film a second time and still not having major issues with it.  So this makes Rises one of the best films of the year for me and a more enjoyable film than The Avengers.  But the larger question remains: does it live up to the hype?  In other words, is this better than The Dark Knight?  Well, time will tell on that one.  But why even separate the films?  The first time I watched Rises was as part of a marathon screening of all three films (I mentioned I was a dork, right?), and it felt like one long story with a couple of intermissions.  So is it better?  I don’t know.  I do know that it is part of the greatest comic book storyline of all time and a fitting end to a great trilogy.
Random Thoughts (SPOILERS)

I think I ended up absolutely loving this film because I realized how engrossed I was in it.  I've read where people were spotting the twist that Miranda Tate was actually Talia al Ghul very early on but it was completely lost on me.  This is ridiculous because I'm normally focused on predicting the ending or the twist of a film and this one is pretty easy to spot, especially when you pay attention and you know who Talia is before watching the film (and I was aware of the character before the film came out).  Even after seeing the child escape the Pit I didn't put it together.  I wondered how the child escaping could be Bane since it didn't have a mask on, but I was so into the movie that I didn't realize that it had to have been someone else.  When a movie gets me like that, then it's good enough for me.

I also liked where this leaves the franchise.  I was recently extremely disappointed with the decision to reboot the Spider-Man franchise so quickly and I was already bracing myself for the Batman reboot sure to come in less than a decade.  But since Blake was left the keys to the castle, so to speak, the films could continue on with him as Batman.  Nolan is done, but at least the films can go on without rebooting it and giving yet another origin story.  Of course, they'll probably completely reboot it anyway.

Bane and Batman duking it out was great.  I loved their first encounter and it was awesome to see Bane "break" Batman. 

There was a Joker in this movie.  Matthew Modine was Joker in Full Metal Jacket.  Does that count?

The happy ending was a little cheesy, but I'm okay with it.  Doesn't Bruce Wayne deserve a little happiness?  Initially, I wanted Batman to die, but I can accept a fake death.

It was great to see the Scarecrow back in action as a judge.  I really wish he had gotten more screen time throughout the trilogy. 

It was refreshing for the mob bosses to be out of the picture.  It made this seem more realistic (even though this is arguably the least realistic film in the series what with the whole Escape from Gotham scenario).  Let's face it: Batman facing off against mobsters seems a bit anachronistic. 

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