Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises: a satisfying conclusion to an amazing trilogy

And so ends a remarkable trilogy from Christopher Nolan in stunning fashion. Quick personal aside before I begin, this was the first film I ever saw in a real Imax theater and it was a thrilling experience. If you ever plan to see a movie in Imax make sure it's a legit 70mm theater and not just a glorified 2D screen. It makes a world of a difference, trust me.

There was a time when Christopher Nolan did not want to make a third batman film. He wasn't sure he could do it. Could he really top The Dark Knight? Could he produce a better villain than the Joker? Can he really make a film that can both stand on its own and be as great as the last two batman movies he just made? How many good third movies of a trilogy are there anyway? The one thing that allowed him to come back was to have the idea that this would have to be the last film of his series. If he was going to make a third one, it would have to be the last one. With this knowledge, the audience would go in not really knowing what's going to come. Will Batman save Gotham? Will Bruce Wayne recover from a broken back? Or will Gotham really blow to pieces?

From the start of the film, we are introduced to a character that will become a force to reckon with for the rest of the movie. That's Bane. Bane is a physical beast with seemingly no empathy for the human race. He has come to finish the job that Ra's Al Ghul intended to do years ago: destroy Gotham. And in a series of breathtaking action pieces, we watch as Bane implodes the football stadium, blows up all the bridges except for one, as well as the tunnels. There's no way out of Gotham alive.

And where's Batman in all this? Well, before Bane became a threat to Gotham, Bruce Wayne was a recluse for eight years, doing his best Howard Hughes impression. After Batman took the fall for Harvey Dent's death, Bruce Wayne has been out in hiding from the public as well. As the movie starts, a sexy jewel thief named Selina Kyle begins to perk his interest as she both charms him and steals his mother's necklace. Selina Kyle warns Bruce of the impending danger the "one percenters" such as himself are in. Selina, a loose accomplice of Bane's, is a character with a shaky moral code. We never know if she's with or against Batman. When Batman tells Selina he wants to meet with Bane face-to-face (before Bane starts his destruction of Gotham), it winds up being a big mistake as Bane proves to be a physical match that Batman cannot overcome.

There's a whole lot more to the story in The Dark Knight Rises. Jim Gordon is back, and this time, he's got a young cop named Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who he's mentoring. Blake, an orphan like Bruce Wayne, knows exactly who Bruce really is. We also have the return of Lucius Fox, who when Bruce Wayne visits him, cannot resist showing him the new toy he has created ("The Bat"). Alfred Pennyworth is also back and when Bruce Wayne flirts with the idea of putting the ol' costume back on, Alfred threatens to walk. He cannot stand to bury another Wayne.

The scope of The Dark Knight Rises is larger than any other previous Batman film, as it should be. The legend ends here, as promised in the ad campaign, and with a 165-minute running time we can certainly expect something epic to come about. There's a lot of simultaneous threads running about and, unfortunately, Christopher Nolan can't get everything right. As with the character of Miranda Tate, played by Marion Cotillard, who is supposed to help Bruce Wayne after he discovers that he's flat-out broke. She also plays one of Bruce's love interests in the film, and compared to the sexy verbal foreplay between he and Selina Kyle, there's just something rather lifeless and uninteresting between the pairing of Miranda and Bruce Wayne. As much as he wants her to be safe, we never get the sense that she's anything more than a booty call for him, on a personal level.

Of course she's important in that she's helping to save Wayne Enterprises but I don't think there's a rule in the Batman universe that every female character that's introduced has to be a love interest of Bruce Wayne. Is that really a requirement? Especially when we find out that there's much more to Miranda Tate than originally meets the eye... a twist that would be even stronger if we had just a little more screen time with her. As important as she is to the story, she's really the only case of the film handling too many different characters. Nolan handles the actors as best as he can and I admire the work he's put forth in that department, but I found the character of Miranda Tate to be underwritten and kinda dull compared to everyone else.

After all, Alfred Pennyworth probably has his most shining moment of the entire Batman lore. A character we once took for granted suddenly walks out on Bruce Wayne in protest of Bruce's decision to wear the Batman suit once again. Michael Caine's scenes are just extraordinary and they make for the most emotional scenes of the entire film. Anne Hathaway also is fun to watch here. When she's not kicking ass and taking names, she serves as the best love interest out of the all three Nolan's batman films. Tom Hardy also gives a great performance as Bane. While some may question the decision that was made about the sound of his voice, Tom Hardy as both a physical presence and a legitimate threat to Gotham, makes other villains look puny and weak compared to him. He only has one thing in mind: to destroy and to kill, and he never strays from that. Even when you find out there's more to his character, you can tell that he's in too deep to change who he is. That said, I prefer Joker's head games moreso than Bane's physical brutality. They're both enjoyable, and I think as villains they're pretty much even, but Joker really messed with Batman's head whereas Bane just proved he can kick his ass. Of course he can, he looks like he has one-hundred pounds over him and Batman is getting old. Nevertheless, Nolan did a great job with Bane and I was really impressed that he was able to write a villain that even came close to being as threatening and terrifying as the Joker.

Nolan also did a great job with the action and effects sequences. Critics even hinting at the idea that Christopher Nolan comes close to Michael Bay territory* with his action sequences need a good slap in the face. Nothing too violent or threatening is needed just a comical slap in the face. What other directors in the game are even attempting to do what Christopher Nolan has done with his last three films? You may argue that parts of the stories in TDK, Inception, and TDKR don't always add up all the time, but for the most part, he gets it right. He's getting better as a director of action, he's become more confident as a big-budget storyteller and when The Dark Knight Rises is firing on all cylinders, there's nothing that will come out this year that can be as thrilling and exciting to watch.

The Dark Knight Rises is a triumph for Christopher Nolan and his batman trilogy. It gets nearly everything right. Nolan handles everything like a pro. He even takes some chances and steers things into a pretty risky path near the end of the film, suggesting that the batman, as a symbol, will live on eternally. I think Nolan got the ending right, especially considering it's the official ending of his batman stories. We all know that Batman, as a symbol, can never truly end. Christopher Nolan managed to find a way to tie things up, staying true to the themes and philosophies of both the first and second movies while adding some new ones in the process. Nolan did the impossible task: he made a great third film of a trilogy. Kudos.

Grade: A-

*we all know that action and effects sequences are Michael Bay's forte, but when critics compare Nolan to Michael Bay, they're doing it to disparage him. As if any director that attempts big action sequences are making movies as bad and as stupid as Michael Bay.

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