Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises (Review + Rant)

This week, I went to see "The Dark Knight Rises" in theatres. It was the long anticipated final installment and conclusion to Christopher Nolan's epic Batman trilogy, which now stand next to (or even ahead of!) Tim Burton's 1988 "Batman" as the greatest Batman movies ever made. I'd read about it ahead of time so I'd know what to expect when going into the theater, and most reviews confirmed what I knew was inevitable: that this third installment (like many third installments before it) would be the weakest movie in the trilogy. It would just lack the fresh impact of "Batman Begins" and the sheer WOW factor of "The Dark Knight."  But I still hoped for an epic entertaining experience that would close this Batman story that Nolan has masterfully told. And I was not let down. I enjoyed this movie, and while it had many noticeable flaws, the good outweighed the bad by a little, especially when it came to the finale. It was no "The Avengers", but thankfully it was no "The Amazing Spider-Man" either. So suit up as I go over the pros and cons of this grand spectacle:

THE GOOD:

- Bruce Wayne's character was as fabulous as ever. The events of the previous film clearly shook him, and after being wanted by the law and having one too many struggles to protect the city in secret, Bruce hung up his cape and cowl and retired. In his personal life, he also became a recluse, seeing only friends like Alfred, Lucius, and his new love, Miranda Tate. Seeing him return to being Batman and going all out to save Gotham City was awesome, and Christian Bale gave perhaps his finest performance as Bruce. As Batman, on the other hand....we'll get to that.

- Michael Caine's Alfred was also fabulous as ever. Along with Michael Gough's portrayal of the faithful butler in the Burton and Schumaker movies, Caine's rendition has been my favorite version of the character. He is just such an amazing actor who brings lots of warmth, humor, sincerity, drama, and humanity to the part. And he went above and beyond what I expected of him here, since we actually see him getting emotional and on the verge of tears when talking to Bruce about their fading family relationship at least three times in this movie. This moving performance really endeared him to me and showed just how much he cares for Bruce, which makes the ending that much more emotionally satisfying.

- Gary Oldman's Commissioner Gordon also manages to stay great, even when spending alot of his screen time in the hospital. Learning that his wife and kids left him after the traumatizing experience with Harvey Dent, and that it pains him to lie to the public by hailing that homicidal maniac as a savior was really depressing. And seeing how he really longed for Batman to come back and how willing he was to help him the whole way through was touching. Gordon's had a great character arc throughout these three movies, and this movie had a perfect way of bringing it all full circle.

- Morgan Freeman is still awesome as Lucius Fox, making a minor, forgettable character in most incarnations of Batman into a vital and welcome presence whenever he's on-screen.

- Officer John Blake, played by Joseph Gordon Levitt, was a good character. Hot headed and rough with people due to his troubled past, but also very just and optimistic. His similarities to Bruce are made note of, but he also reminded me of pre-Two-Face Harvey Dent. He managed to sincerely show himself as a true hero in times of crisis, and the way his character ended was just perfect. Not only does his birth name being "Robin" confirm that he's this universe's Robin, but by being clearly about to take up the mantle of Batman in the end, he's sort of this universe's Terry McGeniss as well. I can imagine him being a younger, more able bodied and equally driven Batman fighting crime in Gotham while a retired Bruce calls the shots from wherever he is.

- Selina Kyle was freaking awesome. They totally nailed this character, and Anne Hathaway's performance was just outstanding. She was like this movie's Heath Ledger: there were lots of doubters (you'd think they'd learned their lesson after Ledger, but noooo!), but she pleased everyone with her smart, sexy, energetic portrayal of the classic cat burglar. Now I loved Michelle Ptfeifer's rendition of Catwoman in "Batman Returns", but she made that a great character in spite of how
it was written, which was pretty off. This Catwoman was the more true to the comics version that
I always wanted to see in a visual medium: one who's like her portrayal in Jeph Loeb's stories, the naughty, selfish, ambitious, manipulative bitch who plays all sides for her own benefit and has alot of fun doing it. That she was called "The Cat" was a nice shout out to her original appearance, and her wearing goggles that go up in the shape of cat ears was a very clever costume design. As Selina, Hathaway just stole every scene she was in and the character made for a great anti villain, and anti hero in the end. And after the utter blandness that was Rachel Dawes (not to mention Martha Wayne, Officer Ramirez, Barbara Gordon, and all the weak female extras), it was so thrilling to finally see
a strong female presence in one of these sausagefest Batman flicks. Well, there was also Miranda Tate, but we're getting to her soon enough...

- Bane was a really fun antagonist. I know alot of reviewers trashed him, but I really enjoyed this take on him. It's now my favorite version of the character ever. Tom Hardy's bombastic, scenery-chewing performance managed to make him hilarious and yet still a powerful and intimidating presence. His backstory giving him ties to the League of Shadows was a nice touch, playing him as Batman's Evil Counterpart was fitting, and I'm definitely glad they did away with the whole "venom" angle that I never liked. Like Two-Face before him, this Bane more than made up for the character's horrendous previous live action movie portrayal. And I loved how he pretty much took over where the Joker left off in bringing total anarchy and panic to the city through terrorist mean, but was truly working to fulfill Ras Al Ghul's goal of obliterating the city so that it could be rebuilt into a better, "purer" civilization. The perfect combination of the previous Big Bads rolled into one. So like I knew he would, he worked perfectly as the final Big Bad of the trilogy. If you want a final Big Bad, you just have to go with a very fearsome, interesting version of the villain strong enough to break the Bat.

- But wait! In a sense, Bane was NOT the final Big Bad of the trilogy, or at least the trilogy's story. He was actually working with Talia Al Ghul, who was the daughter of the first Big Bad and was trying to carry out his legacy, yet another way of bringing this whole saga full circle. Deep down, I just knew that Miranda Tate was really Talia but it was still surprising to learn that she was. While the way her role played out was problematic, the scene in which she reveals that she's the evil mastermind and how the story of Ras' child whom we were led to believe was Bane actually refers to her, was extremely well done. It was all right in front of you the whole time, but only now does it all come to light. This also reveals Bane motivations for all he does in the film, something he was rather lacking in beforehand. It was a welcome twist, and Marion Cotilard played the sweet, polite side of her and the vengeful, psychotic side of her to perfection in her limited screen time. And if Bane was a worthy villain to break Batman, Talia was a worthy villain to break Bruce Wayne.

- I liked the story. It was like an epic combination of "Knightfall" and "No Man's Land", two of the great 90's Batman stories worthy of using for a finale, with Nolan's personal touch on it. Bringing in an atom bomb that threatened to nuke the entire city was a perfect way to raise the stakes for the event that would shape the ultimate resolution to the Dark Knight saga. Very well played.

- The action was incredibly intense, exciting, and absorbing to watch. I really got into it. This is an area where the movies just kept topping themselves, 'cause these were probably the best action sequences in the trilogy. I especially liked the Batman vs Bane fight in which Bane curbstomped
the Batman before breaking his back, and the final "war" on the streets between the police force of Gotham and the Neo League of Shadows goons, with Batman and Bane's re-match being at the heart of it all. It was like something out of "The Gangs Of  New York", fitting seeing as it was filmed in NY.

- I loved all the callbacks to the previous movies. Things like Bruce in prison reminding him of when
he fell down a well as a child and his father saved him, the "why do we fall?" line, yet another appearance by the great Johnathan Crane, the callback to when Gordon first met Bruce as a child when his parents were murdered, Bruce's mother's necklace that had been torn from her, the "ghost" of Ras Al Ghul (Liam Neeson cameo!), the impact of the Harvey Dent movement, flashbacks to Harvey Two-Face, and Bruce still feeling grieved over the death of Rachel really helped tie this movie to the others well. The one thing that went almost completely unreferenced was the Joker...

- The conclusion. was. perfect. When in the trailer we hear Batman say he hasn't given "everything" to the citizens of Gotham yet, we all assumed he meant his life.  And sure enough, Batman makes
a heroic sacrifice by taking the atom bomb in his Bat plane out to sea as it self-destructs, with him seemingly perishing in the explosion. Gotham might be aware that Batman and Bruce Wayne were one and the same, and hold memorials in his honor, at last recognizing the Batman as the hero it deserved and needed. We have our last scene with the theme music playing as always, and it gives perfect closure to all of the major characters. Lucius has full control over Wayne Industries now and
is working to rebuild everything (with Bruce's permission, of course), Gordon knowing that the Dark Knight shall return due to the rebuilt Bat Signal, Alfred retires to the European place he said he would, and his dream comes true when he sees Bruce Wayne alive and also retired there, with Selina Kyle at his side, and neither of them says  a word to each other: their happiness says everything.
And lastly, we see Robin Blake inherit the Wayne mansion and discover the secret behind the waterfall. He enters the Bat Cave as the floor rises up with him on it. The Dark Knight Rises again:
Robin is the next generation of Batman. Just...brilliant. Screw you, Doug Walker: this was the best happy ending a Batman movie could possibly manage. Bravo, Nolan.  Bravo.  

THE BAD:

- Batman's goddamn voice. You'd think that Nolan and Bale would have heard the complaints about that voice by now and had done something to make it sound better. But nope, it sounds worse in this one! That's the oddest thing about this whole trilogy: Batman's voice gets sillier and sillier in how deep and raspy it is with each passing movie. Re-watching "Batman Begins", I found I had no problem with Bale's Batman voice there except for how forced it sounded when he had to emote. In "The Dark Knight", it got deeper, gruffer, and less comprehensible than it was before, to the point of unintentional humor especially when he had to emote. In this one, it was just laughably throaty, rasping, and beastly sounding in a cartoonish way, with his "WHERE IS IT?" breakdown while beating up on Bane during the finale being the funniest moment in the whole damn film. And it's still being used poorly. Whenever Bruce is in costume, he uses the voice, no exceptions. Even when the people he's talking to (Lucius, Selina, Blake, Bane, etc) know full well who he really is, so there's no point in using it!  It just makes it seem like either Bruce is schizophrenic or that Batman is merely
a character he's playing while his "Bruce" side is his true self, when it ought to be the other way around! I swear to God, Michael Keaton and Val Kilmer didn't have trouble doing their Batman voices, and in the beginning, neither did Christian Bale. So what the heck happened? Why did it have to be a bunch of "RAWWR RAWL ROAAR RRAAR RAAW!"?

- Never once is the name "Catwoman" ever said, since she was always called "The Cat", "Cat Burglar", and Selina Kyle. This is a nitpick, but I would've loved to see Robin Blake or someone in the movie address her as Catwoman at one point in the film, thinking it a cute Distaff Counterpart name to Batman's, only for her say something along the lines of "it's The Cat. Catwoman sounds awful." Which would be like a thinly-veiled potshot at a certain movie starring Halle Barry.

- Some of the movie's scrappy new characters didn't sit well with me. John Daggett was as bland and one-dimensional as Roland Daggett from the animated series, the old man in the prison didn't get lots of characterization or backstory considering what a crucial role he played in helping Bruce to "rise" again, and what was the point of substitute commissioner Foley? He had some friendly relationship with Gordon that barely gets explored until a single scene, and he ends up getting killed doing the right thing. LAME. I know she was just a one-dimensional comic relief extra, but I would've preferred seeing more Holly Robinson over these guys, 'cause she was funny.

- No reference to the Joker. At all. Now I know Joker couldn't make a cameo in this movie because Heath Ledger died, and he couldn't even get a flashback cameo like Harvey did because Heath Ledger died, and Nolan didn't want to risk any painful reminders. I actually like that his name was never, ever spoken again because it fit with his character of being this force of pure evil who comes and goes without any explanation, and it kind of makes him the boogeyman of Gotham: no one even wants to ever speak of him again.  But I would've liked it if Bruce or Gordon could've at least alluded to his reign of terror in some way, seeing how important it was to them in the previous movie.

- Events in this movie kind of undid everything that was done by "The Dark Knight". Alfred ends up telling Bruce about the letter from Rachel that he burned, which told she'd be marrying Harvey Dent, so that kind of undoes the point of burning it in the first place. Lucius Fox unwittingly helps Talia's plans to nuke Gotham, which means he ended up doing something unethical anyway. Batman was never sighted by the authorities or anyone else after the night Harvey Dent died, since he did all his work in secret before retirement, which undoes the excitement of the police "having to chase" the Batman, and Batman being on the run from the law. And worst of all is that Bane outs the truth about Harvey Dent to the public of Gotham City, and it's made clear that the lie only made thing worse for Gotham, not better! The entire point of concealing the truth about Dent was to keep the city's spirit from being broken, to ensure the Joker did not win. But now we see that the action taken to prevent the city from being broken ended up contributing to the city getting broken. So it didn't make any difference: the Joker won! The only undoing of something the previous movie's ending did that worked was, of course, the fixing of the Bat Signal at the end. But due to dropping all the rest in favor of stepping back and bringing things from "Batman Begins" back into play, I can kind of see where Doug was coming from when he said they made "The Dark Knight" seem like filler in the end.

- Needless expansion and escalation, or "biggering" as Once-ler would put it. When you raise the stakes as high as you did in "The Dark Knight", Nolan, the logical thing is to keep things on that high level and then slowly work your way down until the big finale, where shit starts exploding again. That kind of happened here anyway, but I couldn't shake the sense that Nolan was trying to make this bigger and more epic than the previous one, trying desperately to outdo himself a second time. This often does not work, especially in third installments (films like "Return Of The King" and "Toy Story 3" being rare exceptions). And, try as Nolan might, it did not come off well here. We had Batman coming out of retirement, Gordon getting critically injured, Batman and Catwoman tag-teaming to fight, Batman vs Bane, Bane breaking Batman's back, Bane and his men taking over the entire city, detonating bombs all over the place, earthquakes, big EXPLOSIONS, mass panic and rallying in the streets, the cops forming a resistance, a huge crisis situation that even the freaking President of the USA addresses, Bruce RISING out of his so-called "Hell on Earth" prison and returning to Gotham, and the entire city going to WAR! And while I'm feeling entertained by all this, I'm not feeling very invested.  Which brings us to our next problem:

- The lack of investment. Doug had this same problem, and while I was certainly more drawn into the movie's plot and action than he was, I can still get what he was saying. In "Batman Begins", I was invested by the hero's origin story and by the crime conspiracy he had to fight, which ultimately turned out to be an insane plot by his own mentor being committed out of a Knight Templar logic that I didn't agree with but I could follow. And the movie's deep themes about fear, struggling, and moral ethics added alot to the conflict. "The Dark Knight" blew that out of the water by presenting a bigger conflict and crisis that was as psychological as it was intense. I was invested by the dilemmas of morality for our three heroes (Batman, Gordon, and Dent), the "war on the Mob" that was being waged, and everything that Joker brought to the table: the angles of law and order vs anarchy and chaos, protection vs terrorism, purity vs corruption, and even madness vs madness. Best of all was the psychological drama of human nature: good human nature against darker human nature. Joker wanted to prove that all humanity was scum, so the world was better off with immorality, crime, destruction and total chaos. And while we don't want him to win and prove his point because we want to believe in the best of humanity, he makes some pretty damn good points regardless of how insane he is. That was very compelling. In "The Dark Knight Rises"? It's a little bit of all of that watered down to simple "good vs evil." Seriously?  That is REALLY a step down if you ask me.

- The loud and bombastic musical score. Essentially the music accompaniment to the to the previous two points. After a while, I get sick of "epic" music that consists of triumphant, pompous trumpeting and drums beating and banging in the background, and find myself longing for the more somber, subtle score from Danny Elfman.

- We were caught in a Bad Romance here, folks. This is a nitpick since romance wasn't a huge focus, but it wasn't well done whenever it was on-screen. Bruce and Miranda were just friends and associates when we first see them, but soon they're suddenly bonking each other and making out in a lovey-dovey romantic fashion. The fuck? They had no romantic chemistry before and they have none after, which makes it really hard to feel Bruce's heartbreak when Miranda reveals that she's Talia and that wanted to ruin his life the whole time. And while I love me so Batman/Catwoman, Christian Bale and Anne Hathway had no chemistry with each other either. The characters, again, felt more like friends and comrades than a romantic pair. And yet they're dating at the end of the movie when Alfred sees them. Um...yay? Good to see their apparent sexual tension resolved?

- More than any other film in this trilogy, this one suffered from the Pretentious Super Serious Disorder that's plagued many superhero movies before. Aside from occasional snarky moments from Alfred or Lucius, and the brief cameos by Holly Robinson, the only ones being funny and having fun in this movie were Bane and Catwoman, the freaking bad guys. Everyone else were taking themselves super seriously at all times, even when the moment didn't even call for it, and of course made more hamfisted speeches and lines. Fun superheroic feels were rarely allowed, as that would make things so unrealistic and the audience needs to take this seriously, right? We need to take the audience seriously, and be the adult, RIGHT?  Ugh! This is another thing that kept getting worse as the trilogy went on, and was something I forgave in the previous installments was because simply put, Batman is just the kind of superhero who lends himself to this sort of material and I think it's actually really interesting to see these elements of the Batman mythos stripped of their "comic bookishness" and broken down to their bare essentials presented on the silver screen. It's part of what makes this one of the best interpretations of Batman ever. But this movie sort of pushed that. The tone was bleaker than even "The Dark Knight" for most of the film, and I know it was to sell it as "the big, dramatic last chapter of the story!", but I still found myself thinking "Movie, LIGHTEN UP!"  Worst of all, however, is the movie's middle portion, it's second act where there is literally no Batman present due to Bruce being imprisoned and with a broken back, there's barely any Catwoman, Bane is taking a role that could be played by any generic masked terrorist leader, and the police becoming the primary active good guys in a crisis that's like something out of a war movie! I agree with Doug again here: it didn't really feel like Batman. If you were to come in at this point, you wouldn't be able to tell it even was a Batman movie, which is something neither of the last two movies were ever guilty of.  It's not quite as bad as say, "Batman Returns", but this far removal from anything Batman was definitely this movie's most crippling (pun intended) weakness.

THE UGLY:

- Even though it's got nothing to do with anything in the movie itself, I'll have to address the elephant in the room on this one: the massacre from the midnight premiere in Colorado. That this happened
on the premiere night of a film that actually features a masked terrorist having people gunned down and killed not only tainted the memory and reputation of this movie, but that the culprit did it out of
a crazy inspiration from these Batman movies tarnishes the legacy of the entire Dark Knight Trilogy.
The only thing that pisses me off more than that is, of course, the twelve lives that were pointlessly taken! And this sick fucker has the GALL to call himself "The Joker"? First off, his red hair dye makes him look more like Ronald McDonald than Joker, and his swat uniform and gas mask that he wore for the shooting spree made him look more like Bane than Joker! Is this idiot so insane that he can't even get his villains right?  And secondly, while rigging his apartment with explosives in hoping cops and neighbors will be led to their deaths by it while he goes to shoot up several innocent people at a public event, and then "playing games" with the cops once he's been caught, is indeed a thing the Joker would do...WHY THE FUCK ARE YOU TAKING AFTER THE FUCKING JOKER? Joker is meant to be seen as PURE EVIL and demented, not a role model! Not a cool, fun guy you want to behave like! Not by any stretch of the imagination! When I say that I love villains, it's because I love them for being what they are: villains. Fictional characters. Fictional characters that are f**king evil!
I generally do not admire them or applaud their wicked deeds and violent actions that would be seen as horrific in real life, and I take comfort in the fact that their evil is only contained in and confined to works of FICTION. When I ever roleplay as a villain, I just roleplay. Role play: playing a role. It's the same as actors playing the bad guy, it's not fucking real and you're not supposed to roleplay the villain by really doing what the villain would do. And Joker is one of my favorite villains of all time,
so how dare this worthless little nothing imitate him and tarnish his good name? How dare he?! This is just "Draco In Leather Pants" taken to it's most disturbing level.* I have prayed to God to forgive this young sociopath for his sins, because I, like many others, never could. I bet Nolan, Bale, and the rest of the films' cast and crew feel devastated by this and are still grieving the loss with everyone else. I bet many now believe the films to have been cursed, if they didn't already think that after the death of Heath Ledger. I bet Heath Ledger is turning over in his grave because this punk is taking after his marvelous character. I bet said character, the Joker, would be outraged at this copycat and the copycats he's inspiring. I bet Catwoman would be feeling like blowing the guy up for what he's done. And I'm positive that Batman would be saddened and sickened by this happening at the premiere of his movie. "No guns, no killing!" he even says to Catwoman in one scene of the film.
This has always been the Batman's policy: if only more people in real life could learn to adopt it too.

* But this HAS inspired me to do an entry of villains that I myself AM guilty of giving the "Draco In Leather Pants" treatment to in some way or another.  Expect to see it soon. ^_^

1 comment:

  1. - Like I've said before, Christian Bale is hands down the best live-action Bruce Wayne ever....juuust not the best live-action Batman.

    - Michael Caine is my favorite Alfred too, just like Morgan Freeman is my favorite Lucius Fox and Gary Oldman is my favorite Comssioner Gordon. Katie Holmes aside, Nolan's trilogy has had a consistently phemonenal cast, the best in almost any superhero films (Tim Burton's "Batman" wins "by a Bob", my ass!)

    - I was unsure about John Blake at first, but he really grew on me, and the point of his character really came together when his "Robin" name was revealed; he's a very clever way of giving this continuity a Robin without actually having Robin.

    - The Cat totally stole the show. And yes, it is SO good to have two female characters (her and Miranda/Talia) playing central roles, as the only other central female in this trilogy was Rachel and we know how things turned out for her....

    - Bane was no Joker. Hell, Bane was no Ra's Al Ghul. But why the hell are there critics who bash him under these circumstances? He was still great! I loved whenever he was on-screen. And some of these critics actually say he's BORING? WTF!? How can someone giving such an all-out bombastic performance possibly be boring!?

    - I cannot understand Doug or anyone else's problem with the ending. It was a perfect closure, very well-done and emotional.

    - All the flaws you addressed are spot-on, and that rant at the end....awesome.

    - A "Draco in Leather Pants" entry? I'll be there!

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