Monday, July 23, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Dir. Christopher Nolan

* (If certain sentences appear highlighted this in no way means it is a more important point than any other.  It means something has gone haywire.  Apologies.) 

The Dark Knight rises indeed. The last installment in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy could arguably be the best. Or at least that’s what I would be saying if it weren’t for a couple of things…

My first thoughts about this film were that it could never be able to top its predecessor. Villains are always what make a good superhero story. This has been especially true for Batman, which has had some of the most iconic villains of all time. When people think of the complementary forces of good and evil clashing for all eternity, what else would you think of rather than Batman and the Joker? And with the tragic death of Heath Ledger after a superb performance, who could possibly fill his shoes? 
It may come as a surprise to many for me to say it, but Tom Hardy’s Bane makes for an even more threatening villain than even the Joker. He not only fills Ledger’s shoes, but rends them asunder. Not only is he a challenge to Batman’s intellect like the Joker was, but now he also has the brawn to boot. 
Despite the handicap of having to wear a metal mask that looks like one of the face-huggers from Alien, Hardy shows both charisma and instills terror in every shot he’s in. His voice may sound like Sean Connery speaking through a muffler, but it comes packed with a piercing sharp intelligence at every intonation. In contrast to his imposing physical appearance, his voice conveys a dangerous level of focus and control that no Batman villain has had hitherto.  I could easily say that Bane alone is what manages to keep this story afloat. That’s not to say that other characters such as Michael Cane’s Alfred, Anne Hathaway’s Cat-woman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Officer Blake, or even Gary Oldman’s Commisioner Gordan pull out outstanding performances, but it’s Bane alone who has the job of keeping this movie from being a derivative repeat of the previous two films. 

Unfortunately this also spells out one of the biggest problems with TDKR, its main plot is dumb. Bane’s motivation isn’t very clear, and instead of elaborating on it, we’re handed one really goofy twist at the end that belongs in a lesser film. TDKR could have been more intellectually stimulating since it delivers a great allegory at some point where Bruce Wayne is trapped in a middle-eastern prison.  Instead it undermines everything by tossing out key parts of Bane’s backstory at the end for the sake of one incredibly stupid character reveal. I can understand what they were trying to do. They wanted to stay true to the batman comics’ storyline and characters, but for the sake of better filmmaking, even the nerdiest of fans would have forgiven some alterations. In fact, if you are a big enough Batman freak, you probably would have figured out the big twist right away. What made this twist so unbearable for me was that it relegated the showdown with Bane into a minor sub-plot, and was anticlimactic as hell. Bane’s demise is ambiguous, and has even less closure to it than the Joker’s. It’s a shame considering there was so much build up throughout the whole movie. It’s as if the screenwriters had some highly intelligent, complex, and inspired script in the works, and then decided at the last minute that movie goers were so stupid that they needed the same kind of ending that…I don’t know….millions of other Hollywood movies have already had. 

As for the main story itself, it takes place 8 years after the last movie. Out of respect for Heath Ledger, director Christopher Nolan decided not to mention the Joker even once throughout the movie. Instead what’s shown is that Batman’s gone into retirement after having Harvey Dent’s death pinned on him. We eventually see a crippled, cane-bound Bruce Wayne, who’s now become a recluse and never attends any public events. We can assume that he’s feeling guilt over the death of his former girlfriend Rachael Dawes from the last movie. If this weren’t a burden enough, his company Wayne Enterprises is being neglected and run into the ground (quite literally as we see later on in the film).  Wayne is reluctant to bring back Batman, but his retirement is cut short when Selina Kyle (aka Catwoman) sneaks into his private chamber and steals Wayne’s fingerprints. This is the first of a long chain of events that leads Batman on a mission to stop the nefarious Bane. But first, he needs to visit his old friend Lucius Fox, once again played by Morgan Freeman. Oddly enough Freeman is still the chair of Wayne Enterprises despite saying he would resign in the last movie. He’s got all sorts of new toys for Batman, including a device that can aid his bum leg and a flying bat-mobile known only as ‘The Bat.’

After lots of explosions, lots of fighting, an attack at the stock exchange, and some good chase scenes, Bane unleashes his master plan of isolating part of Gotham under his control. He threatens a nuclear explosion if anyone leaves or enters the city and causes the bomb to go off in 5 months. At this point, the story begins resembling the Batman graphic novel No Man’s Land. This is a good thing for those that have dreamed of seeing a live action interpretation of the story, but I really wish I knew why Bane wanted to create his own lawless, little Lord of the Flies society when he was just going to have it blown up in 5 months. Why not just blow it up right away? This glaring plot hole manages to be the movie’s second biggest weak point.

By the end of the movie, problems are resolved, but nothing feels accomplished. We end up right back where Batman Begins ended. This would be a serious complaint for most moviegoers expecting a big finale to what is supposed to be trilogy of interconnected storylines. Personally, I didn’t mind this fact considering that Batman’s job has always been to maintain balance, not to try and change the world. I still felt Bruce Wayne had undergone a transformation to become an even better person by the end of the movie and that was enough for me. 

The Dark Knight Rises manages to be a very good, but certainly not perfect conclusion to Christopher Nolan’s realistic take on the caped crusader. The movie further expands and develops on the character of Bruce Wayne and has quite possibly one of the best screen villains since the Joker. The movie certainly doesn’t close the book on future possibilities for Batman movies, and with the way things are for movies today, I frankly never expected it to. This will most likely, however, be the last time we see Christopher Nolan in the director’s chair for the franchise, but at least TDKR will have managed to competently pass the torch to future directors’ visions.    


-Gabe Stein


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