Saturday, July 21, 2012

Movie Reviews-The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises
directed by Christopher Nolan
Ok this is the end of the trilogy and something I've been waiting a while to see. Unfortunately I could not do like some people and leave work early or even skip work completely to see this movie. My boss believes in a full day's work for a full day's pay-even on Fridays. I had to do like all the other schmucks and see it after work. Such is life. Somebody has to be responsible and work until the very end of the day instead of sneaking out early. And that somebody is usually me.

Well what was it like? The obvious comparison is to the summer's other big box office comic book extravaganza, The Avengers, but besides being based on a comic book the two films have virtually nothing in common. The Dark Knight Rises makes use of a different set of tropes and despite being a PG-13 movie is, if you forgive the term, a much darker movie than The Avengers in both cinematography and tone. It is also among the best movies I've seen so far this year though in truth it does not hold up to The Dark Knight. But it does complete the arc of Batman, for good or ill.

The Dark Knight Rises is a film that is about pain, not just the physical pain of combat but the emotional pain of processing loss and lying about it. Batman, is after all a lie, a curse, a construct created by Bruce Wayne (Christopher Bale) to deal with with his fear of caves, bats, darkness and the loss of his parents all those years ago. Well it is often said that if you're not living honestly then everything else you do will be wasted effort. The Dark Knight Rises asks if that is true, not in an obvious sense but in a blink and you'll miss it manner. The Dark Knight Rises also closes the circle on the origins of Batman and reveals the link between Batman and his most physically intimidating rival, Bane (Tom Hardy)
The film opens up with a thrilling bit of misdirection as a CIA cutout (Aidan Gillen from The Wire and Game of Thrones) thinks that he has captured both Bane and a rogue nuclear scientist only to realize far too late that despite appearances it is Bane who has captured him. Despite looking and sounding like a fey silverback gorilla with a speech impediment, Bane is just as cunning and intelligent as he is physically imposing, something many people throughout the film learn to their dismay. Hardy really brought this role to life and may inspire you to hit the gym a bit harder. But if you start walking around with a permanent swagger and gas mask you may be taking things a bit too far. Just a suggestion.

Back in Gotham City, we learn that since the events of The Dark Knight, Bruce Wayne has become a virtual shut-in, he is physically disabled and emotionally withdrawn. Few of his employees besides the ever loyal Albert (Michael Caine) even see him. One employee who does see him is a maid, Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) who upon taking dinner to Wayne is revealed to have stolen his mother's pearl necklace. Anyway Kyle, who is of course Catwoman, wanted much more than a pearl necklace from a billionaire. Cue dirty joke in 3..2...1.. Wayne, who doesn't miss much, noticed that Kyle was taking his prints from the safe. Of course he notices this from the floor as the lithe resourceful Kyle kicks his cane out from under him and makes off into the night with the necklace and prints. I'm not really a huge Hathaway fan but I enjoyed her as Catwoman here. 

Police commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) is feeling guilty about having hung Batman out to dry all those years ago. He lied to everyone and claimed that Harvey Dent was a good man at the end. Dent's name has been used to implement anti-crime legislation. Gordon's also keeping a wary eye on deputy police commissioner Foley (Matthew Modine), a younger and more politically adept rival who makes it clear that he wants Gordon's job. At a charity function a congressman is abducted; Gordon leaps into the fray along with patrol officer John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Gordon doesn't manage to retrieve the congressman but he does fall temporarily into the hands of Bane, who has set up shop in the city sewers. Again, I can not overemphasize just how physically intimidating Bane is. This is not a man you want to disappoint. Heck, this is not a man you want to notice you. Because either of those things can lead to a world of pain.

Gordon escapes and tries to warn people but he's somewhat dismissed as a raver. But nonetheless Gordon is still commissioner and over Foley's objections he promotes the quick-witted and fast moving Blake to detective.
In part shamed by Kyle's quick dismissal of him as a old cripple and worried about why anyone would want his fingerprints, and having got wind of Bane's arrival in the city, Wayne decides, bad knees and all, to get back into the game. Kyle is revealed to be working for Wayne rival John Daggett (Ben Mendelsohn) who wants to take over Wayne Enterprises, especially the special weapons division, faithfully guarded by Wayne loyalist Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman). To help fend off Daggett's financial machinations, Wayne turns to hot babe and Wayne Enterprises board member Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), revealing to her some of the advanced fusion technology that he and Fox fear that Daggett is after. Albert thinks that it's time both physically and emotionally for Wayne to let the Batman persona go. Daggett is evidently employing Bane though one wonders if anyone can safely employ Bane.

And then things start to get interesting. This film mostly lacks the wink-wink nudge nudge humor of some other comic book movies. For the most part it takes itself very seriously. One of the movie's themes is that the past always reaches out to touch us. But it's up to us to decide if we control our future or stay mired in the past. Albert and Lucius Fox, despite their unflagging dedication and loyalty, both represent Bruce Wayne's past. And no matter what has happened in your past, whether it is something as prosaic as getting dumped via email, having a bucket of pig's blood dumped on your head at the prom, seeing your father get his head chopped off on the command of your husband to be, or watching your parents get murdered in front of you when you are only a child, at some point you will need to let those things go and look to the future. It's not that it's necessarily the right thing to do but that it's the only thing to do. After all chances are you're not the only person to whom bad things have happened in life. This entire trilogy has really been about Wayne's journey to find peace in his life despite being suddenly and violently orphaned at a very young age.
There is a thrillingly shot set piece battle between the entire NYPD Gotham Police Department and what looks like every criminal, thug, gangster and lowlife on the entire East Coast. There's a great line before battle is joined "There's only one police department in this town!". If this film could make me temporarily root for police then you know the director knows how to produce the emotions that he wants. This film was interpreted by some as a paean to fascism and by others as a call to revolution. It's neither. It's a comic book film. Like real life, it's messy. Most of the people who were in prison certainly deserved to be there. However the ends used to put them there were based on a lie. And once that Bane reveals that lie they are, to say the least, a bit disturbed. On the other hand anarchy is shown to be just as big of a danger as excessive law and order. What's needed is honesty and balance, which also just so happens to be what's needed in Batman's/Bruce Wayne's personal life.

Batman doesn't have any superpowers to call upon and usually eschews guns. So this is a very physical movie-the special effects are there but they're not over the top. The showdown between Bane and Batman is shot in a MMA close in style:very short devastating punches, headbutts, kicks, thrown elbows and the like. Bane is throwing lightning with his right hand and thunder with his left and you can feel the impact. The movie runs a tad long at just under 3 hours.  I don't really have much else to say without sliding over into spoiler territory but I did want to reiterate that this does close the cycle on the Batman saga. I thought it was a great film and shows that just because a comic book is the source material need not mean that the film must be of inferior quality. Hopefully we can start to see the same high quality acting, story lines, direction and effects in horror films. This film can be enjoyed on different levels by faithful original DC comic book geeks, people who came to the story through the reimagined Frank Miller graphic novel, folks who are trilogy experts, people who like to watch idealized men and women like Bale and Hathaway in action, or just people who needed to get out of the house for a while. The Batman story is complete. And I enjoyed it. I only hope we do not get a Godfather 3 equivalent shoehorned in 12 years from now.
The Dark Knight Rises also featured several members of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Liam Neeson, Lestor Carbonell, Senator Patrick Leahy, Christopher Judge and Tom Conti.

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