Monday, July 23, 2012

movie review: DARK KNIGHT RISES

The Dark Knight Rises is an excellent and suspenseful Christopher Nolan action film. But is it a "Batman movie"?  Not quite.   I can see why Nolan originally wanted to title his third movie Gotham before Warner execs demanded a title to closer link it to the Heath Ledger installment.  This movie is more about various characters in Gotham City than it is about Batman.  Of the three Nolan films, I'd say Batman gets the least amount of screen time in this one, even though in Batman Begins Batman doesn't even appear until the second half of the movie (of course I am treating "Batman" and "Bruce Wayne" as separate characters in this analysis).

The film opens (after a quick but effective glimpse of a Harvey Dent memorial) with a James Bond style sequence of Bane abducting a Russian scientist from an airborne plane.  Bane is a C-list villain in the comics, and in this movie, he is adequate.  But sorely missing is the charisma of an A-list villain like the Joker, played with the charisma of an actor like Heath Ledger.  Tom Hardy plays the character in a rather cardboard cutout way.  With his anesthetic mask on constantly, and an overdubbed Darth Vader voice, any stuntman really could have played the part.  Nolan could have brought back the pro-wrestler who played Bane in Batman & Robin, and just had Hardy dub in the voice.  It wouldn't have mattered.

From there we get caught up with what Bruce Wayne has been doing since the last movie.  Now partly crippled, he has become a Howard Hughs style recluse.  Selina Kyle (never called "Catwoman" in the film), poses as a maid at a charity event at Wayne Manor, and steals Martha Wayne's pearl necklace and Bruce's fingerprints.  Bruce confronts her, and she escapes.  Anne Hathaway as Selina is good but lacks that something special that made previous Catwomen like Julie Newmar, Lee Meriwether, and Michelle Pfeiffer iconic.

We are introduced to all the other characters in the Gotham ensemble piece, like Joseph Gordon Levitt's rookie cop John Blake, veteran cop Foley played by Matthew Modine,  the Animated Series' Dagget played by Ben Mendleson, a priest who runs an orphanage played by Chris Ellis, and Miranda Tate played by Marion Cottliard, who as expected, turns out to be Ra's al Ghul's daughter Talia.

Jim Gordon gets shot in an encounter with Bane, and Blake goes to Wayne Manor to reveal to Bruce he knows he's Batman. How he figured this out is kind of murky.  I think it had something to do with him recognizing the big boil on Bruce's right eye is the same as the one Batman has under his eye makeup.  Bruce, in a ski mask, visits Gordon in the hospital, who urges him to come back as Batman.

Selina robs more people, Bane continues his master plot, and lots of other stuff goes on.  Finally, Batman returns (funny how his crippled leg is cured with a simple leg brace) to stop one of Bane's terrorist acts.  This scene is very good and well done.  Some more stuff happens, including Alfred quitting, then Batman and Bane have another fight, which ends with Bruce having his back broken and being dumped into a pit on the other side of the world. After this, the movie starts to get a little boring.  Things pick up momentarily when Bane implements his terrorist act on a football stadium.  He gives a speech that sounds eerily like a Barack Obama speech, albeit in a Darth Vader voice.  Bruce watches this all from the pit (ain't cable great).

In a nod to real life events like the Occupy movement, the inmates take over the asylum, so to speak, as Bane threatens to destroy Gotham with a nuclear bomb. Cillian Murphy as Johnathan Crane conducts a court trial against citizens, making the Scarecrow the only villain to appear in all three Nolan movies. Bruce ultimately escapes the pit (miraculously healed of all his injuries without any hospitalization... who needs medical insurance!), becomes Batman again to lead a city wide riot of cops vs Occupiers in broad daylight.  Hey, wait... Batman's not supposed to appear in daylight.  Imagine the outcry if Tim Burton would have done that.  But Nolan gets a pass it seems. Bane is defeated by Catwoman shooting him with a gun on the Batcycle.  Hey, wait... Bane's not bullet proof.  This means, the state police or army could have had a sharpshooter take Bane out at any time. Major plot hole.  Batman uses the Batcopter (which several times in the movie the point is made it does not have an auto pilot) to fly the bomb over the ocean, sacrificing his own life, after tipping Gordon off to who he really is.  A memorial is held for Bruce, and a statue is erected to Batman. Then Lucius Fox realises the Batcopter did have an autopilot after all (considering it was edited to look like Batman piloted the Batcopter until the last moment, instead of ejecting as soon as the Batcopter got over water - which would be more logical - then for Batman to escape, the Batcopter must have had an escape pod, as well as an extra large can of nuclear neutralizing Bat-spray).  Bruce winks and nods to Alfred at an outdoor cafe, and Blake is summoned to the Batcave to either become the new Batman, or to become Robin.  Its left ambiguous.

Michael Caine sits most of this film out, as he quits Bruce early in. I never bought him as Alfred. When I think of Alfred, I think of a proper British butler, not the cockney commoner Caine.  Morgan Freeman is excellent as Lucius Fox, as was Gary Oldman as Gordon.  Joseph Gordon Levitt was fine as Blake, as he seemed to be the character Nolan was really emphasising. Then there's Christian Bale. His Bruce Wayne is acceptable, but his Batman never worked for me.  Between his frog voice and Hardy's muffled voice, some of the dialogue seriously needed subtitles.  I never cared for the bat costumes in this trilogy. Bale looks very awkward as Batman.  The mask face opening is far too narrow, and serves to emphasise how narrow Bale's jaw is.  In this movie, he seems to breathe through his mouth when in costume, giving Batman a bit of a short school bus passenger look, if you know what I mean. 

Nolan takes liberties with the characters.  Bane is severely altered from the comic books, although the comic book Bane wasn't much more than a C-list villain to begin with.  The John Blake character is a composite of Dick Grayson, Paul Valley, Tim Drake and Terry McGinnis.  Talia is unrecognizable as the comic book Talia. Selina is altered a little. Batman doesn't even get the final victory over Bane.  Selina does, and then rubs it in Batman's face by telling him how his "no guns" policy doesn't work. The finale where Batman apparently sacrifices his life is too similar to Captain America: The First Avenger.  Overall, this movie falls in the middle of the Nolan trilogy.  Not as good as The Dark Knight but not nearly as excruciatingly boring as Batman Begins.

Normally I am not for reboots, but this time I welcome it. The Nolan-Bale celebration of depression Batman is over.  May it rest it peace. At best, I consider it an "Elseworlds" version of Batman. Time to move on. Bring on a new take, a more fun take that is not obsessed with uber-realism. How about reuniting Tim Burton, Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, and Michelle Pfeiffer for a live action adaptation of Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns?  Perhaps in the weeks ahead, I will post my own hopes for the reboot in detail.

And just in case there are some "in Nolan we trust" fanatics reading this, at the end of the day, this review is my opinion.  You have yours, I have mine.  No need to get upset over it.  Why so serious? It's just a movie.


Chris said...

Bane?? A C-List enemy?? Don't know what era you stopped or started reading, but Bane has been a main stay character since the eighties! Among the highest in the rogues gallery.
My only major critique with the film is that it reflected too much from Frank Miller's "Dark Knight Returns".
In the film, Bane assumes the role of the mutant leader from the book. A very similar scenario in that, an out of practice Batman is defeated by the Mutant Leader infront of his gang, then, as a symbolic bout, Batman defeats the Mutant Leader infront of his people to prove how wrong his path is. Not to mention that Bane's mask from the film, is a clear homage to the Mutant Leader from the book. Other themes, like Blake/ Carrie Kelly, the faked death at the conclusion, the newly advanced aerial bat vehicle that trumps all others (The Bat) all seem to stem from that book.
Great Film and Great Conclusion to the trilogy. A guaranteed blu-ray purchase for me!

Shazamaholic said...

Chris, Bane made his first appearance in 1993, not the 1980s. I have read Batman comics my whole life, even though I admit I found them far less enjoyable from the 1990s onward to the present.

Mile B. said...

I consider BATMAN BEGINS and THE DARK KNIGHT to be the greatest comic book movies ever made. However I must reluctantly admit THE DARK KNIGHT RISES was a disappointment. It breaks my heart to say it, but TDKR is Nolan's SPIDER-MAN 3. It is bloated, convoluted, and a little sloppy. Bane was a poor choice for the heavy, but never the less, Tom Hardy was as miscast as Bane as Topher Grace was miscast as Venom. Anne Hathaway was rather bland as Selina. Nolan gave way too much screen time to the John Blake character. With all the references and stock footage of Harvey Dent, Rachel, and Ra's, the Joker is not mentioned or reference once. Worst of all, Batman himself is completely lost in the midst, both literally and symbolically.
Why, Nolan... why?

Steely Dan said...

I agree with most of your assessment (although I think Bane and his minions have more in common with the faux-populist Tea Party movement than they do with the Occupy movement). In the end, though, I'd probably rank it a little higher in the trilogy than you have. I actually enjoyed it most of the three (I did just see it, though, so that opinion may be tempered later on).

I really, really liked the fact that Nolan and company were willing to completely break the series at its foundation and do something completely different from the other two films. Too often in a series like this the filmmakers and/or studio try to preserve the franchise in amber and just keep repeating what worked before over and over again. For better or for worse (and I obviously think for the better) this film is wildly different from its predecessors.

Also: Best. Robin. Ever.

I agree with you about the costumes in the series (I think the costume in "Batman Returns" is probably the best Batman costume ever), but I also think they worked in the context of the specific rules of this universe.

I love the Burton films (especially the criminally underrated second film which I think is just brilliant), but I really like the Nolan films, too. The two Burton films are more fun to watch, but I have to give Nolan credit for his ambition in crafting this extremely complex, novelistic story. I think it's wrong to view these as three distinct films going forward: They're one long eight-hour movie broken up into three parts. And as such he brought more depth to these characters and these concepts than anyone else ever has (including 75 years worth of comics). Kudos to him.

At this point, though, I'm kinda Batman-ed out. With the two Burton films and these three films, I'm not sure what else I need to see. Although, like you, I'd be extremely pleased if Burton and Keaton got together for one more film--some sort of mash-up of Burton's version of "Batman Forever" (new origin for the Riddler, Two-Face (who would have to be Billy Dee Williams), and Robin (whom I would actually like to see done similarly to Johnny Depp's kid sidekick in "Sleepy Hollow")) combined with "The Dark Knight Returns" (its 20 years later in real time, so build that into the story and deal with an aged Batman (giving more incentive to introduce Robin). But this is obviously a pipe dream. WB will never finance such a film.

darKnight said...

The final analysis of the Nolan trilogy is a mixed bag. I liked the realism of "Batman Begins", but hated the liberties Nolan took with the origin (Joe Chill captured on the same night as the Wayne murder? Really? This act eliminates Bruce's drive to become Batman in the first place and in the other two films, he's constantly looking for a way to quit. Bruce trained by Ra's al Ghul? Really?) and hated the way he felt the need to over-explain every detail, culminated with turning Lucius Fox into Batman's Q.

On the other hand, "The Dark Knight" is a masterpiece. If not the greatest comic book movie ever made, certainly in the top 3.

"Dark Knight Rises" could not avoid being a lesser film. Lackluster villain in Bane who turns out to be little more than Talia's henchman, a Catwoman who is incidential to the plot, and a script that practically ignores Batman. Just as I hated the liberties taken with the origin, I hate how the Nolan arc ends with Batman pulling an Elvis fake his death stunt so he can go hook up with Selena. And he passes the mantle to Blake, stressing "anyone can be Batman". Bull$#!+!

Nolan must have had "Captain America: The First Avenger" on his mind, because not only is the finale where Batman flies the bomb out to sea the same as Captain America meeting his fate in suspended animation, but the way Nolan treats the John Blake, aka "Robin", character is a total rip of the way Bucky was presented in "Captain America".

Nolan does score some major points by having some superb action sequences, and for having the gonads to take pot shots at the Occupy movement, and at Obama via Bane's stadium speech. What other Hollywood heavyweight would dare mock the chosen one Obama? For that alone, and the fact "Batman Begins" had no action sequences that could compare to either TDK or DKR, I rate DKR the second best Nolan Batman movie.

I hope we get a full reboot, rather than some continuation of the Nolan continuity. Perhaps an adaptation of Frank Miller and Jim Lee's "All Star Batman & Robin", where the spotlight is on a 12 year old Boy Wonder who cusses in the tradition of the Bad News Bears or Hit-Girl.

Steely Dan said...

I continue to be baffled by people's insistence that "The Dark Knight Rises" is "taking pot shots at the Occupy movement" (as darKnight said).

Simple mathematics says that that is just simply not possible. The Occupy movement began in September 2011. "TDKR" began filming four months before that in May 2011 and was likely written more than a year before that in early-2010 (if not late-2009).

I still contend that if Nolan was commenting on anything it was the faux-populism of the Tea Party movement (which actually did exist and was in the news when the script was being written). Even more likely is that he was simply inspired by the French Revolution (and the rise of the peasants against the aristocracy) and wanted to create a contemporary allegory to that. I think Gary Oldman literally quoting from "A Tale of Two Cities" (a novel about the French Revolution) at Bruce Wayne's funeral at the end makes that pretty clear.

Nolan created a similar historical analogy to Caesar in "The Dark Knight" (which he was equally explicit about in that film), so I think people are projecting too much of their own beliefs onto the film in direct contradiction to what's actually on screen as well as the realities of the production schedule.

Anonymous #76 said...

There is a thing called rewrites. Chances are Nolan and Co. were tweaking the script well after "early-2010".

This article, "Dark Knight Rises" is a conservative classic, says it very well.