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Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises (Movie Review)

Reviewed by Sean Ferguson
When Christopher Nolan rebooted the Batman franchise with Batman Begins, I was ecstatic to see the Batman I had always imagined from the comic books come to life. Then came The Dark Knight which in my book was utter perfection in every way possible.  At now sadly, we’ve come to the end of this amazing Batman trilogy with The Dark Knight Rises which is damn good but it doesn’t reach the same heights as The Dark Knight, even though it is without a doubt the biggest and most ambitious of the three.  The Dark Knight Rises provides some old-school grand spectacle which looks fantastic on an IMAX screen and serves as a fitting end to the trilogy.  Previous cast members Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and Gary Oldman return along with newcomers Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Matthew Modine, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt to bring this trilogy to an exciting and moving end. 

Film (5 out of 5 stars)

The Dark Knight Rises picks up eight years after the events of The Dark Knight and thanks to the devil’s bargain made between Batman (Christian Bale) and Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman), the public isn’t aware that Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) went on a murdering spree as Two-Face, and that the Batman was unjustly blamed for his death. That lie has been eating away at both Bruce Wayne and James Gordon over the years and it’s affected them in different ways.  Bruce retired his cape and cowl and no longer patrols the streets as Batman, while Gordon tries to justify their decision as one that was made for the greater good.  By choosing to martyr Dent, the ramifications of their decision have changed Gotham as legislation called The Harvey Dent Act has eliminated organized crime in Gotham as it made it easier to prosecute criminals than before.
At this point, there’s really no need for a Batman to protect the city, so Bruce Wayne has become a recluse in his mansion with only his loyal butler Alfred (Michael Caine) left as his connection to the world.  The loss of Rachel Dawes has also affected Bruce mentally, spiritually, and physically as he has given up on any hope of having a real life, like the one he dreamed of having with Rachel before she was killed by the Joker.  His fatalistic outlook alarms Alfred and he tries to convince Bruce to leave Gotham once and for all for his own sake, but Bruce lingers there as he’s unable to leave as his soul and fate are tied to Gotham City.
There’s still some people trying to help Gotham like patrol officer John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), one of the few idealistic cops left on the force. There’s also Wayne Enterprises board members Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) and Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) each trying to save Wayne Enterprises in their own way while trying to improve the world through an experimental clean energy project that’s been designed to harness fusion power.  Most of the Wayne fortune was invested in developing this power source but its possible potential to become a weapon made Bruce bury it to male sure that it could never be used as a weapon of mass destruction.
Not everyone has Gotham City’s best interests at heart, as a new cat burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) is systematically robbing the rich including Bruce Wayne.  Selina also has powerful masters who instructed her to obtain Bruce Wayne’s fingerprints in an effort to bankrupt him so his rival Daggett (Ben Mendelsohn) can do a hostile takeover of Wayne Enterprises.  The mysterious puppet-master behind all of this seems to be a mercenary named Bane (Tom Hardy), a hulking brute who is just as formidable mentally as he is physically.  When Bane and his thugs start to terrorize Gotham, Bruce is forced to become Batman once more despite Alfred’s protestations. Alfred warns Bruce that Bane is too fast and too strong for him, but Bruce dismisses Alfred’s concerns away thanks to his overconfidence from never being beaten before.  Unable to change Bruce’s mind, Alfred tells him about the letter from Rachel that he burned, where she told Bruce that she was going to pick Dent over him.  Alfred’s tactic fails and in one of the film’s more touching moments, Alfred leaves Wayne Manor for good.
When Batman does confront Bane, he realizes that even though he is still tough enough for normal opponents (even after being away for eight years), he is no match for the lethal Bane and he is brutally beaten.  Bane informs him that he is now the leader of the League of Shadows, (the organization of vigilante ninjas that trained Bruce in the first film) after the death of Ra’s al Ghul (Liam Neeson).  Having lost his fortune, his best friend Alfred, Rachel, his family’s company, his secret identity, and now his self-esteem, Bruce can do nothing but sit in a prison hole watching the television that Bane left behind so he could see Gotham suffer.  The only way that Gotham City can survive is if he can indeed “rise” and find the inner strength and focus needed to be able to escape the pit and face Bane again.  And much like Batman, the citizens of Gotham City who have been previously terrorized by the Scarecrow and the Joker, will have to finally make their own stand alongside Batman to save their own city.  With the stakes higher than ever before, Batman will confront his most dangerous foe and his army, but this time he won’t be alone.
While the first two Batman movies in Nolan’s trilogy mirrored the comic book version of Batman fairly closely, this time Nolan and his co-writer Jonathan Nolan have changed Batman to fit their story.  In the actual “Knightfall” storyline, Bane releases all of the supervillains to wear Batman out before making his move against him.  By the time he breaks Batman’s back, he had already broken his spirit beforehand and it took a lot longer for Batman to recover in the comics than he does in this movie.  The Dark Knight Rises makes no mention of Azrael (who took over the mantle of Batman while Bruce recovered) and the omission of Nightwing (Dick Grayson) and Robin (Tim Drake) leaves a huge whole in the story.  That’s not to say that the Nolan brothers didn’t incorporate some of the story into their film, as Alfred does indeed leave, and Batman is injured and must start over to become even more than what he once was, but I wish they had followed it more closely.
I really liked the movie and any quibble I have with it is not so much with the movie itself, but how the Nolan-verse version of Batman has strayed from the Batman from the comics.  Considering that Bruce Wayne became Batman to avenge his parents’ deaths, it really makes no sense that he would have given up his mission in life just because Rachel died.  If anything, her death would have galvanized him to work even harder to remove the criminal elements in Gotham.  It also bothered me how many people know Bruce Wayne is Batman by the movie’s end and especially how one character describes his methods of learning Batman’s secret identity which is pretty weak.  The filmmakers should have stolen a page from the comics where we see the methods that Tim Drake used to discover who Batman really was instead of just knowing from looking into Bruce Wayne’s eyes.  
I was also hoping that the Nolans would find a way to incorporate the drug Venom which in the comics gave Bane his superhuman strength but they ignored it for the movie. Instead, Bane seems practically invulnerable for no discernible reason. He takes a beating from Batman but it doesn’t even faze him or stop him from finally pounding Batman into submission which bothered me. With Venom it would have made sense, but all his mask does is help him deal with the agonizing pain from his earlier injury.
While the movie is thrilling and epic, it’s also very predictable, especially if you’ve read the Batman comics over the years as I have.  Much like how The Dark Knight was a product of the post 9/11 environment, The Dark Knight Rises attempts to anchor its story in real world events and this time they focus on the whole occupy movement and how Bane turns the 99% of the disenfranchised against Gotham’s wealthy 1%.  That approach doesn’t work as well as it did in the previous movie as it’s fairly unrealistic that Gotham’s poor would side with a vicious terrorist, no matter how bad off they were. I understand that the Nolans were trying to tap into the current zeitgeist, but it falls flat and wastes time that should have been allocated to Bruce Wayne/Batman.
Now that I’ve gotten past my minor issues with the film, let me focus on what worked in the movie. The acting across the board is top notch, with Bale turning in another wonderful dual performance as Bruce Wayne and as Batman.  Michael Caine really gets his moment to shine and just about every scene he’s is emotionally powerful.  Caine’s Alfred provides the heart to the movie and it’s heartbreaking to see him fail to get through to Bruce before it’s too late.  Just as good are the returning actors Morgan Freeman and Gary Oldman who add humor and gravitas to the film like the old pros that they are.  Tom Hardy’s malevolent Bane is a figure to be reckoned with and he does the best he can considering that a huge mask covers most of his face.  His vengeful eyes are left to do most of the acting and he successfully pulls it off, even with his muffled voice.  (By the way, I could understand almost all of his lines so don’t worry about that).  Joseph Gordon-Levitt takes what could have been a thankless role and makes it work as John Blake ends up doing a lot of the heavy lifting in Gotham while Bruce recovers.  We get to see Blake’s resourcefulness and talents which indicate that there’s hidden depths to his character which may be explored later.
Anne Hathaway makes for an alluring Catwoman, even though she is technically never called that in the movie.  She wisely avoids falling into the Halle Berry trap of making Catwoman into a human cat and instead just acts sexy in her tight leather outfit.  Marion Cotillard does what she can in a small role that offers her a wider range than you might think and there’s some surprising cameos which I really enjoyed but won’t spoil here.  I really liked how the events from the first two movies tied into this concluding chapter.  If you haven’t seen them yet, I would recommend watching them before this one since they play a large part in what happens in this movie.  I was also very happy that one of my pet peeves of the earlier installments was fixed this time around.  Before, the hand to hand fighting was filmed in close-up shots which made it difficult to follow the flow of the fight and who was doing what to whom, but this time it’s been pulled back and easy to follow.  The action and the scale have been expanded and Nolan really raised his game for this one.  The ending is just about as fitting as it could get (not to mention pretty epic) and it cleverly leaves the franchise open to another installment while at the same time closing this trilogy’s final chapter.  It’s a neat trick done by a master of the medium.
This movie is a must see and make sure you go see it in IMAX!

Dark Knight Rises advance tickets

2 comments:

  1. When it was all said and done, I stood up, clapped, whipped some tears away from my eyes, and smiled by how happy I was with what Nolan gave us for the last time. What a way to end a great trilogy and it doesn’t get any better. Great review Sean.

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  2. Thanks Dan! I agree with you...that ending really couldn't have been done better. I loved how it managed to give a really satisfying ending to the trilogy while keeping the door open for a future installment. I wish Nolan and Bale would make more but it doesn't look like that's going to happen. It's going to be hard to top these three movies!

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