Friday, July 27, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises - Theatrical Review


Release Date: July 20, 2012

This legend ends in just about as good a fashion as one could hope for despite a few stumbling blocks along the way.

Review Vital Stats:
Theater: Edwards Irvine Spectrum 21
Time: 3:20 pm July 21, 2012
Projector Type: IMAX 70mm 2D
Film Rating: PG-13
Film Runtime: 2 hr 45 min
Studio: Warner

Loves: Christopher Nolan, The Dark Knight, Christian Bale, Gary Oldman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Morgan Freeman
Likes: Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Batman Begins
Neutral: Catwoman
Hates: Very little Batman in my Batman movie
Inception alumni: Both Tom Hardy and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are holdovers from Nolan's last film

It has been 8 years since the tragic demise of Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), Batman (Christian Bale) taking the blame for his crimes and Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) covering up the truth behind his death have led Gotham to a point of relative peace however. Gotham City is now prosperous without its Dark Knight as the new Dent Act has put countless criminals behind bars without the possibility of parole making the streets safe once again. Bruce Wayne, now a recluse and living isolated from the world in his giant mansion, is at peace with the fact that Gotham no longer needs him. That is until a new threat enters the city as Bane (Tom Hardy), the leader of a small army, promises to fulfill the legacy of a fallen comrade by making Gotham City and Batman pay the ultimate price for their arrogance and indifference.

The Dark Knight Rises (TDKR hence forth) is not a better film than The Dark Knight (TDK hence forth) and is about on equal footing with Batman Begins. For those keeping score, that isn't a bad thing but is most certainly a letdown by some accounts. There was no way director Christopher Nolan could have ever surpassed what he accomplished in TDK. The stigma attached to it from the much publicized death of its star Heath Ledger (who went on to win an Oscar for best supporting actor posthumously) was something no one would ever wish for, but there is no denying how that event created this palpable sense of curiosity towards the film which resulted in what would become a worldwide and cultural phenomenon. Almost every film analyst and fan knew the film would be good and that it would be successful, but no one knew that it would catch on the way it did.

Bruce Wayne searches for a reason to live.

It's long run in theaters (almost 6 months) was not because of Ledger's legacy alone though, the film itself was what many would call lightning in a bottle, where everything just seemed to click in the right way and come together to make a film experience like no other. TDKR had a lot of baggage to contend because of that and after everything it's predecessor had accomplished makes it almost unfair to hold that against it, but is necessary given its relation to that other film. This is a trilogy after all, it has a beginning, a middle and now it has an end, so in order to properly discuss this new and final entry into Nolan's Batman saga, all three films must be looked at as a whole but they must also be looked upon as individual experiences as well.

The real concern is if TDKR stays true to what Nolan set out to do and whether or not it successfully completes this very ambitious undertaking. As a third part to a trilogy, TDKR ties everything up rather well in most regards. It stays true to everything that came before it and concludes with a satisfying, if somewhat vague ending for all the characters we have gotten to know over the course of the three films. Nolan had found someway to tie everything back to the first film in a way that in hindsight seems silly to think he would have done it any other way. TDKR works surprisingly well as the final piece to this puzzle and wraps everything up despite the difficult task of following one of the most revered comic book movies ever made and holds its own without tarnishing what came before it which is something not every third part to trilogy can claim.

Bane has a surprise in store for the people of Gotham.

The problems start to arise however when TDKR is looked at as a solitary experience and as an individual film that must stand on its own. Being the third part of a trilogy, it doesn't have the luxury of creating new conflicts that will get resolved at a later date, it has to make sure all story arcs introduced by the last two films and any new conflicts are resolved by the end. It is a difficult position that almost all third parts of a trilogy must contend with and while TDKR does in fact rise to the challenge and provide a fulfilling and entertaining experience, it still falls short when it comes to providing a film that can be entertaining without needing the other parts that came before it to rely on.

The biggest issue pertaining to TDKR that has never been an issue before this point is that Batman himself is seen almost as a secondary character in his own movie. Given the conceits of where the last film left off and the theme of this film being about Batman's redemption, it makes sense that he is absent for a good portion of the opening first act of this film, but that still doesn't mean it is forgiven for it. It becomes extremely frustrating when the film finally does bring Batman into the fold nearly an hour into the film only to have him shoved right back into the shadows almost immediately after where he doesn't resurface until the final conflict arises during the final 20 minutes of the film. At the very least those fleeting moments he is on screen are as thrilling as one would expect.

Catwoman isn't nearly as purr-fect a fit for this Batman as you might think.

Now, Batman may not have a lot of screen time but just about everyone else has time to spare it seems. Bruce Wayne gets the lions share as he continues to battle his inner demons and try to find a reason to care whether or not he lives or dies due to his turmoil over the loss of Rachel Dawes. But it is the slew of secondary and background characters who seem to be eating up screen time instead of adding anything meaningful to the story that really begin to drag things out.

You got your pre-requisite characters of Commissioner Gordon, Lucious Fox (Morgan Freeman) and Alfred (Michael Cane) who have been there from the start and are without question essential in every way. But when you add the new additions to the primary cast such as Catwoman (Anne Hathaway), Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Bane, it starts to get a little crowded. Then there are other secondary characters thrown in there like Miranda (Marion Cotillard), Police Captain Foley (Matthew Modine) and about a half dozen minor villains that all get a fair amount of screen time and suddenly that near 3 hour running time barely seems like enough to give all these characters their just due.

Blake takes center stage through most of the film.

Besides the returning characters, these new faces didn't feel all that necessary to anything other than the parts they play in the grand scheme of things. Foley gets this character arc that is so superfluous considering everything else going on around him, Miranda felt like a tacked on romantic distraction that was a bit overkill and then there is Blake who is probably the most interesting new character in the film, which can be attributed to Levitt's likeable on screen presence more than anything, but still doesn't really stand out as anyone all that important. It's a good thing that he is likeable though since he is on screen more than any other character in the entire movie.

Then there is the introduction of Catwoman into the series, which was a dubious choice as well. She is most certainly a fan favorite and her simplicity as a character in the Batman universe made her a perfect fit into the Nolan bat-universe, but when watching TDKR one has to ask what exactly she brings to the table? The answer? Not much besides a tight black leather outfit, some estranged flirtations with Bruce Wayne/Batman that never felt quite right and some useful but ultimately pointless moments during the finale. Hathaway does a fine job in the role but her casting still felt a little forced at times to the point where she almost seemed out of place in some instances.

Some of Batman's new toys are pretty cool.

By this point you might be asking yourself if TDKR got anything right? Yes it did. The singular saving grace of the film can be summed up in one word, Bane. Everyone knew that no villain could ever top the Joker or Ledger's performance so it was wise to not even try. Bane is a completely different animal, where the Joker fed on seeing people suffer by way of confusion and trickery, Bane is just interested in making people suffer. His deceptions, unlike the Joker's, are in many ways more straight forward but somehow even more cruel. How he uses his massive size to lure unsuspecting foes into thinking he is just some mindless brute is his greatest strength. He is a monster in the purest sense of the word, when he is on screen you can feel his intimidating presence with every word he speaks which makes him the greatest threat Batman has ever faced.

Tom Hardy's performance isn't to be neglected though because acting through a mask like that isn't easy and it was just astonishing at times the amount of emotion he was able to convey with such a limitation. Hardy's physical presence is also important to note because much like Christian Bale, the actor has this ability to change his appearance in such great extremes to fit whatever a roles demands of him and here he is just a marvel to look at. His physique is made even more impressive when you realize that his size isn't any sort of special make-up effect, that is Tom Hardy through and through.

Bane is a force to be reckoned with.

Bane isn't the only thing TDKR gets right though, Nolan has always been fascinated with film noir as evidenced in just about every film he has ever made and his decision to turn Batman into this noir-ish like detective story was a perfect fit. With that noir style atmosphere comes probably one of the greatest crime stories ever told and not just in this film but how all the films work together to tell this epic story about a city under siege and its savior. Out of the three Nolan Batman films, none get that feeling as right as TDKR does which is one of the few things it has over those other films.

The final third of the film is also quite impressive by both its scope and how it is able to condense such an enormous amount of content into such a small amount of time without it ever feeling as though the audience is getting short changed on anything (other than seeing more Batman that is). It uses its long run time wisely when taking into consideration just how much is going on in this film at any given moment. Without getting into too much detail about what goes on during that final act, there were enough surprises and great character moments littered throughout it that gave this final film that epic feeling it needed to send this series off in grand fashion.

Batman aims to put things right again anyway he can.

TDKR is not a perfect movie but it is a dam good and one of the best films of the year. Christopher Nolan has made his mark on the comic book world with his dark and gritty vision for one of the most revered super heroes of all time and this final entry closes the book rather nicely on what he began almost 7 years ago. Not every film has the arduous task of following up one of the most successful films of all time but thankfully TDKR was up to the task even if it did stumble a little while getting to the finish line. The only thing left for this reviewer to tell you is that rest assured, when you leave that theater, you may be a little let down, you might be a little frustrated, but you most certainly will not be disappointed. TDKR is brilliant filmmaking and the perfect end to a perfect trilogy.




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