Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

The question for the last four years has been, is there any way they can top The Dark Knight? The answer is obvious, and became beside the point in the early morning of July 20th. The question unfortunately for this series of Batman films by Christopher Nolan is why such grand cinema must be forever associated with tragedy. At the end of the day, this is just a movie. It means nothing in the light of the loss of so many lives in Colorado, just as The Dark Knight meant nothing in the wake of Heath Ledger’s unexpected passing in 2008.

What TDK did become was a tribute to a spectacular actor. The Dark Knight Rises was not intended to be any tribute to what happened last week, and it cannot be. What TDKR becomes is a tribute to a feat very rarely accomplished on film – the successful trilogy. The bad third movie in a trilogy is a bit of a running joke in cinema. Say when: X-Men 3, Spider-Man 3, Superman III (yes, they did it in Roman Numerals once) The Godfather 3 (this actually happened). The Dark Knight Rises withstands any comparison to these movies, and most movies being made today; for all its faults, TDKR is a barely restrained commentary on the current state of class in our society – the villain Bane (Darth Vader’s love child with Dr. Evil) comes to Gotham looking to liberate its people from the oppressive greed of the rich and privileged, Bruce Wayne foremost among them.

Why connects this film back to the first, Batman Begins, and this is where the film becomes something on the order of Return of the Jedi, and these three films something akin to the original Star Wars trilogy. I don’t say that lightly – there simply is not another comparable series of films, much less a frame of reference, for these movies.

For a writer – for a geek like myself – it is a powerful thing to become inspired again by something as familiar, and fundamental, as a character like Batman.

The Dark Knight Rises is less a film in its own right than the cap on a story that until then had been somewhat sprawling; the three Batman films become a single story, a grand epic that does what no other series of comic book films have attempted and no version of Batman ever could – telling the story of Bruce Wayne, beginning to end. A more apt title for this movie might be Batman Ends, or more to the point, Bruce Wayne Begins. I don’t want to spoil the ending, so I’ll say that the best part of this movie is that there is an end, and it’s the one Batman Begins suggested in 2005.

I’ve found some of the reaction to the film so far – particularly the ending – to be confusing. Some of this comes from die hard comic book fans, and I suppose that is part of the problem. The issue seems to be Batman is not behaving like Batman. That’s mostly because by the end of this film, he is not Batman anymore. Bruce Wayne died when his parents did. The façade of Batman was born that same day, and it’s not until the events of this film that Bruce Wayne emerges from its shadow. To take such a definitive course with such an iconic character is in keeping with the bristling ingenuity of this series, and elevates the character once and for all out of his origins into a mythic arena reserved for characters that become examples and lessons through their complete stories.

What I Liked:
·        Anne Hathaway as Catwoman. The single best thing about this movie and as inspired a choice as Heath Ledger. She saves the movie from becoming too dark for its own good, and this is the best take on this character so far.
·         Christian Bale gives his best performance yet as Bruce Wayne/Batman. The performances all around were astounding.
·         The ending.
·         “I am the League of Shadows.”
·         Tom Hardy has a future in voice acting.

What I Didn’t:
·         The five months until BOOM plot really didn’t do it for me. It harkened back to the weakest part of Batman Begins, which was the using our own technology against us Bond villain kind of super weapon thing that would have been better served by putting the bomb in Wayne Tower, for instance, and daring everyone to come get it.
·        I actually think the very Bond-ish opening with Bane and the airplane, while exciting, served no real purpose. I would have much rather had Batman follow a trail of breadcrumbs that led him from Selina to Bane already in the sewers, tunneling Gotham’s doom.
·         Bane advocates a people’s revolution that we never really see – clearly it’s lip service, but does any of this resonate beyond his words?
·         Maybe they didn’t understand him (not always).
·        Talia – I love that they went here, and I love Marion Cotillard, but this could have been so much more. It’s very last minute and for me at least, the shock value was spoiled a year ago by the very porous security on set in Pittsburgh.

The film is not perfect, and it’s not The Dark Knight. Nothing could match that film in its power and this film wisely doesn’t even try. It remains an outstanding film, and a triumphant finale to a remarkable series of films.

I encourage everyone to go see it, and then to go home and watch the first two films. You’ll be struck with how much more satisfying they all become.