Thursday, July 26, 2012

Movie Review - The Dark Knight Rises

After waiting four years, we finally got the third film in Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy. I've loved Batman since I was a little kid and I really enjoyed the first two films in this series. Batman Begins gave us a fun and intriguing origin story steeped in the Batman mythos with plenty of nods to comic lovers while still staying stark and realistic. The Dark Knight continued the trajectory and took us into a world even darker and grittier than the first film. And now we arrive at the conclusion of the trilogy with the promise of Rising out of the darkness…somehow.

Because of the twists, turns and surprises, I will try to avoid too much information about plot details, but I may say some things that might hint at plot points. If you're worried about that, skip to the final paragraph above the stars. :)

Like many, I was saddened at the death of Heath Ledger. I certainly haven't seen everything he's been in but I've enjoyed his work and had a lot of fun watching him. And I felt like his characterization of the Joker was fabulous. He really nailed the creepy crazy psychopathic nature of the Joker. With him dead, I was worried that the final movie in the trilogy would either have another actor try to mimic Ledger's Joker or the Joker would be completely absent from the film. Part of me hoped that we'd have a copycat actor working as the Joker just because the Joker is such a quintessential part of Batman. In the end, we had no Joker in Dark Knight Rises which was a bit of a let down to me personally, but I think the movie was fabulous even without the Joker.

While the first two movies were meant to happen almost back-to-back in terms of chronology, this movie takes place 8 years after The Dark Knight. Wayne manor has been rebuilt but both Bruce Wayne and Batman have essentially gone into hiding. The nature of their simultaneous disappearance and almost simultaneous reappearance makes me wonder how it is that almost nobody (especially not the police commissioner and other smart people like him) puts two and two together to deduce his secret identity. I think Nolan tried to address this a little bit by having Commissioner Gordon comment almost apathetically that he didn't care who he really was because all he needed to know was that he was "the Batman."

As shown in the trailers, the primary villain in this movie is Bane as played by Tom Hardy. I've only seen Tom Hardy in a couple of things but I have to say that if you didn't know this was Tom Hardy, it would be difficult to identify him. He is always masked…not only his face, but also his voice. He also felt a lot "bigger" physically than I've seen him before. I'm not suggesting that he was a slouch in his previous films, but he seemed taller and bulkier as Bane than as his other characters. However they did it, Bane was definitely a huge physical presence in this film. Which is good considering Bane's nature and relationship to Batman in the comic mythos.

In the opening sequence with Bane we quickly learn a lot about his personality and behavior. He has laser focus towards his goal and has no compunctions about killing, maiming or destroying anyone and anything around him. His followers are loyal to the point of willingly dying to be cogs in his plans. As one of the characters later in the film puts it, Bane is "pure evil." He claims that he is doing what he is doing for the good of Gotham, but he is definitely not taking the moral high ground in any way. Quite the contrary. His ethic, his style of leadership, his method of destruction and death to incite fear…he is the archetype of the terrorist leaders that America has been fighting against publicly for the past decade.

Scenes later in the film (once Bane's plan begins to unfold and Gotham is embroiled in chaos) are reminiscent of the French Revolution. Bane incites the "repressed" citizens of Gotham to rise up against their oppressors. He's not only talking about the criminals of Gotham City but also about the lower class who have been downtrodden as a result of the wealthy citizens of Gotham. We are presented with scenes that parallel a lot of what we know about the French Revolution. Lower class citizens are shown dragging out the wealthy in their furs and fancy clothes and beating them in the streets and looting their homes. The wealthy are determined to be guilty and brought before mock trials for sentencing.

The other villain in this film is Catwoman. I wasn't sure about having Anne Hathaway playing the feline antagonist. Part of me always sees her in her Princess Diaries role. But she did a fabulous job. She played the part of the sleek minx strutting her way through the city and slinking through the shadows. I loved the little nods to the comics such as her goggles that she flipped up onto her head to add to her silhouette. I thought that the relationship between Catwoman and Batman was very well done and felt natural and realistic. I would have liked to have seen a little more acrobatics from her but I think the arc of the film kept us away from too much of that. What little we did get was a lot of fun.

And now that I've bantered on far too long, I need to comment on the main plot and on Batman himself.

The reason for the withdrawal of Bruce/Batman was well done but it felt a little hard to believe. Bruce holed up in Wayne manor essentially mourning the death of Rachel. I agree with the morose brooding Bruce Wayne figure…but it seems to me he would have thrown himself more into being the Batman at least as a way to deal with the psychological and emotional pain he was feeling. While we start the movie with crime largely under control, it's certain that there could still have been some work Batman could have thrown himself into to vent his anger and frustration. Apart from that disconnect, I felt like the motivations of Bruce/Batman were pretty logical and the path he took made sense. He was largely just reactive to the forces around him. He stayed out of the world as long as he could and then slowly let himself get forced back into it by actions that fell into his path.

The overall plot of the film is compelling and gets more and more nuanced and intriguing as the movie progresses. We're not given the full vision of Bane's plan until nearly the end of the movie. At times we feel like we understand his motives but every time we get close, some new bit of information twists his motives just a little bit askew. Bane seems to have two main plans. One is the utter destruction of Gotham City. We don't learn this motivation for quite some time. The other is the destruction of Batman. But as Bane points out, he is not initially aiming to destroy Batman's body (although he does a good job of that), but to destroy Batman's soul. There is a lot of psychological torture at play in this film. Bruce Wayne is taken to rock bottom physically, emotionally and mentally. Bane utterly destroys Bruce but (as he puts it) does not allow him to die because he wants Bruce to witness his ultimate failure with the destruction of Gotham.

Bane talks about the nature of Hope and how vital it is to have the presence of hope. He uses hope to make his torture more severe…because without hope, you just consign yourself to death, but with the presence of hope, you have something to live for even through all the pain and turmoil. I really liked this message. The world around us certainly isn't so dark as to be absent of Hope.

Without going into spoilers, I can tell you that this movie will pull you down (alongside Batman and Gotham City) to the bottommost point of despair. But it does so with that slim glimmer of hope. And, knowing that this is a movie, it's easy to remember that hope is very, very possible. The final ~30 minutes of the movie are intense as Hope meets Despair in a final battle that keeps going and going beyond the point where it might end. And when the end does finally come, it will come in a way different than you may expect. The final 5-10 minutes are full of great revelations that finally help pull things out of the darkness. Even though it doesn't end as you might want it to, I think you will be happy with the ending.

Overall I really enjoyed this film. It does a great job finalizing the trilogy. I'm a little bummed that Nolan indicates that this is only a trilogy since I would love to see more from him in Gotham. But the way he ties everything off makes me think he's definitely walking away from Batman…at least for now. While I missed the Joker here, Bane was creepy and evil and made for a good counterpoint and I really enjoyed the portrayal of Catwoman. There isn't a ton of graphic, grotesque violence but the fight scenes are definitely intense. Bane and Batman go toe to toe in some fisticuffs bouts that can make you cringe.

While the movie is great on its own, I wouldn't recommend seeing it without seeing the other two first. It could certainly stand alone and informs the viewer through flashbacks and conversations, but the connections will be even stronger if you've seen the other two films. This movie maintains Nolan's dark style so if you weren't a fan of the previous two movies you will find this one more of the same. But if you are a fan of Batman and if you've enjoyed the grittier, darker treatment of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, then this is a must see. You won't be disappointed.

4 out of 5 stars

In addition to this review, I want to take a moment to step onto a soap box.

I am horrified and deeply saddened to the violent real-life events that accompanied this film's midnight showing in Colorado. I'm sure there will be plenty of villainizing of the movie industry as a result of the shootings. There will be discussions about violence in movies and the way they are destroying the moral fiber of society. To an extent those arguments will be accurate and have some teeth. However in the end I don't believe that movies are to blame any more than the gun manufacturers are to blame for making the guns that the man used. As sad as it is, there is violence and darkness in this world. I don't know the details of the gunman's life and I certainly don't intend to defend his actions in any way. My heart goes out to the family and friends of those who are suffering through this tragedy.

The only additional commentary I want to add is that we all have a choice…we all have our own agency. The gunman made a very bad choice which then limited and destroyed choices for his victims. Whatever his motivations, whatever influences led to this, it was his choice. I don't disagree with those who say violence in movies can corrupt or influence for bad. My hope would be that we as a society…as humanity…can step back and realize that we need to teach each other good moral principles. If we disagree with the violence and muck that's in the world, then say so…boycott it…tell your kids, your friends, your family to avoid it. Don't hide in the shadows and hope that the violence goes away on its own…or ignore the violence as it's embraced by those around you and then wonder how it corrupted them. If you see someone taking a bad path, stop them. Turn them around.

In a sense, that is part of the message of this very movie. Apathy and ignorance will destroy our culture just as fast as the violence and corruption that apathy and ignorance try to avoid. In fact, by being apathetic or ignorant to what's going on around us, we are actually speeding the process. By doing nothing to make things better, we are allowing things to get worse. There is darkness in the world. But there is also light. Embrace the light. And then teach those around you to embrace it as well. Reach out a helping hand. If you see something that isn't right, do what you can to make it better. This doesn't mean donning a cape and cowl and turning vigilante. But everybody has a sphere of influence and there is always something you can do…something besides ignoring the problem.

To those in Colorado who are suffering, you are in my prayers. To the rest of the world, let your hearts go out to them as well. And then open your heart and your eyes to the world immediately around you and make it a better place.


Brian Miller said...

hey any idea why you page keeps flipping to some book review webring?

i can not wait to see this...when i get home from vacation it is on the list...sadly i may have to wait for the dollar theatre so only 3 months to wait...drat...

i like your thoughs in the PS at the bottom...apathy and ignorance are killers...and we as people are the only ones that can do anything about the state our world is in...

Okie said...

The webring thing was "supposed to be" a simple traffic sharing thing from a book review site I was looking at. It's been nothing but trouble though. Thanks for the reminder. I have removed the code that was doing it. Should be good now.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

It wasn't perfect, but it was an awesome end to the series. Considering the way it did end though, wish there were more.