NEOBAGGINS reviews THE DARK KNIGHT RISES
The third CBM of the year is upon us and many things have been said, speculated, anticipated and scorned up to this point. Here, I give my take on the third installment of Christopher Nolan’s comicbook epic.
No Lazarus pit, No Venom, No Earthquake machine, No Robin... oh, wait.
There may be content in this review considered by some to be SPOILERS. This is not written with a content filter in mind, so be warned.
After enduring a forgettable trailer starring Will Ferrell and witnessing a modest yet crowd-pleasing teaser for MAN of STEEL, complete with a Lord of the Rings soundtrack; we were ready to see how THE LEGEND ENDS.
The Dark Knight has been absent for eight years after the Batman is named killer in the death of District Attorney, Harvey Dent: Gotham's "White Knight". Not only has the Batman disappeared, but Bruce Wayne has become a recluse, spawning rumors that he's held up in his rebuilt mansion with eight inch nails, lurking in the shadows and peeing in jars. We do find him with a chin-beard and bushy mustache when he’s reintroduced to the audience- a scene that takes place with Selina Kyle (disguised as a Maid) where they first bump heads. Bruce is also walking with the aide of a cane which Selina sweeps from under him before taking off with Martha Wayne’s pearl necklace.
Two things are clear at this point; Hathaway is nailing the role with precision and grace. It’s as if she’d stepped directly out of a graphic novel. Her attitude brings The Long Halloween to mind. Christian Bale is also peeled from the pages and representing what must be Nolan’s version of Bruce Wayne from The Dark Knight Returns. The scene is memorable, even more so due to Bruce’s kickass entrance: he startles a snooping Selina Kyle by shooting an arrow near her. Batman’s low tolerance and grumpiness can be seen in hermit-Bruce. He’s played a bit mental here which gives the character another dimension.
The film is as dark as its predecessors but much more brutal, violent. The atmosphere of Nolan’s Gotham is familiar yet different, and occasionally; I couldn’t find what I’d describe as Nolan’s stamp. The director is sharp, but he's definitely doing some new things technically/creatively with this one. Some of the editing, style and tone is noticeably different from The Dark Knight just as The Dark Knight feels different than Batman Begins. The feel of the canvas is some what reinvented while maintaining consistent characters and Gotham’s underlining air of gloom.
In the narrative and dialogue, you will find that the humor has been turned up a notch in Nolan’s Gotham this time around and it succeeds. For example; a slippery Catwoman vanishes from a rooftop while talking with Batman. When he looks up to see that she’s gone, he says to himself “So that’s what that feels like”. The director seems to have loosened his grip on some of the more fantastical comicbook elements. Could Nolan be having, fun? Batman, in a flash of gunfire; approaches a shooter with ninja efficiency, Catwoman is landing spin-kicks, Bane is punching rock from cement structures and then there’s THE BAT- which is far more awesome than expected. The Batpod has also returned and it’s cooler than ever with Batman catching a some air to avoid Gotham’s finest. And we’ve seen the side-spinning wheels, but once Catwoman boards the Pod, she owns it.
"The Fire Rises"
Bane has arrived to finish what Ra's al Ghul started in Batman Begins, which as we know, is to destroy Gotham City. There’s also a social/political agenda involving Gotham’s wealthy. Bane has acquired a device originally built to provide energy and turned it into a bomb. The “stop-the-nuke and save-the-city” plotline is a little more Hollywood than I would have expected Nolan to implement, but it’s well executed with thrills and tension. The more intimate items such as a more personal Bruce Wayne story and throwbacks to the League of Shadows provides enough unique and engaging material to keep you captivated. A storyline where a wounded and imprisoned Bruce Wayne attempts physical rehabilitation and escape is particularly moving.
Once Bane arrives, Bruce Wayne has to summon the Dark Knight to meet the challenge, but what if he doesn’t exist anymore?
The film has good performances across the board. Sir Michael Caine’s Alfred is acted with great emotion and conviction. In a tear-tugging scene where at some point Alfred tells Bruce about Rachael’s letter, you know that the cast has brought their A-Game. Veterans’ of cinema, Morgan Freeman and Gary Oldman are consistently great as you’d expect, with Marion Cotillard and Tom Hardy pulling their weight- Hardy, owning the role of Bane through swagger, the emotion in his eyes and a chilling vocal performance. Matthew Modine is also solid as Deputy Commissioner Foley.
The Dark Knight Rises is a big, ambitious film; but Batman doesn’t get lost in the scope of the tale. It’s a story that’s more about Batman as opposed to a large story where Batman is PART of the story and has to emerge as the main character at the end of the story. Bruce Wayne hasn’t been Batman in eight years (which I think is an excessive story element), he’s limping and has a party of medical conditions. But he strengthens his bum knee, dons the Bat-suit and flies back into action, literally. This cheer-inducing return is brought to a screeching halt when the Batman faces Bane and receives a lengthy, brutal and hard-to-watch, ass-whipping.
Tom Hardy’s Bane is intimidating and vicious with a contrasting voice of elegance and creepiness. You’d think he was going to bring you a nice cup of Tea (most likely poisoned) until you turned around to see him. At one point in the film he sounds reminiscent to legendary villain Darth Vader and I would be shocked to learn that this was not on purpose. I believe he lifts the Batman from his feet during this period which further accents his Vader-like quality. And he’s big, or at least he’s made to look big and it’s seamless; just when we worked so hard on those funny pictures and midget jokes. Can’t win them all, but apparently Bane can. You see, he’s had training and can stop ANYTHING Batman throws at him.
The climax of their first encounter (Batman/Bane) was when Bane did what I’d been saying would NOT be done in this film. I knew that Nolan compiled elements from the comics to create his films, and for the most part they are nods, names and alluded-to items of the source material; but nothing as direct as when I saw Bane lift Batman over his head. The moment it happened my mouth gaped and he dropped Batman onto his knee. Epic. I guess being a skeptic to spoilers and speculation paid off in a major way because the event is iconic without question.
Hardy plays an awesome and imposing villain but I don’t think he gets a chance to peak. The way the story is set up, Bane starts off strong then kind of bows out silently in the end. Bane becomes a side henchman and loses a bit of his lead-villain appeal to make way for the reveal of Talia Al Ghul. Talia reduces Bane to bitch-mode and then he takes a missile to the gut and its game over. I enjoyed all of the League story flashbacks and connections to Batman Begins (Ras’ appearance is golden) and Hardy conveying emotion with only his eyes along with Talia’s narrative is beautiful, but I think a better exit could have been written for Bane. He is a great villain in this film and deserved to go out harder. But hey, Darth Vader wasn’t the brains behind the big plans either. One more Vader reference coming up.
I’m not a big fan of the Rocky-Win, in which a hero faces an unbeatable foe then some how makes an inexplicable comeback leading to victory. I understand that this movie element is unavoidable and inserted in most if not ALL action and comic movies. It’s necessary to show vulnerability in a hero that he may rise to the occasion. But most of the time, the hero hasn’t undergone anything that has increased his power and/or means to defeat his seemingly invincible foe. So I was curious as to how Batman would physically defeat Bane, who checked batman on every move. During Wayne’s imprisonment (after being broken), he didn’t receive any additional fight training but he did rebuild himself physically and mentally. There’s a bit of spirituality to his return as well. In fact, the flashbacks, a vision of Alfred’s, the films ending and Ras Al Ghuls hallucinated visit are all Nolan staples, but more mystic than what we’ve seen in his Batman series.
In Batman’s final duel with Bane, he doesn’t merely show up and all of sudden have the ability to whip Bane without being touched; which is the most basic of the Rocky-Win scenario. Bane still presents a dominate, physical threat, but this time blows are traded and Batman seems to fight a little smarter; getting out of the way and using his wrist spikes to damage Bane’s mouth-piece which causes the villain great concern and distraction. Before we know it, Bane is looking like Vader once again; on the floor looking up at Batman as if he’s about to say “Tell your sister she was right”. I didn’t mind that Batman eventually took down the seemingly invincible Bane, but it seemed unlikely that Bane would give up so easily. Maybe the damaged mouth piece affects his breathing to the point of exhaustion, I don’t know. But initially, Bane looked like the type of guy that would die fighting. Overall, a great villain, awesome performance and memorable character. Just like the Joker did with The Dark Knight; Bane is going to make Halloween very annoying this year.
Anne Hathayway plays Catwoman with fierce sassiness as a moral conscience brews behind her mask which ultimately redeems her shady side. Her interactions with Batman/Wayne are true to the comics. All the wit, tension and trust issues are intact. She’s sleek, mysterious and sexy without sex being the attribute that defines her character. Anne Hathaway is playing the truest depiction of Catwoman to hit the big screen.
Adding Juno Temple as Jen seems unneeded at first glance but some what useful in one aspect. Her role is small and I think she’s there as an accessory to Kyle’s character- to give her a down-to-earth feel; like she’s still a regular person despite her unique talents and “profession”. I believe it works on the level of saying that Selina wasn’t born with a silver spoon in her mouth. Having Jen as a younger female friend that Selina looks after makes Selina more human and gives us another nod to Batman:YEAR ONE
Joseph Gordon Levitt’s portrayal as beat Cop turned Detective, John Blake, is superb. He’s a good actor and really great to watch. Rumors that he was Robin were exceptionally annoying during the time of production and just like the back-breaker, I was like, nah. But at some point during the film, I started to notice what felt like Blake was Robin symbolically and I thought it was very well played. No tights, no mask, but helping the Batman. I’ve only seen the movie once at this point (twice since I wrote this) and don’t remember the reasoning for Blake’s knowledge of Wayne’s identity to be that strong. I believe I missed part of the dialog during this particular scene as well (I didn’t). But Blake deduced that Wayne was Batman through a previous encounter and an observation of his demeanor. Can’t wait to see this scene again (saw it again) because Blake was not only Robin, symbolically; He was Robin, LITERALLY. When this bit of information was showcased at the end of the film, it was met with much applause. Myself included.
After a second viewing of the film, I think I understand what Blake was saying in regards to deducing Wayne’s identity. I think the implications could have been discussed in more detail in the scene and a flashback would have been amazing to convey Blake’s story.
Marion Cotillard’s Miranda Tate/Talia al Ghul is well played by the actress. I enjoyed the way she consoled a lonely Bruce Wayne, gave him a romantic night and then stabbed him between the protective plates on his Bat suit. It was nice to see Bruce Wayne interacting with women in this fashion. He never gets a chance to cement things with Rachael Dawes in two films and now he’s with a woman by the fire place and kissing Catwoman; just how it should be.
The film plays as if Nolan had the intent to produce a more free and less restricted CBM than the previous film while keeping the drama and politics intact. And like I mentioned before, in some parts it feels a little different from Nolan’s Bat style. I’d say this is the most brutal of THE DARK KNIGHT TRILOGY and at times the most wild in terms of events. The Dark Knight Rises is an extraordinary film; surreal, emotional and adventurous. I really think a mention of Metropolis could have blended in with this particular tale of Gotham City.
In closing, I would like to speak on the closing of the film. I knew that I wouldn’t be returning for repeat viewings of TDKR if Batman died. Instead, Nolan finds a loop hole to bring me back to the theater. You see, Batman is THOUGHT to be dead and has retired/disappeared- which, would be impossible for Bruce Wayne as Ras pointed out to him in Batman Begins. My vision of the series ending was with Batman continuing to be Batman at the end of the film. I understand that Nolan is opening and closing Batman’s career from beginning to end within his own series of the character, but its bitter sweet. I don’t understand why Wayne has to be presumed dead too. Well, maybe because everybody and they mama now knows Bruce Wayne is Batman. But things get interesting when John Blake shows up in the Batcave. What exactly does this mean? “The Legend Ends”, but we have “Robin” in the Batcave, a newly restored Bat sygnol and a previous lecture from Bruce to Blake on how Batman can be anybody.
If Nolan isn’t making any more Batman films, why imply that Blake is going to carry on? It’s an awesome plot device, but unless Warner is developing a Gotham movie starring Levitt, I would have liked to see Batman ready to carry on his work at the end of the film. The fanboy inside me has mixed feelings about what should/could have happened, but as an ending to Wayne’s story since Batman Begins, it’s a good ending. Leave it to Nolan to add an element to the finale to make people wonder. And I must admit that John Blake is one of my top favorite characters of the film.
All in all, I was disappointed. Disappointed I couldn’t land those IMAX tickets for the midnight show. It’s an awesome CBM in the series of the greatest CBMs and the best CBM trilogy.
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