Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises: Review

Christopher Nolan's finale to his take on the Batman mythos is a giant, unwieldy thing, and it is for that reason amongst many others that I adore it. I've always felt like Nolan has an epic vision for these movies that is more reminiscent of David Lean than Frank Miller and with this chapter that opinion is forever cemented in my mind. This is Nolan doing Lawrence of Arabia with established comic book properties. Just like Lean's historical epic we have a battered, broken hero who rises, then falls and is again reborn as the man he needs to become to defeat a tremendous force.

I love the movie that preceded this one and to a lesser extent Batman Begins, but Dark Knight Rises does things that neither of those films ever managed. It roils and twists and turns in ways you aren't expecting. The plot seethes along like this uncontrollable force and for it's faults, you never feel like Nolan is playing it safe. Typically the plotting of a comic movie is... conventional. To extremes. To the point where often we feel as though we're just seeing the same movie over and over but with different characters.

DKR doesn't feel like any other superhero movie. There is no convenient A to B to C plotting. When you expect the story to move to an expected point it instead zigs in a direction you're not expecting. There's also this air of menace to the whole ordeal that grows and grows until you start to feel almost overwhelmed by it. At the point where the hero finally makes a stand to save his city the emotional high is palpable.

A lot of this might seem hyperbolic or as though I'm simply spouting off. I'll run through some of the things that don't work about the movie. As has been the case with the other two Bat films written by the Nolans and David Goyer there are huge problems in the dialogue department. Why does so much of the dialogue revolve around people explaining some aspect of the plot to another character in the most expository way possible? The writing so often comes across as mere exposition or someone attempting to explain an aspect of their character. It's the classic example of why you should show and not tell.

Also, as much as I like Bane (and I'll get to this in a bit) his voice has this comical similarity to someone doing a really bad Sean Connery impression. The first time he appears on screen and says something I laughed out loud. It never manages to take you out of the movie and it says something for Hardy's physical presence that it isn't distracting. Still, it's an issue, at least for me.

Finally, though I was never bored or felt the nearly three hours passing, this movie could have easily had about twenty minutes cut from it. This is a problem with nearly every Chris Nolan movie and its more prevalent here than it has been in any previous film he's directed.

Now that I've gotten the negatives out of the way let me give a quick mention to why I loved the movie. First off, once again the characters here are wonderfully realized, multi-faceted people who are at once believable and easy to identify with in a story this epic. The actors all do great work, across the board, but Joseph Gordon Levitt and Anne Hathaway steal the movie out from under Christian Bale and Tom Hardy. Gordon Levitt, in particular gives a fantastic portrayal of a Gotham cop who in many ways harkens back to Gary Oldman's Jim Gordon from the first film. His character is not only our POV into a city being torn apart from the inside but the heart of the whole film. He's unbreakable, and apparently, incorruptible.

Hathaway as Catwoman, likewise, gives a great portrayal of Selina Kyle. What impresses most about her performance is that she doesn't necessarily eschew the more potentially campy aspects of the cat thief. She's still prone to cheesy one liners and tight costumes but some how it never comes across as out of place in the believable world that Nolan has set up here.

Which brings up another point. Nolan has taken great pains (and occasionally to the detriment of the series for me) of creating a believable, real-world setting for these characters and their stories. This is a Bat-universe that has, to this point, been grounded firmly in reality. While he doesn't completely toss out the reality of the prior films in this go-round he does more firmly embrace the "comic booky" aspects of the mythology. Which works wholly to the movies advantage. This is a huge, epic tale. A modern mythological heroes tale and to tell this story they had to take some leaps away from the grounded feel of Dark Knight. Frankly, in deciding to make the previous films so... not small scale but perhaps midget epics, he's earned the massive fights, incredible weapons and mano-e-mano battles that erupt in this movie.

The villains this time around never manage to overtake Heath Ledger's Joker but that's okay. This isn't the villains tale. For the first time in a Bat movie the heroes, the good guys, are the best part of the story. Whether it's Gordon Levitt standing alone in a city gone to hell or Anne Hathaway's Kyle deciding to stand and fight rather than turn tale and run, or Christian Bale's Bruce Wayne having to come back from the pits of a nightmarish prison to save the city he loves this is a heroes tale. Forget the bad guys, they're evil, they're bent on destruction. We get it. We've seen that. This is a story about people making decisions to stand against evil. This is a tale about ordinary citizens opting to fight instead of rolling over and letting the bad guys win. This is a story of life, death and rebirth as an ideal hero.

Tom Hardy's Bane is intimidating and terrifying and slightly likeable at once. His character arc is basically non-existent but you do see it change ever so slightly at the end in a way that is unexpected and very much appreciated. Again, he doesn't steal the show but I don't believe he's meant to. This isn't his story. There are other villains here but I can't go into it without hitting spoiler territory.

After the movie ended I couldn't sort through all my thoughts about it. The themes it deals with, specifically those of fear and rebirth, are handled so superbly that it manages to not just tell a great superhero story but also incite discussion without being a pretentious mess. In the end I this is one of, if not THE strongest superhero movies we've ever seen. Nolan's vision for the series has been a singular, unique take on the DC comics mainstay. It may not ring true to the characters we've seen in the comics but if you were looking for a faithful adaptation of that after Batman Begins and Dark Knight then you probably weren't paying any attention to those movies. This is Nolan's Batman.

I'm reminded of Geoff Johns Batman: Earth One in that respect. It's an elseworlds take on a character we know and love told in a way we haven't seen before. I believe all the things that make the Bat characters so great are still here but this is not the Bruce Wayne we know from the comics. In other words it may not be the Batman the comics fan wants but it is the Batman we deserve.

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