Friday, July 20, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises Review

To be completely honest, I could sit here and discuss Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Trilogy till my fingers can't physically type any more (so I'll try not to ramble).  This includes his latest directorial effort, The Dark Knight Rises (TDKR).  I have a personal connection to TDKR, not simply because I regard The Dark Knight as one of my all-time favorite films, but because I and two of my closest friends were extras in the film's Gotham Rogues football game.  Its quite an understatement to say that I was greatly anticipating TDKR; since the moment the credits rolled on The Dark Knight I began discussing and speculating on what could follow such an astounding work of cinematic mastery.  What ended up following that masterwork is a film that, while nowhere perfect its in own right, manages to perfectly wrap up Nolan's trilogy in ways that I couldn't have dreamt.

Obviously, I have quite a bit to say about TDKR, but luckily what issues I do have with the film don't require a spoiler tag (I may spoil parts of the previous films in the trilogy, however); therefore, let's get the negative out of the way.  My main complaints with the film reside almost solely within the third act (which is interesting to note, considering upon my first viewing - I've seen it twice now - I took issue with the first act) and the events that lead up to the epilogue of the film.  The previous films in the series, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight both had incredibly interesting third acts with fantastic final set-piece finales.  In Begins we saw Batman battling Ra's Al Ghul aboard a speeding train, carrying a high-powered microwave emitter that's dispersing an hallucinogenic compound into Gotham.  In TDK the Joker presented 30,000 of Gotham's citizens with a moral dilemma while battling it out with Batman, all the while Harvey Dent is rounding up commissioner Gordon's family.  TDKR's final moments boiled down to relatively nothing more than a trope-filled, typical action movie-inspired finale that is sure to please the more action-inclined film-goers.  To be clear, I didn't hate the final scenes of the film; rather, I wished for something a bit less...actiony.  There are bits of finale tropes sprinkled throughout the final action set-piece that just left me wanting a bit more.

The scope of TDKR is quite larger than its predecessors, as is the time that passes in the film.  As a result, large jumps in time are taken (weeks and even months at a time), and so do our characters.  There is one specific moment involving Bruce Wayne that I wish would've been given a least one prior scene to set up.  And to be honest, the film is just plain confusing at times.  Its not the fairly complex and layered narrative, but just small bits of dialogue or how a certain character knew something when they shouldn't have.  There are a few plot holes and narrative hiccups on display throughout the film that stop it from becoming a masterpiece like The Dark Knight.

Now that that's all out of the way I can begin to gush over how much I truly enjoyed TDKR.  My expectations for what was to come were through the roof, and somehow Christopher Nolan met and exceeded my lofty expectations.  There's just some really great stuff on display throughout the lengthy 164-minute run time.  From a narrative standpoint, TDKR exists to wrap up the arcs of some the characters and plot threads that were first introduced way back in Batman Begins and to also continue some of the beats present in TDK, namely the death of Harvey Dent.  Dent's death shocked Gotham into action.  Over 1,000 criminals were arrested and interred in Blackgate Prison with the passing of the "Dent Act."  Dent Act + Batman as a criminal = Bruce Wayne retiring Batman and living as a recluse for 8 years.  A terroristic mercenary, Bane, shows up in Gotham and Bruce comes out of retirement.  I won't say much else beyond that, including what through-lines are present from Begins.  Part of the joy of watching TDKR is seeing things come full circle in a fantastic way.

As is the case with all of Nolan's films, the cast of The Dark Knight Rises is simply stellar; those returning are just as good, if not better than they were in the past.  Bale's Bruce Wayne is a much older, broken man.  He's not the young adventurer he was once, and Bale plays it with aplomb.  Gary Oldman continues to put in fantastic performances time and time again (even if his character is virtually wasted mid-way through the finale).  Morgan Freeman is still incredibly entertaining as Lucius Fox, and Michael Cane's Alfred Pennyworth is still looking after Bruce as he did when Bruce was a child.  Most of the newcomers make fantastic additions.  Marion Cotillard doesn't have all that much to do as Miranda Tate (Wayne Enterprises board member) but is great in the role.  Anne Hathaway's Selina Kyle (never actually referred to as "Catwoman") owned every scene she was in; Kyle is the perfect con artist.  She can play calm, confident, scared, enraged, and meek depending up on what the situation calls for.  I was pleasantly surprised by performance.  I'm a fan of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and he was great as rookie cop John Blake.

The character that steals the show, for me, is that of Bane.  Played by the masterful Tom Hardy, Bane, simply put, is one of the most menacing, terrifying, and brutal antagonists that I've ever seen on the silver screen.  As Ben Mendelsohn's Daggett (an incredibly whiny, off-putting performance) put it, "[Bane] is pure evil."  He will do literally anything and everything he can to reach his goals.  What Bane lacks in intellectual finesse is made up for in brute physical strength.  If the Joker put Batman's mind to the test, then Bane exists solely to test Batman's body.  As such, there are two fantastic brawls between the two that are feel raw, real, and bone-crunching.  Bane's goal is the loftiest of all the villains of the trilogy, and are at a scope that I simply marveled at.

Much discussion will be made as to how each film of the trilogy stacks up to one another and in what order.  As of right now, for me The Dark Knight still has the top spot.  While Bane is a force of nature that pushed Batman to his limits, Heath Ledger's performance as the Joker is leaps and bounds above anything present in TDKR.  Don't get me wrong, Tom Hardy is an unbelievable performer and is great as Bane, but the problem is that Hardy's performance is conveyed solely through his voice and eyes.  Bane's breathing mask obscures most of his face, leaving his eyes to do most of the work.  There are no single moments in TDKR that surpass any of the Joker's scenes; the "magic trick," the interrogation scene, the truck flip, killing Gambol, his final speech.  Those are some of cinema's greatest moments and are very difficult to top.

There is much to love about The Dark Knight Rises, from its complex narrative, plot twists and turns, fantastic performances, and some great practical effects.  I can definitely see certain elements that others may find fault in, but as an overall package its quite an amazing film.  While not perfect by any means, TDKR is the perfect end to Nolan's trilogy of Batman films.

The Dark Knight Rises may not surpass its predecessor but is a fantastic bookend to an incredible trilogy.

The Bearded Bullet.

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