Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

Christopher Nolan brings his Batman trilogy to a magnificent close with The Dark Knight Rises. It’s an epic finish, with stakes higher than ever for every character. The narrative isn’t quite as tight as Batman Begins or The Dark Knight, but whatever minor flaws cause the first half of the film to drag a bit seem like nothing once things heat up in the second half. Nolan has said repeatedly that The Dark Knight Rises will be his last Batman film, and the vast scale of this production validates that promise. Nothing was held back, making for as exhausting and emotionally satisfying a finale as I could have hoped for. 

The film opens eight years after the events of The Dark Knight. Society still views Batman as an outlaw who murdered Harvey Dent, and Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has become a social recluse. Gotham City has enjoyed relative peace in the years since the Joker’s arrest, but an accidental trip into the Gotham City sewer system alerts Police Commissioner Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) to a strong underground (literally and figuratively) criminal element, led by a dangerous and mysterious man named Bane (Tom Hardy). In the interest of serving Gotham, Bruce decides to resurrect the Batman one last time.

The Dark Knight Rises takes its time establishing the setting and introducing a surprising number of new characters. The pacing is a bit off in the first act, but the material remains engaging. Anne Hathaway shines as cat burglar Selina Kyle (who never actually goes by “Catwoman” in the film), playing the right combination of strong, sexy and vulnerable. More so than Nolan’s first two Batman films, this installment feels like an old-fashioned showdown between good and evil, so Selina’s moral ambiguity is a welcome addition. Joseph Gordon-Levitt does well as John Blake, one of Gotham’s most trusted police officers. Behind an intimidating mask and a whole lot of muscle, Tom Hardy is unrecognizable as Bane. He’s a brutal, frightening villain, more classic movie monster than maniacal genius like The Joker. He’s also the least interesting of Nolan’s Batman villains, but he serves this story well enough.

If it has been a while since you’ve seen Batman Begins (or if you missed it altogether), I recommend watching it before seeing The Dark Knight Rises. Nolan brings the story of Batman full circle by revisiting some important plot points from Batman Begins, reconsidering Batman’s ultimate purpose and usefulness. Whereas organized crime had corrupted Gotham in the first two movies, the main threat posed by Bane is more terrorist in nature, so the power of fear, one of Batman Begins’ main themes, returns to the forefront. The Dark Knight Rises isn’t a stand-alone superhero movie; it’s the last chapter of a trilogy, and it assumes you know what came before. Even if you’re up to speed, you’ll still need to pay close attention, as a good amount of new characters and plot points (perhaps too many) are introduced early on.

Action sequences are bigger than ever before, and there are more of them. Nolan favors traditional stunts over computer-generated imagery, which makes the action all the more exciting. The Dark Knight Rises also features cleaner, more straight-forward editing than the choppy, what-the-heck-just-happened approach used effectively in the past. While the content and tone are as dark as ever, much more of this film (at least it seemed like much more) transpires in broad daylight, also making the action easier to follow. Each Batman film features bigger stunts than its predecessor, but the sequences in The Dark Knight Rises never get so big or flashy as to break the proper feel of the franchise.

As for the ending, I’ll not disclose any specifics, but I can safely say that I have no qualms with how Nolan wrapped it up. The main conflict between heroes and villains makes up the second half of the film, and it’s a thrilling and suspenseful ordeal. The pitch-perfect denouement for both this film and the trilogy comes in the final minutes, and it left my theater cheering as the credits began. Nolan has always treated Batman’s characters, themes, and even the setting of Gotham City with the seriousness and respect they deserve, and his love of the material is especially evident as things get more emotional toward the end.

I remember when I first heard that “the guy who made Memento” (as Christopher Nolan was known to me in 2005) had written and directed a new Batman movie. I was hopeful, but I couldn’t have known that it would be the start of the greatest comic-to-screen adaptation ever done. Christopher Nolan has established himself as one of the finest directors working today, and his Batman trilogy has set the bar for all comic book movies to follow. Looking back on the trilogy as a whole, The Dark Knight is still the masterpiece of the three, with a near-perfect script and iconic performances, but The Dark Knight Rises makes for a grand send-off.

For the Parents: 

MPAA: Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some sensuality and language

Bane’s a scary guy. The Dark Knight Rises centers on his terrorist threat, with plenty of shooting and neck breaking along the way. This is an intense film with little to no fantasy around to remind you that “it’s just a movie” (see The Avengers). Batman Begins and The Dark Knight are in the same dark, mature vein. The sensuality and language are minimal.

1 comment:

  1. Haven't gotten to this yet--but thanks much for the encouragement to re-watch Batman Begins. Haven't seen it in a few years, so I'll try to refresh myself pre-theater...