Monthly Archives: July 2012

My Ten Cents On: The Dark Knight Rises

And so, it has finally come, the end to the epic trilogy that is Christopher Nolan’s Batman. The Dark Knight Rises begins eight years after the events of The Dark Knight. Harvey Dent’s death has fueled the passing of the Dent Act, a not-really-well-explained law that has given the police the tools to take Gotham City’s crime rate down to virtually nothing. The Batman, implicated in Dent’s muder, hasn’t been seen since, and Bruce Wayne has shut himself in, unable to cope fully with the loss of his love, Rachel Dawes. But when a new villain, Bane, comes, and threatens the existence of the entire city, Bruce Wayne once again suits up to face his greatest challenge yet.

Definitely one of the most anticipated movies this year, The Dark Knight Rises had a lot of hype to live up to, and a lot of expectations to match. So, lets find out if it did!

+ Plot, or The Big Idea

I’m gonna try and be as spoiler free as possible. The thing is though, when it comes to Nolan, the plot always takes center stage. His stories have often times been grand, deep, philosophical works of high praise, and The Dark Knight Rises is no exception. The film takes Bruce Wayne on an emotional roller coaster, and focuses much more on him than on his caped alter-ego. In this movie, The Batman is showcased as a symbolic figure much stronger than in any film before. The film explores Gotham itself, and follows the dealings of John Blake, Commissioner Gordon, and Bane, arguably even more than The Batman. This film puts in a lot of symbolism in its plot lines, often having characters looking like counterpoints to Batman.

Okay, I know, kinda vague, so I’ll use an example from The Dark Knight. Batman was The Dark Knight fighting crime in the shadows, Harvey Dent was The White Knight fighting crime in the courts. Counterpoint. Batman stood for justice, law and the peak of human ability, The Joker stood for anarchy and man’s ability to become morally destitute. Counterpoint. The Dark Knight Rises saw this blown up.

In this movie Batman stands for freedom, where Bane would stand for oppression and incarceration (an interesting point to note when, in the film, they “trade places”). He was the man who gave everything, when Catwoman was the girl who took everything. He became the symbol, the ideal, of freedom and sacrifice, where John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) was the guy on the street who did those things, the real. The real vs. ideal was, in my opinion, the largest philosophical idea that ran through this film. I mean, there are few things more encapsulating than the “real” and “ideal”. I don’t want to go into the specifics, mainly because I’m a movie critic, not a philosopher. To talk about those ideas in depth would entail a 30-page research paper. So I’ll just say that this is the idea that Nolan was building up to with the two previous films, and plot-wise he had this film come full-circle.

The quote from Batman Begins, “People need dramatic examples to shake them out of apathy and I can’t do that as Bruce Wayne, as a man I’m flesh and blood I can be ignored I can be destroyed but as a symbol, as a symbol I can be incorruptible, I can be everlasting,” had come to fruition. The trilogy had a big build up to this point, and did it in an epic fashion. Nolan had a plan, one that, I think was to revolve around Heath Ledger’s Joker, if he hadn’t kicked the bucket, and was replaced with Bane. I think it was a little weaker because of it, but it was still a great conclusion to the Batman Mythos of the Nolan-verse.

Hopefully, this kinda explains it. :)

+ Supporting Cast

Hello, Anne Hathaway!

I cannot say enough good things about this cast. The returning characters of Alfred and Jim Gordon, played by Michael Caine and Gary Oldman respectively, are great as always, and in a way, the crisis in this film brought out even more of their character than in the previous films. Marion Cotillard as Miranda Tate is magnetic, and Anne Hathaway’s Selina Kyle is just. WOW. The way she would switch her emotions between the act she puts on for her mark, and her real personality is so quick and smooth that she has made her case as a legitimate actor for me, more so than in any of her past performances. She could switch from helpless to damn sexy in a flash (and it was one hell of a sexy vibe she could deliver), and it was amazing to behold.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt, this guy gets better with every performance

Joseph Gordon Levitt played John Blake, a rookie cop who joins Gordon as a detective, plays his character to a perfect “T”, the smart man who who is both rational and is still an idealist. It is a tough one to pull off, and but the naive yet intelligent rookie officer was dead on. Hell, Tom Hardy as Bane was fantastic for me. While I didn’t love the character of Bane, I have to give mad props to Tom Hardy in this movie. It is extremely hard to emote when half your face is obstructed, but he did it some how. What was shown of his face was really expressive. I still find Christian Bale’s performance as average, so nothing amazing, and nothing too bad.

+ The Big Cinematography and Sound

When the scenes were large, such as the opening scene with the plane hijack, and the blowing up of Gotham Stadium (both of which are referenced in trailers, so there should be no spoilers there), they were beautiful in all their destruction. It was the visual equivalent to a listening to Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain.

If that’s not enough motivation to run for a touchdown, I don’t know what is.

Christopher Nolan has a knack for evoking feelings of grandeur with a splendid mix of camera work, CGI and sound. There were many points in the film where I just shake my head at how unbelievably awesome it was. I was kinda disappointed that the ending sequence wasn’t as grand as the beginning and middle, because with any film, you expect the best for last, but Nolan gave us so many big scenes, that it really doesn’t matter all that much.

I mean, listen to this chant!

The Dark Knight Rises, visually, was amazing, emotional, and yet amidst the aw’s and oh’s, it gives you a profound feeling of shock and sadness. This happened as well in The Dark Knight, but this time, the grand nature made it a little less of the shock and sadness, and a bit more of the oh!’s.

– The Fight Scenes

I forgot to mention the part where Bane and Batman enter a ballroom competition

I noticed that as the trilogy progressed, the films became less about how awesome Batman is, and more about how symbolic the idea of the Batman is, and this takes it to a whole other level. While it worked for the greater narrative, I couldn’t help but feel sad that after the first film, where the fighting was very live, organic, and saw Batman move from one area to another, we were left with “lock Batman in a room with thugs and let them fight”. Check out this clip from Batman Begins, (unless you haven’t seen it yet, because there are minor spoilers here as well). When Batman fights these guys, they fall off the building, and the cuts give the fight scenes more life.

In every single fight scene in The Dark Knight Rises, it was just, oh we’re in one area, fight. Like one of those stages in Tekken. There was no interaction with the environment, not even an attempt to use Bat-themed weapons or gadgets like in the previous films. It was hand-to-hand combat. Catwoman fought, Batman fought, Bane fought. And none of it stood out. No swinging in some bat-rope, no use of sleeping agents, no analysis, nothing, just swinging away. It was okay for some of the weaker bad guys, but even against Bane, Batman showed none of the mental prowess that the previous films established. Now I know this might be attributed to the fact that he’s been retired for so long, but no, if he can fight, he can think, no ifs and buts about it. This brings me to my next point.

This one page shows how Batman can make a single takedown so awesome.

– Characters and Plot Holes, or The Little Details

Now for those of you who haven’t seen it, I’ll summarize it as best I can. The Dark Knight Rises, in order to tell the narrative, took a few liberties in the plot. It often chose to go against common reason, or established character traits in order to further the symbolic and philosophical message of the film. I see where they were coming from, but I found a lot of those things distracting, especially after I left the theater. There are a lot of moments where, when you think about it, what’s happening just doesn’t make sense.

That about wraps it up for the gist of this section, please be warned there are SPOILERS ahead. If you don’t want any of that, or if you find yourself wanting to get to the end already, please skip down to the next section of the review. :)

So for you folks who have seen the film, or are uncaring of spoilers, here’s where we get into the real meat and bones of my dislikes in this film. Get ready, this’ll be a long one.

Batman isn’t a real detective. Like I mentioned above, Batman doesn’t use his noggin in this movie. Most of the detective work actually came from the side of John Blake and Jim Gordon. Batman on the other hand, gets his back broken by Bane after failing to kick his ass, and is told later, that Bane’s weakspot is his mask, and that Batman should have aimed for the giant frigging resperator on the Bane’s face. COME ON, one look at the guy, you know you gotta smash his face up. I bet a high schooler would have figured that out, but no, Batman had to be told by the doctor that the mask was holding back immense pain. Neither does he doesn’t put 2-and-2 together when John Daget, a board member of Waye Enterprises, a clear rival business-wise, steals his fingerprints, in order to *gasp* bankrupt Wayne and set himself up to takeover Wayne Enterprises. Bruce, Catwoman stole your frigging prints, your identity. If I were you, I would have been all, “Alfred, find out every financial transaction that I would need my fingerprints for, and lock those up”.

And by the time the big reveal comes, its plain to everyone, that BATMAN was thoroughly DUPED by the big bad boss. I mean, I can see The Joker outsmarting him. The only way to best a man who spent his entire life studying, taking a surgical approach to crime-fighting, is to be utterly insane. But the fact that someone outplanned Batman, and that he couldn’t think of a solution and was lucky that Catwoman had a change of heart, was just kinda weak for me. Batman was a brainless brawler, and I think that put a damper on The Dark Knight Rises.

To be or not to be, that is the question!

Bane was another problem I had. Like I said, I loved Tom Hardy’s performance, I even enjoyed his poetic speech and grandiose verbiage. But when you have a dude in a mask, you give him fewer lines for dramatic effect. How would you have liked Darth Vader if he just kept on yammering on and on, with that obstructed voice to boot. I mean, all Tom Hardy’s speeches could have been awesome for someone like The Riddler, or better yet Hush, but for Bane? By giving Bane so many lines, Nolan lost the opportunity to give him real presence, allowing fewer more cutting dialogue to do the work vs. a whole lot of speeches (Bane made a lot of speeches in this movie). I understand that Bane is an intelligent man in the comics, and he does speak quite a bit, but when he talks in the comics you just read his word bubbles, things are different when you approach the medium of film.

Nolan had to ask Tom Hardy to come in and re-dub practically all his scenes, because while filming most of his lines were inaudible. And when you are harder to understand than throat cancer-afflicted Batman, you have a problem. As a result, Bane sounded left no strong impact on me, because it somehow felt disembodied. His voice sounded like Sean Connery with a Vader mask on, quoting Shakespeare. He was fun, I enjoyed it, but even right after the film, I had a hard time remembering his other lines.

Gotham Police Force thinking: “I should run at these guys.”

The plot also occasionally kicked common sense in the nuts in order to fuel the philosophical themes. When Batman frees Gotham City’s Police force from under the streets of Gotham, he basically tells them: “Okay, you guys, with hand guns and clenched fists, will be charging headlong into an army of the most deranged, brutal, and psychotic criminals in the city, and they have tanks and machine guns.” And what do they do? Gotham’s finest actually seem pretty good with the strategy, and do it! Just so they could have an “epic war” scene. An epic war scene more suited for Braveheart than Batman, and the worst part, after showing the initial clash, we cut to Batman and Bane finding each other and engaging in another fist fight. No cut-aways to other people fighting, no wide shot to get a grasp of how large the war was.

A friend of mine was pointing out that, “Its a Batman movie, you don’t want to see cops fight criminals in a classic war scene, you want to see Batman beat the crap out of someone.” Well, okay. But if that were the case, why introduce an emotional “charge” into battle, and leave it at that. You already started the race, why turn around and step back across the starting line?

Why did Bane talk about “giving people just enough hope to hang themselves with, to watch them climb up and over each other, to kill each other to get to freedom” and not show in depth the repercussions of his actions of blowing up the stadium and threatening people with a friggin’ Neutron bomb, where: “one of you citizens is the triggerman.”

If you remember the Dark Knight, this was like that scene where the two boats were filled with explosives, one a prisoner vessel, the other a tour ship, and they had each other’s detonators. Then the movie proceeded to show what the people in the ship were doing, what they were thinking, the moral struggle they had about whether or not to kill the people on the other boat so they could live. I would have loved to have seen how the typical Gothamite would react to the paranoia of someone in the neighborhood possibly having the trigger to the bomb. That would have at least made Bane’s speeches of being “Gotham’s reckoning” and its “liberator” that much more important and central to the plot. But no, it led to nothing, again, sacrificed in order to build Batman up as a symbol, by focusing on John Blake and Jim Gordon looking to the Bat symbol for hope.

These are just some of the holes I found in the plot, I bet you could find more if you really analyzed the film, but the thing is, that isn’t what this movie is about.

Final Verdict: 8/10

The Dark Knight Rises is like a Pointillist painting. Up close, and under careful scrutiny, it may not hold that much water. The more you dig into the details, you’ll find more things that are off, and a lot of plot points that fade away or lead to silly conclusions.

But as you step back and catch the film as a whole, fueled by the symbolism and the cast’s fantastic delivery of such ideological dialogue, you see the entire painting in all its beauty. More so when you watch it with the first two films (which I highly recommend you do.) This film on its own, is a good one, but if held up to an analytic lens, not a great one. But as part of a trilogy, and tying in the themes of all three films, it is so much better.

This is an up-close shot of Georges Seurat’s Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. Doesn’t look like much right?

But just like The Dark Knight Rises, if you take a step back and look at the piece as a whole, its pretty damned impressive.

It is for me, though, the weakest of the three films, which is by no means an insult, considering how good the other two were. It did its job to complete the trilogy, and it did so pretty well. It put a good period to the end of the Batman franchise, though, if you were expecting an exclamation point, I can see where some of you could be disappointed. I guess it all depends on which view you were looking at.