Monday, July 23, 2012
The Dark Knight Rises: Movie Review... So I saw Christopher Nolan's much-anticipated Batman film twice this weekend (the first viewing was last Friday, and the second screening was in IMAX yesterday), and all I can say is— This movie is absolutely amazing. While there are some very minor nitpicks I have about the final flick in The Dark Knight trilogy, it still ends the series on such a clever and heartfelt note. Much as how the Academy rewarded the brilliance of The Lord of the Rings trilogy by handing the Best Picture Oscar to The Return of the King in 2004, the same should be done to Nolan's phenomenal crime saga that's effortlessly disguised as a comic book movie franchise. Anything less than a Best Director win for Christopher Nolan come next February would be a travesty.
Before I continue with this review, I'll just post a quick disclaimer about major plot points being discussed in this entry. In other words: Spoiler Alert. Watching 2005's Batman Begins will now have a different feel since The Dark Knight Rises borrows a ton of elements from Nolan's first Caped Crusader film. From the League of Shadows and Ra's al Ghul (plus his daughter...more on that soon) to the flashback scene in Batman Begins where Jim Gordon lays a coat over a young Bruce Wayne's shoulders after his parents were gunned down in a dark alley, The Dark Knight Rises brings the trilogy full circle by revisiting the movie that started it all. In fact, The Dark Knight Rises not only revisits Nolan's first Batman flick, it greatly expands on what made that film memorable. (Example: Cillian Murphy returns as the sinister Dr. Jonathan Crane. Although not dressed like the Scarecrow as he did in the last 2 movies, Crane still wreaks havoc on Gotham citizens in a way that makes The Dark Knight Rises' main villain, Bane, watch with approval.)
In terms of the characters, Christian Bale was both resourceful and intense as Bruce Wayne and Batman. His scenes with Alfred Pennyworth, played with an Oscar-caliber performance by Michael Caine, were definitely the most heartfelt in the movie. To see Bruce Wayne's butler/father figure plead—with tears in his eyes—to his young maestro not to don Batman's cowl again and battle criminals after an 8-year hiatus following the death of Harvey Dent in 2008's The Dark Knight, was incredibly moving. This scene has a satisfying payoff at the end of the film, when Alfred is at an Italian café (which he frequented often during the 7 years Bruce Wayne was absent from Gotham City during the timeline of Batman Begins, in the hopes that Alfred would one day run into the young billionaire) and sees that Bruce has finally decided to live the life his parents always wanted him to have.
Anne Hathaway—who plays Selina Kyle and Catwoman (though this moniker is never mentioned on film)—completely shined in this role. Not only did Hathaway convey sexiness and wry sarcastic humor as the cat burglar, but she also showed that she was physically up to the task of kicking ass and taking names while wearing dark heels and a black high-tech mask and outfit. She had some of the best scenes in the movie...including being the one who dispatches Bane at the end of the flick (more on the Man Who Broke The Bat later), and also being the only one to leave Batman hanging in a conversation by quietly vanishing when his back is turned. "So that's what that feels like," Batman dryly says in this humorous scene. Commissioner Gordon and Harvey Dent would nod their heads in response.
Commissioner Jim Gordon, once again played with aplomb by Gary Oldman, was just as heroic in The Dark Knight Rises as he's always been since comforting Bruce Wayne following the deaths of his parents, and then using Batman's Tumbler to put an end to Ra's al Ghul's nefarious plan in Batman Begins. In The Dark Knight Rises, Jim Gordon is lying on a bed inside a hospital for much of the movie...after being shot by a mercenary working for Bane. (As mentioned above, more on the Man Who Broke The Bat in the next paragraph.) Although Gordon is bed-ridden, he has a loyal police officer named John Blake, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, patrolling the streets of Gotham for him. Gordon-Levitt plays Blake with a level of heroism that rivals that of Bruce Wayne when he's in the Bat suit, which greatly pays off at the end of the movie. Morgan Freeman, as Lucious Fox, once again shines as the character responsible for giving Wayne the gadgets he needs to fight crime (including the new aerial assault vehicle that is The Bat)...while there is more than meets the eye to Marion Cotillard's Wayne Enterprises board member, Miranda Tate. The twist that involves Tate at the end of the film, when she reveals to a wounded Batman (whom Tate stabbed with a knife just as the Dark Knight was about to defeat Bane) that she is Ra's al Ghul's daughter, Talia, should have been seen from ten miles away. However, Nolan conveys the whole "hidden in plain sight" motif with Miranda's secret identity in such a clever way that even die-hard Batman fans (like myself) were caught by surprise when the revelation was revealed. This is especially true after Marion Cotillard vehemently denied in interviews earlier this year that she played the child of Liam Neeson's League of Shadows leader. Talk about keeping your poker face on.
In terms of the bad guy who ravaged Gotham for much of the film, Bane is simply awesome. Played in such a cool but intimidating manner by Tom Hardy, that fight scene between Bane and Batman in the sewer was totally intense, and it was even more intense to see the masked man take punches by Batman a lot less severely than Heath Ledger's Joker did in The Dark Knight. In fact, when Bane completely overwhelms the Caped Crusader with physical might and then lifts Batman into the air moments before breaking the hero's back, that's when I knew that Nolan was at the top of his game here. To see Bane actually break the Bat, like he did in the 1993 Knightfall series, shows that Nolan was just as focused in being loyal to the bad guy's comic book origins as he was trying to keep The Dark Knight Rises grounded in reality as much as possible. And for those of you who haven't seen the flick yet but caught the IMAX preview of the movie in front of Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol last December, yes... Nolan did fix Bane's voice in the film. You can understand what he is saying 99% of the time in The Dark Knight Rises.
Dealing with small nitpicks that I have with the final Batman flick, I have only a few: 1.) How did Bruce Wayne return to Gotham City after making his way out of the pit (which was in another country thousands of miles across the ocean) that Bane condemned him to after breaking Batman's back? Especially after Wayne became penniless thanks to Bane's earlier attack on Gotham's Stock Exchange, thus preventing Wayne from presumably affording a plane ticket home. 2.) Was the TV set that Bane put in Wayne's prison cell so that Wayne could watch Gotham reduced to "ashes" always there? And how did the TV get reception when there was no satellite dish within the pit or outside of it in the shot where Wayne emerges and makes his escape? Did the League of Shadows order Verizon FiOS for the inmates stuck at the bottom of the pit? I kid. 3.) How could The Bat fly when its rotor was located below the aircraft instead of the top like a normal helicopter? I'm not an aerospace engineer, but the design seems impractical...though still friggin' awesome. And how far away was The Bat when the nuclear bomb went off at the film's climax? Apparently, it could withstand severe electromagnetic pulses. 4.) How much time did Batman spend spraying gasoline to that bridge tower to create the fiery Bat symbol for all of Gotham to see? And 5.) How does Bane eat (since his mask is surgically attached to his face)? I assume he gets nutrients intravenously—though he would have to consume substantial amounts of protein-laced liquid to get as big and muscular as he is in The Dark Knight Rises. FYI, only 2 of these 5 (multiple) questions are worth thinking about...the rest are, how should I say, facetious.
So all-in-all, The Dark Knight Rises is a great film. Continuing the streak that started with his 2008 masterpiece (and proceeding with his 2010 Best Picture nominee, Inception), Christopher Nolan sure knows how to end his movies on such spectacular and epic notes. From the twist that Miranda Tate is Talia al Ghul and John Blake taking Bruce Wayne's place as the hero Gotham City deserves (though I personally prefer that Blake was alluded to as Azrael and not Robin, but the non-die-hard moviegoers wouldn't know who the golden-armored Angel of Death is), to the feel-good scene where Alfred—who in a few shots earlier was mourning the supposed death of Bruce Wayne—smiles as he discovers that the billionaire has chosen a normal life (dining with Selina Kyle at the Italian café) after saving Gotham one more time, The Dark Knight Rises indeed completes this comic book trilogy in grand fashion. Going back to Blake... When we see him enter the Batcave for the first time and then rises atop that platform before the movie cuts to ends credits, well— You know that Warner Bros. now faces the tough task of creating another Batman film that will at least be a fraction as epic as the ones that Nolan, who along with Christian Bale is calling it quits from this critically-acclaimed series, presented to us since 2005. Good luck to the director who'll succeed Nolan in making the Dark Knight rise again.
THE DARK KNIGHT RISES Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars. ****1/2