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Friday, July 20, 2012

Movie Review: The Dark Knight Rises

In 2005, director Christopher Nolan presented a new perspective on one of the most beloved comic book heroes of all time: Batman. With the film Batman Begins, Nolan reinvented the character and gave a darker and more realistic tone to the Batman origin story. With actor Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne/Batman, portraying a much more believable and human character as he embarks on a journey to become The Dark Knight after his parents murder. Batman Begins was a huge success both critically and in the box office. With the teaser of the arrival of  The Joker at the end of the movie, fans eagerly awaited the sequel. With The Dark Knight (2008), Nolan re-introduced Batman's arch-enemy: The Joker, as played by Heath Ledger, whose unique and disturbing depiction resonated deeply with fans and critics. Unfortunately, the untimely death of Heath Ledger occurred six months before the release of the movie. Although his death had a huge impact on the release, the aggressive, viral advertising campaign by the studio made the movie a huge success. (Read my review!) While a third movie was in the works, it was admitted that Christopher Nolan was hesitant about returning to the franchise, but agreed to come back to conclude the series with the help of his brother Jonathan Nolan and David S. Goyer who also helped to write the screenplay.
The Dark Knight Rises takes place eight years after the events of The Dark Knight when Batman took the blame for the death of D.A. Harvey Dent (
Aaron Eckhart) a.k.a. Two-Face. Since that time, the Batman has disappeared but Gotham City has enforced the new Dent Act which helped to rid the city of organized crime. While Commissioner Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) is conflicted in revealing the truth about Harvey Dent, Gotham honors the anniversary of his death with "Harvey Dent Day". Bruce Wayne, having given-up being Batman, has now become a feeble recluse, injured and having to use a cane. With the arrival of the mercenary Bane, Bruce must face him as Batman once again in order to save Gotham from chaos and destruction. After his fall, now he must rise as Batman returns better than ever to confront his most dangerous and formidable adversary yet!
In The Dark knight Rises we are introduced to four new characters: one is Officer John Blake (
Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who at first seems like an ancillary character representing the new guard of Gotham's police force, but who later becomes an important figure in the plot. The new "love-interest" for Bruce Wayne is Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), a wealthy investor working on a clean energy project. The Dark Knight Rises marks the return of Batman's most popular femme fatale: Catwoman! Anne Hathaway plays Selina Kyle, a talented jewel thief, dubbed a "Cat" burglar in the news. Although she is never actually called "Catwoman" in the movie, her black cat-suit and cat-like mask makes it obvious. Catwoman previously appeared in Batman Returns (1992) played by Michelle Pfeiffer and also laughably by Halle Berry in Catwoman (2004). While Pfeiffer's Catwoman was a more supernaturally endowed, sultry/sexy Catwoman, Hathaway's Catwoman is much more subtle and realistic, but with a strong, independent, confidence.
Tom Hardy as Bane
The most anticipated of characters is the introduction of the villain Bane, played by (Tom Hardy), Bane is a mysterious mercenary, bent on the destruction of Gotham City. The character of Bane, who is a more modern Batman villain having broken Batman's back in the "Knightfall" storyline during the 1990's, had also previously appeared briefly in the campy Batman & Robin (1997) played by Jeep Swenson, a former WCW wrestler who coincidentally died shortly after the release of the movie. The Dark Knight Rises' Bane is a much more menacing and imposing villain, with an odd face-mask that electronically modulates his voice. Whereas the comic book Bane merely wore a Mexican-wrestler mask and was fueled by the steroid-like drug "Venom" (also in the Joel Schumacher movie), this Bane has a very strong Darth Vader-like presence. His role as a crime-boss/terrorist/mercenary is a much more believable and realistic antagonist. The final battle between Bane and Batman is an intense moment as Bane has literally taken Gotham hostage, threatening to destroy it with a nuclear bomb. The new Bane has met with a lot of speculation and criticism from the beginning since the first teaser trailers and we first heard the "muffled" words of Tom Hardy's character. While his face-mask is both intended as functional and visually striking. The practicality of it however, seems somewhat bizarre as Bane often has very long and articulate dialogue which is often very hard to understand at times. Also, the bizarre inflections of his voice makes his words seem both melodramatic and threatening at the same time. Unlike the previous movie Bane, this Bane is presented more like the comic book version as a highly-intelligent, articulate and extraordinarily strong character. As with the introduction of The Joker in The Dark Knight (2008), (which is never mentioned once in The Dark Knight Rises, either out of respect to Heath Ledger or to not take focus off of the purveying plot of the trilogy.) The introduction of Bane is particularly unique and suspenseful, it involves a botched CIA plane ride where Bane has already made a name for himself in the underground and a desperate CIA agent attempts to reveal bane's identity and his plans but to no avail. It is somewhat disturbing and confusing to discover Bruce Wayne's fate after the events of The Dark Knight, where once stood a confident and powerful man, now is a broken, disheveled, shut-in making us wonder how he could have ever been The Dark Knight at all. Surprisingly Anne Hathaway's portrayal of Catwoman is very close to both the modern Catwoman and "Year One" Catwoman. She is constantly playing off Batman as both an ally and an enemy, which is what makes her character interesting and a fan-favorite. As a fan I think my favorite aspect of this movie is how the story comes together full circle, referencing the events of the first film, particularly the plot involving Ra's al Ghul (Liam Neeson), who is my favorite Batman villain.
Anne Hathaway as Catwoman
The Dark Knight Rises is the final chapter in Christopher Nolan's "Dark Knight Trilogy". Like the third act to any epic story, The Dark Knight Rises is literally the rise after the fall. As Thomas Wayne (Linus Roache) said in Batman Begins,  "And why do we fall? So we can learn to pick ourselves up." The Dark Knight Rises is a bold, intense, edge-of-your-seat experience! It is the culmination of years of hard work from a truly devoted and remarkable director, who approached these films as a serious epic. Christopher Nolan utilized a human-centered story as well as state-of-the-art camera technology and special effects to tell a story that is both unique and thought provoking. I believe these films to be the definitive Dark Knight films. While both the Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher movies added to the Batman film canon, in attempting to capture on film both the dark side and the campiness of Batman. After Batman's 70-year-long history in many mediums, he has become more than just a comic book character; he is an idea, a symbol. To paraphrase Bruce Wayne/Christian Bale in Batman Begins as a symbol, Batman can be "incorruptible and everlasting."While Nolan's films have been a success both critically and financially there will always be those who will deride his efforts. Even before the release, this movie has been met with an enormous amount of both hype and criticism from the media, critics and fans alike. (Who Cares What Critics Think?) After seeing it I felt an enormous amount of awe and relief that this trilogy has successfully come to an end. Not since the original Star Wars Trilogy or even the Indiana Jones franchise have I felt that a film franchise has met the expectations of it's responsibility to the movie-goers and fans. In an age where comic-book movies have dominated the box-office and set trends in Hollywood for the last decade and all other franchises have met with disappointment in the end to their respective trilogies. As with Blade: Trinity (2004), X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) and Spider-Man 3 (2007), and even further back with the original Superman franchise with Superman III (1983), have all failed miserably! But with The Dark Knight Rises, having come full-circle, I believe it can be considered to be a "perfect trilogy", bringing all three films together successfully into one epic finale!

Personal Note: I was able to see The Dark Knight Rises at the midnight screening at one of my local theaters. It is always quite an experience to go to these events. Yes the theater is packed with people; it's crammed, hot and noisy. The roar of applause and the cheer from the fans with every epic moment "brings a smile to my face"! I enjoy seeing the die-hard fans dress up in costumes both store-bought, professionally made and even amateur/half-assed. As a fan, you feel comfort and acceptance knowing you are surrounded by your fellow fans. Never would I have considered that something so positive like this could bring so much fear and uncertainty. In response to the tragedy where Gunman killed 12 people at The Dark knight Rises screening in Aurora, Colorado, in our post Columbine or 9/11 world, where can we truly consider ourselves safe? It only takes one person who chooses to act in the form of violence to make us think and realize that we have to be vigilant and careful. Any number of things could have been done to prevent this but ultimately something like this is unpredictable and it will happen. It is a harsh reminder of our reality and while it is true that life imitates art or vice-versa art cannot be blamed entirely for someone’s actions. The fact that the media is blaming the violence in the film for this act is ridiculous and I think this TIME article says it best as "Nolan does not use violence in his movie gratuitously. His message is one of economic disparity and of desperate people driven to desperate acts." We wish that there were superheroes like Batman, and in these troubled times especially. We turn to escapism and fantasy during hard times, just as depression-era children turned to Batman in the first place. We must face the fact that we can never really escape reality. Instead we learn from heroes like Batman and his message and strive to make the world a better place.