Monday, July 9, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises reunites Christopher Nolan with Christian Bale (Bruce Wayne/Batman); Michael Caine (Alfred); Morgan Freeman (Lucius Fox); and Gary Oldman (Police Commissioner Jim Gordon).  Joining the cast is Anne Hathaway as daring thief Selina Kyle/Catwoman.  However, it is the new characters that haven't previously been featured in any of the Batman films that provide the most mystery.  Who are the “Inception” co-stars: Tom Hardy (Bane); Marion Cotillard (Miranda Tate); and Joseph Gordon-Levitt (John Blake)?  Saying too much about each of these characters would spoil it for most, but to those that are fans of the comics you can pretty much guess where the story will turn. 
Christopher Nolan's conclusion to story arc comes after Bruce Wayne overcame his emotional and psychological difficulties in "Batman Begins" (2005); and hit its stride with "The Dark Knight" (2008) where the Caped Crusader handled the mental challenge of the Joker; and now the most physical of challenges is presented by Bane.  Completing a trilogy can be difficult, but Christopher Nolan brought the Dark Knight story to a conclusion that began and ends with The League of Shadows.  
The story begins eight years after the action of “The Dark Knight”, with Batman vanished from the scene and vilified as a criminal for killing Harvey Dent.  Bruce Wayne is now a limping, emotionally shattered recluse that is forced back into action as the mercenary Bane plans to destroy Gotham City and finish what Ra’s Al Ghul and the League of Shadows started. 
The performances in the film are all exactly what you expect.  Having portrayed the title character over three films, Christian Bale is able to balance the emotional and psychological limits of Bruce Wayne, with the physical demands of being Batman.  Christian Bale has given the character so many layers that the viewer might even have a tear for the conclusion of the film as we are fully invested into everything Bruce Wayne stands for.
Christopher Nolan has embraced the full rogue gallery of villains in all the films and continues with Bane.  While Bane is not as widely known to the non-comic book fans, he is extremely important to the story of Batman.  To incorporate him into the series there were some alternations to his back story that worked for me.  There was only a quick discussion of why Bane has a mask (relieves pain), and you do see the impact of it being damaged.  For all the concerns that you cannot understand what he is saying, don't worry about it.  The only time I had difficulties in understanding what Bane was saying wasn't because of the effect on the voice, but instead the amazing score provided by Hans Zimmer was a bit loud at times.  Tom Hardy’s performance is as physical as you expect it to be after seeing him in “Warrior” (2011) and “Bronson” (2008).  Bane is a tactical genius with a complex master plan that nullifies the police, and breaks Gotham in a way The Joker never even threatened to do in The Dark Knight.  Whereas Heath Ledger’s persona sought to create chaos, and prove that people can do terrible things when pushed to the limits by mental stress, Bane seeks to destroy Gotham physically, blowing up large sections of the city with explosives, destroying all access points and burying the city’s police force beneath its streets.
Christopher Nolan’s version of Selina Kyle is much closer to the comic books than what the previous films and TV versions ever provided.  The Catwoman is never referred to by name, but she is a cat burglar for hire and a grifter that views herself as a self-serving Robin Hood.  Selina Kyle’s backstory is not addressed, but she clearly is operating in the grey area between good and evil.  Her relationship with Holly (Juno Temple) is everything I was hoping it would be as she protects her from men.  Even though only a small role, Juno Temple is excellent as well.  Anne Hathaway has stepped away from the days of having a Princess Diary, and much like her performance in “Love and Other Drugs” she finds her mark in the fringes of her beauty.
John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is an officer that lost both his parents as a child and has fought the urge to be angry at the world for similar things that have plagued Bruce Wayne.  As a detective he has been able to determine the identity of Batman as Bruce Wayne and stands for everything that the Batman stands for in protecting the citizens of Gotham City.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt has been one of my favorite actors for nearly a decade now and he is excellent.  By the end of the film it is clear that he is not Dick Grayson, Jason Todd or Tim Drake, but anything more would be a spoiler. 

Marion Cotillard for me was a bit of a disappointment.  Where her character goes is not really a surprise, but how she gets there was a bit of a letdown.  As Miranda Tate, she is on the board of executives for Wayne Enterprises and must take a controlling interest in the company.  However, making her a love interest for Bruce Wayne without the chemistry came across as forced.   The revelation of her as Talia al Ghul is genuinely shocking, but the seasoned Bat-fan probably guessed at the twist a long time before it happened.  She is critical to the story of Bruce Wayne, but how we get there was not as fulfilling as the surprises that came from previous films.  Marion Cotillard is an amazing actress, but is not provided with the opportunity show it. 
The performances from Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman are little more than a cameo as well, but still provide the emotional and technological support to Bruce Wayne to help him in the early parts of the film return to the cowl and be the symbol that Gotham City needs.  Liam Neeson reprises his role as Ra’s Al Ghul, but saying anything more will spoil it for everyone.  Not to be forgotten in this film are the escaped criminals including Dr. Crane/Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy) who serves as the judge in the apocalyptic Gotham City that Bane has created.  While his cameo appearance is small, it is none the less powerful in his performance.   
I didn't have a movie blog prior to 2010, but if I did "Batman Begins" would have received 4 Quacks and "The Dark Knight" would have received 5 Quacks.  Taking the full series into consideration, I think that "The Dark Knight Rises" will hold up equally with the other films.  This is a dark adult tale told by a masterful filmmaker who knows how to balance the necessary action with character development and relationships, which is why it is a 5 Quack film for me.
A lot of speculation has been made that this will be the last Batman film, but if you read between the lines of some of the interviews that Christopher Nolan has provided, I personally think he is suggesting that it is only the last Dark Knight film, but not the last Batman film.  There are several story arcs remaining for Christopher Nolan and without completely spoiling the ending there is certainly an open door.  And if there is another film, what villains would you like to see (leave in comments below)?

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