Thursday, July 26, 2012

"The Dark Knight Rises", An Epic Finale

The Dark Knight Rises
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Written by Christopher Nolan and Jonathan Nolan
Produced by Emma Thomas, Christopher Nolan and Charles Roven
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Studio: Legendary Pictures / DC Comics / Syncopy Films

If you haven't seen the film, read no further.

The Dark Knight Rises... The finale to Christopher Nolan's game-changing Batman film trilogy, another huge moment we've all been waiting for...

Nolan already broke new ground with the first film of the trilogy, Batman Begins. A psychological look into the character of Bruce Wayne that mixed darkness, a rooted in reality tone and a story that had no camp, Batman Begins was a new take on what a superhero film could be. The Dark Knight was not only a fantastic sequel, but it functioned as its own film, a tense crime drama with multiple subplots that was held together by Heath Ledger's performance as the Joker. What can be said that hasn't been said about Ledger's performance? Aside from the Joker, character development was everywhere, the story tapped into some post-9/11 themes, and also gave us some incredible action sequences.

Batman Begins was part character study, part origins story. The Dark Knight was an escalating and sometimes chaotic crime drama. What is The Dark Knight Rises? It's an apocalyptic film, one that starts out modest and quiet. Eight years have gone by since Bruce Wayne took the blame for Harvey Dent's actions. Commissioner Gordon continues to keep Dent's actions a secret, as Gotham is in a better state than it ever was under the Dent Act. Wayne lays low, and hasn't gone back to the cape and cowl.

As all this is going on, a new threat to Gotham slowly creeps in while the city is in peace. Bane, played by Tom Hardy (Inception), is an intimidating terrorist who seeks to fulfill the dreams of Ra's al Ghul: Destroy Gotham and restore balance to the world through means of genocide. Bane is a good villain, but he's ultimately Ra's al Ghul Mach II, but he becomes even weaker when we realize that he's a mere pawn for Ra's al Ghul's daughter, Talia al Ghul (played by Marion Cotillard). Still, he's interesting because, physically, he's a huge threat to Batman. He is so powerful that Gotham collapses under his watch, in more ways than it did under The Joker's.

Despite the fact that Batman can't return, he must. Lucius Fox helps convince Wayne that the Batman must come back ("But let me show you some stuff"). Wayne also gets entangled with the sly cat burglar Selina Kyle (played by Anne Hathaway), as the film doesn't refer to her as Catwoman. Sometimes Hathaway's lines can be a bit corny ("Cat got your tongue?"), but the character holds the first act together while also delivering a lighter side to the brooding story.

However, The Dark Knight Rises' first act is not unique. In fact it feels rather derivative of Batman Begins. What made The Dark Knight work so well was that it looked and felt like a different film, it felt like it was its own entity. The story was different, the presence of the Joker and the powerful Hans Zimmer/James Newton Howard score, everything in it distinguished it from Batman Begins. The first act of this film (and it's lengthy at times) has no special vibe to it. It doesn't hurt the film as much, as everything in the first act is well-written. The story takes some time to really chug, which helps and hurts the film. Importantly, we get to know more about Selina Kyle and John Blake (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a cop whose enthusiasm adds more to an unusually lighthearted side of the story.

The Dark Knight Rises makes a complete 180-degree turn when Batman encounters Bane for the first time, a fight which lands Batman in a pit somewhere far away with a broken back. Of course, Bane was famous for breaking the Bat in the comics (the Knightfall story arc), so this scene was certainly one thing most viewers were looking forward to seeing. From there, The Dark Knight Rises takes on an apocalyptic and grim tone that completely blows the first act away. All the lightheartedness brought by Selina and John Blake is drowned in blackness. From there, Bane goes through with his plans and Gotham becomes a bleak nightmare.

Bane really does a number on Gotham, from having multiple buildings and bridges blown up to revealing the truth about Harvey Dent to the people. Criminals run the city, and the police are trapped underground. Batman's return is glorious and epic, from his climb out of the pit to the moment he shows up when Gordon is forced to walk the thin ice of the river surrounding the city. From there, all out chaos ensues. It's a final battle that goes to ridiculous heights (ones I wouldn't expect in a Christopher Nolan film!) yet they are pulled off with great restraint. Batman zooming around the city in a gigantic flying machine (appropriately called "The Bat") while heat-seeking missiles pursue him sounds like something you'd see in a big, mindless summer blockbuster, but here, it works. You feel the excitement, as each missile fails to hit his plane. In terms of action, The Dark Knight Rises thrills without ever going too far. The third act is just action scene after action scene that are both fun and intense.

With all of these great strengths, The Dark Knight Rises still has its faults. Aside from a rather ho-hum first act that's a little too familiar, there are a few problems with the villains. Bane of course, while intimidating and verbally frightening, still isn't as interesting as The Joker or any of the previous villains in the series. Talia al Ghul's reveal is rushed, it almost sucks the brilliance out of the film's climax. Again, everything felt like "the revenge of Ra's al Ghul" more than anything. The Joker was unique, Harvey Dent/Two Face was unique, the Scarecrow was unique. Bane on the other hand, despite having the brains and the brutes, isn't as compelling. What's his real beef with Bruce? Not much. In the comics (from what I understand), Batman represents the demonic bats he had nightmares about. Here, he's just a former League of Shadows extremist who was raised differently with not much to have against Bruce.

Another small problem is his voice. At times, it's genuinely intimidating. When he's raising his voice, it's a little on the hammy side. There was always an issue over his voice. When the film's 6-minute prologue was shown in 70mm IMAX theaters in front of Brad Bird's excellent Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, people complained about his voice being too muffled. People complained they couldn't understand him. Now that the film is out, some people are complaining and prefer the prologue voice. Having only heard the prologue voice, I don't have a problem with either. The voice in the film is good at times, other times it isn't. Had they kept the original voice, there probably would've been times where it sounded awful while at other times, it would sound fine.

What else doesn't work? The pacing is off in the first act, as the film tends to bide its time until the scene where Batman encounters Bane. Other characters such as Wayne Enterprises rival John Daggett and a friend of Selina's named Jenn often feel like they have been shoehorned into the film. Another weakness is the ending, which is now the subject of hot debate. The Dark Knight Rises gives us an ambiguous conclusion. Did Bruce actually survive the explosion? Or was Alfred simply dreaming it? Who knows. This kind of ending worked in Inception, here, it just feels a bit forced. If Nolan wanted to kill off Bruce, he should've just done it. If Nolan wanted Bruce to survive, okay then, let him live.

Flaws and faults aside, The Dark Knight Rises is another addition to the hall of fame for "third films". It's a bit weaker than its predecessors, but it's no doubt a fantastic film with everything that made the first two films work. It was unusual at moments, but it's still enthralling, well-shot and the score by Hans Zimmer does not disappoint. (when does he ever?) It ends Nolan's vision of the caped crusader on a satisfying note.


Trailer Recap
This review is a bit late, since I saw this four days ago in "Lie-MAX". (in case you don't know what that is, that's basically the nickname for IMAX Digital, which is still great but it's not the real deal) We got five trailers.

Skyfall - This was a newer trailer, one that was less chaotic. It also opened with "IMAX presents..." Overall, a very good trailer. Looking forward to seeing 007 return. (Opens November 9th)

Resident Evil: Retribution - Like I said in my review of The Amazing Spider-Man, this film looks stupid. Not familiar with the games, but this film just looks like your typical CGI fest. Actually, in 3D, this trailer was somewhat better since this was shot in 3D. Doesn't change the fact that the movie doesn't look good. (Opens September 14th)

Oz: The Great and Powerful - This looks really good. The visuals are very nice and have an Alice in Wonderland vibe to them. Overall, it looks like it'll be worth seeing in theaters. (Opens March 8th)

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - Same trailer that I've seen for the past few months. (Opens December 14th)

Man of Steel - This trailer has gotten a lot of mixed reception. I for one didn't really mind it, I actually really liked the final scene in the trailer. Otherwise, it was an alright trailer. I'd be interested to see how Zach Snyder and Christopher Nolan pull it off. (Opens June 14th)



  1. Great review! I absolutely loved the film, and must admit that Bane isn't as compelling a villain as Joker, but I've got a soft spot for the latter, and I don't think anyone could ever top Heath's brilliance. As it stands, Bane is a still a great villain on his own and a lot scarier in my view. I especially loved the twist with John Blake at the end!

    One other thing, I think Bruce did survive, especially when Lucius finds out the bit about the auto pilot.

  2. Yeah I never thought Alfred was dreaming or that it was implyed that he really didn't die. I felt like Christopher Nolan flat out told us he was alive.

  3. When I first read the headline, I thought it said "The Dark Knight Rises: An Epic Fail" :S