Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises (2012) Review

The Dark Knight Rises

With death threats towards negative critics and the tragic shooting in Colorado, I would be lying if I didn’t say my anticipation for “The Dark Knight Rises” had all but dissipated. The excitement had dialed down, and eventually I thought, “I’ll just see it when I see it.” Finally I came around to it on my beach vacation in a small theater without the massive crowd that would otherwise annoy me, so I could just relax and watch without distraction. As I walked out of the theater, an overwhelming sense of finality swept over me, as I realized that regardless of any minor speed bumps along the way, Christopher Nolan brought his interpretation of Batman full circle to an incredibly satisfying close.

In the eight years since the events of “The Dark Knight,” Harvey Dent has become immortalized as a hero of Gotham, allowing the Harvey Dent Act to be created and basically wipe most of the organized criminals off of the streets. During this time, Bruce Wayne feels that he has accomplished what he set out to do (find someone to “replace” Batman), and has retired the cowl while becoming a bit of a recluse himself. When the League of Shadows, lead by the mastermind Bane, returns to wreck vengeance on Wayne and Gotham for the death of their master Ras Al’Ghul, this forces Wayne to suit up again and put an end to them. But he has more to deal with on his hands than just Bane, as the police (Commissioner Gordon notwithstanding) have branded Batman an outlaw, and the duplicitous Selina Kyle (a.k.a. Catwoman) is working on twisting both sides for her own benefit.


Ever since “Batman Begins,” director Christopher Nolan (along with co-writers Jonathon Nolan and David S. Goyer) has been developing the idea of Batman as a symbol, something that can go beyond simple crime fighting as a man and inspire others to do good also. This opportunity arrived with Harvey Dent in “The Dark Knight,” which seems to have worked even if the Joker temporarily mucked things up by turning him evil. While “Rises” is much more influenced by “Begins” than “Dark Knight,” the efforts of Gordon and Batman to hide Dent’s malicious doings come back to haunt them.

While the film spends a lot of time with it’s ensemble cast, the focus is definitely on Bruce Wayne’s arc as he works himself back into shape towards the path of Batman’s redemption. This is a franchise best performance from Christian Bale on display, as he painfully navigates through the emotional and physical torments the character goes through, and “Rises” isn’t afraid to put its hero through the ringer at his lowest possible point. What sets the film apart from its intimidating predecessor is in the structure of its plot, building towards a final 40 minutes of action and catharsis rather than employ nonstop tension like the Joker’s exploits caused.


Even though I’ve name-checked the Joker about a couple times now, “Rises” makes absolutely no mention of the tricky Clown Prince of Crime. There’s no telling how this final chapter would have played out had Heath Ledger not passed away, but Tom Hardy is more than capable of taking over the villainous duties. Sporting an eccentric accent and the immense muscle mass left over from “Warrior,” Hardy creates an engaging adversary through both smart intellect and sheer brute force. Bane is also the first villain since Ras that can go toe-to-toe with Batman, and the times they match blows are easily the best fisticuffs in the whole series. Nolan has significantly stepped up his game in the action department since the awkwardly constructed set pieces of “Batman Begins,” and every punch and kick comes through with bone-crunching intensity while the mostly practical effects sell the spectacle of the vehicular action. The Bat-Pod makes a great return, but it’s The Bat, which is essentially Nolan’s version of the Batwing, that steals the show as it rumbles through Gotham in the extended action climax.

As the stakes escalate and Bane holds the entire city hostage, Batman cannot handle everything all by himself and reluctantly must turn to Selina for some help. Selina is a true enigma, armed with only razor-edged high heels and sharp intuition, she’s only out for herself as she straddles the line between being on the wrong side of the law and becoming a heroine. It’s a tricky double act to pull off, and Anne Hathaway uncannily switches between faux vulnerability and being in total control as fast as a finger snap. She exudes the sex appeal inherent in the character without hamming it up like Michelle Pfieffer’s incarnation, and consistently steals her scenes even against heavyweights like Bale. If there is a fault, it’s that with so much going on in the plot, the relationship between her and Bruce doesn’t get the attention time to breathe, especially once his character arc has to take over the story.

In the midst of all the chaos of costumed heroes and menaces is John Blake, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, a cop working under Gordon’s wing who is more useful and integral to the story than you might think. The script takes some shortcuts with Blake’s street-smart abilities (his deduction of Batman’s identity is frustratingly thin and implausible), but he eventually proves his worth. While I would love to delve into how Blake figures into the plot some more, and how it is one of the better aspects of the film, it is also a huge part of the ending that I wouldn’t want to spoil for first-timers.

This has been a long review for me because there’s just so much stuff to talk about in just this one film. That means there’s a ton of material to like and some that may not have been entirely necessary (such as Matthew Modine’s character), but once all is said and done, Christopher Nolan has brought his version of Batman to the close it has been set up for since “Batman Begins.” The legend has indeed ended with “The Dark Knight Rises,” but it will live on in some way shape or form.


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