Monday, July 23, 2012

Review: The Dark Knight Rises

WARNING: **SPOILERS** AHEAD.
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"The Legend Ends."
For months the marketing for The Dark Knight Rises has prepared fans for the fact that this film definitively concludes Christopher Nolan's Batman-trilogy. After the immense success of the second film, The Dark Knight, expectations have been high and the pressure has mounted to offer the world a conclusion fit for the series.

The Dark Knight Rises is not The Dark Knight, but it's an incredible comic-book film and, to my mind, it offers a fitting end to this superb series.

So many things in the film are done well. Perhaps its two greatest successes came with the new characters of Bane (Tom Hardy) and Selina Kyle, more popularly known as Catwoman (Anne Hathaway). Movie-goers already knew what to expect from Christian Bale, Michael Caine, & co., while Heath Ledger's role in the second film was critically acclaimed long before its release, so with Bane and Catwoman fans faced an unprecedented and critical X factor. Hardy and Hathaway (and casting director John Papsidera) do not disappoint.

Without a doubt, Bane lacks anything of the presence and dynamism of Ledger's Joker--but this comes as no surprise, given the difference between the two characters and the fact that Hardy spends the film encased in a nearly-full facial mask. There's only so much an actor can do with his eyes and cheekbones. His voice was also heavily modulated, which I'd imagine limited Hardy even more. (And those of you who saw Conan O'Brien's parody of Bane a few months back can relax; the filmmakers clearly took notice.) All of that aside, Hardy made an excellent Bane. He was massive and, correcting one of many, many errors in Batman and Robin (1997), clearly intelligent. There was also a ferocity to him which came out most clearly in his final confrontation with Batman, in a brief moment when all of his strength and speed were unleashed with a snarl and fury, and you realized just how terrifying this villain was.
The initial decision to cast Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle left many fans skeptical, but I'd be surprised if most of the doubters haven't been converted now. Her relationship with Wayne/Batman was playful, yet kept sight of the hard realities of their world. She was simultaneously credible as a cat burglar, as a maximum-security inmate, and as a subtle and crafty schemer, a nomad getting by with her wits. The filmmakers also managed to make her combat sequences believable, and they captured the spirit of traditional Catwoman garb in the dark, sleek, and functional style of these films--as they've done so successfully with so many characters throughout. There was so much room for error here, and the film delivers at every point.

Still, on the whole, I felt that the movie suffered from over-ambitious writing. Clocking in at 2 hours and 44 minutes, The Dark Knight Rises was filled to the brim and, at times, spilling over. Several issues in the film, such as what purpose Bane's mask serves or why the villains even implement this plan in Gotham at all, are explained briefly and by characters with odd voices, leaving many things less than clear as the movie goes on. Much of it is well done--I was entirely surprised by the sudden reveal of Talia al Ghul, for instance--yet too much of it is done at all, too many plot lines, too many characters, and the film is consequently much less coherent than its predecessors. That's not to say that it is incoherent, but simply that it's difficult for an audience to make all of the connections in one viewing.
I'm also left wondering at the film's ending, namely the last two or three minutes. I had just acclimated myself to the idea that Bruce Wayne was killed in the final battle when Alfred sits at that table and spies Bruce across the crowd. It wasn't until much later that I realized why this scene didn't sit well with me: Bruce Wayne would not run off to Florence to enjoy life as long as Gotham City exists. He hadn't given Gotham everything yet--he'd only staged what appeared to be the final, greatest sacrifice. I think the vision of an aged Wayne, still obsessing over the safety of his city, fighting crime vicariously through a young protege, that we saw in the cartoon series Batman Beyond actually captured this character much better. Perhaps that glimpse of Bruce and Selina at the restaurant was just Alfred's wishful thinking; with this series wrapped up, we'll never know.

Despite its faults, I have to say, again, that The Dark Knight Rises is as fine an ending to the Batman-trilogy as I could have hoped for. It brings resolution to both of the previous films--some resolution that I didn't even realize I was waiting on. In some ways it played the same role as Return of the Jedi in the Star Wars-trilogy: it followed immediately on the developments of the second installment, settling the accounts, while also reviving and finally resolving the dangers of the first film (and all of this without musical sequences or Ewoks!). In both cases I was left satisfied. The merciless judgment of Ra's al Ghul and the murderous chaos of the Joker are visited on Gotham once again, like a tidal wave sweeping across the city, and the Dark Knight, presses on relentlessly against all the fury and destruction, broken yet unbending, and utterly captivating, as these films have taught us to expect.

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The Dark Knight Rises is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some sensuality and language. There is certainly violence throughout the film, but it is not gruesome like the knives, pencils, and burn victims of the previous installment--this is more akin to the hand-to-hand combat featured prominently in the recent Bourne films.

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