The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

Considering the quality of both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, was there pressure for director Christopher Nolan to deliver an epic close-out film for his Batman trilogy? Reviews were somewhat mixed as Nolan's final Batman movie hit theaters last weekend, and the tragic shootings in Colorado will almost certainly hang over the film (to a point at least). If there was ever a case of ignoring reviews (other people's that is, I assume you'd take mine as the God honest truth), this is it. Not a surprise, but 2012's The Dark Knight Rises is a great film, one that gives the trilogy the send-off it deserves.

It has been eight years since Batman (Christian Bale) has taken the fall for Harvey Dent's murderous rampage, and Gotham City is better than ever. Crime has almost completely disappeared, and the city has experienced a rebirth of sorts. Hiding away at Wayne Manor, Batman/Bruce Wayne is wasting away, a recluse who hasn't appeared publicly for years. But when things seem just right -- even perfect -- for Gotham, a new terror arises, a madman in the form of mysterious and masked Bane (Tom Hardy), a criminal who vows to rock the foundation, destroying the city to rubble. Having questioned if everything/anything he ever did as Batman accomplished anything, Bruce must now decide what's best for Gotham. Let the city save itself? Or is the only thing stopping Bane the return of Batman?

First off, I have to say how impressed I was both with this final movie, but the trilogy on the whole. I rewatched the first two movies over the last week-plus before checking out 'Rises' and can very much recommend doing the same if you can. There's a continuity, a comfort level that permeates through an extended viewing of sorts. What can I say that I haven't in the other Batman reviews? Christopher Nolan is an immense talent, and I hope he continues to direct movies of this superb quality. The best description I can come up with to describe my enjoyment is hopefully simple to understand. You watch these movies -- 'Rises' especially -- and you just have that feeling you're watching what a movie should be. Not what it could be. SHOULD. Immensely entertaining, well-acted and well-written, an epic scale but also a connection on the personal level, spot-on soundtrack/musical score. Batman Begins started the ball rolling, The Dark Knight perfected the formula, and The Dark Knight Rises continues to use that formula.

What struck me most watching this newest arrival was the quality of drama here with kudos to a script from Nolan and Jonathan Nolan. I almost took it for granted, but over three movies, you honestly come to like/hate these characters, but if nothing else you get to know them. As pure drama, this is the best of the three films. It is by far the most personal of the three. Bale delivers his finest performance as the tortured Bruce Wayne, questioning what his actions accomplished while hiding away at Wayne Manor. This is an individual with inner demons that threaten to tear him apart. Buzz started circulating in the weeks prior to its release that Batman would die in this final installment (no finale spoilers here), and the darkness of the story reflects that. Batman has become the true tragic hero; an individual who genuinely wanted to do right but through his own fault, society, greed, and so many other things is forced to change, adapt and improvise. A credit to Bale for doing such a fine job with a character that could have easily been phoned in.

Using that as a jumping off point, Bale isn't on-screen for seemingly long stretches of the 164-minute movie. While Batman is the obvious key and focal point, this is also a story about the people of Gotham City. Michael Caine returns as Alfred, Bruce's butler, and hits every single note he can in a pitch-perfect performance. Three key scenes are the heart of the movie -- two with Bruce and Alfred, one with Alfred on his own -- and they are heartbreaking to watch. Didn't think you'd hear that in a Batman review, did you? Caine is so good I hope he gets some Oscar consideration for Best Supporting Actor. Gary Oldman rises to the occasion late as Commissioner Gordon, also questioning the actions he's taken and Morgan Freeman is solid as always as Wayne Enterprises engineering genius Lucius Fox. One other smaller new addition is Matthew Modine as one of Gordon's fellow high-ranking police officers.

Then there's the rest of the cast, Nolan seemingly trying to put together Inception 2: The Reckoning. Tom Hardy has some epic shoes to fill, following Heath Ledger's performance as The Joker, and he's quite capable of that. It's not fair to compare the part to the Joker, but there is similarities. Hardy's Bane is all business, all chaos, all anarchy. He's a bear of a man, like a caged but highly intelligent animal. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a scene-stealer as John Blake, a Gotham police officer who grows increasingly frustrated with the limitations of his badge. Marion Cotillard plays Miriam Tate, a rich philanthropist trying to work with Wayne Enterprises to create a powerful sustainable energy force. Anne Hathaway holds her own as well, putting in a memorable turn as Selina Kyle, a master thief dubbed 'the Cat' but never actually dubbed Catwoman. SEMI SPOILERS ABOUT CASTING In the surprise department, look for Liam Neeson and Cillian Murphy briefly reprising their roles from the previous Batman entries. END OF SPOILERS A great cast though from top to bottom. 

Some reviews pointed to the rather twisty-turny early portions of the story as a detriment to the end result, and I go both ways here. Through the first hour, we're not always sure of what's going on or even where the story is heading. Characters and some background are introduced and dealt with, but it's all laying the groundwork. When the knock-out punch does come, all I can say...brace yourself. The final 45-60 minutes threw me for a loop, but in a good way. It is everything epic you would hope a final showdown to be; in this case, Bane turning Gotham City into a city cut off from the rest of the world and threatening to destroy it all, killing 12 million people in the process. If you struggle with the early pacing, stick with it. The pay-off in the end is incredibly worth it in so many ways.

As I mentioned, this is a movie that has it all. The finale packs the biggest action punch, but an earlier motorcycle chase through the city following a Bane robbery is also highly memorable, as is Bane's takeover of the city with an abundance of explosives taking out bridges and even a quasi-NFL game. The dialogue is spot-on too, especially the scenes with Bale and Caine. On pure drama, it's hard to beat Bane's backstory (quick though it is), but also how Batman deals with solving the identical problem the mysteriously masked villain had to figure out. And then there's the ending. Should it come as a surprise that it is basically the perfect way to close out the trilogy? Hans Zimmer's musical score is solid throughout, but it's at its best in the final montage as everything is wrapped up. Two different twists make the ending a little surprising, but mostly? It's an appropriate dramatic and emotional ending for all involved.

Well, here we are. I'm sorry to see this trilogy go. As far as superhero movies go (and I struggle limiting these to just superhero movies), they've set the bar as high as they can. All other future efforts will be compared to these films, and I can't think of a better compliment to a director, cast and crew for turning out such a quality finished product. A classic on par with The Dark Knight, if not a slightly, tiny bit better.

The Dark Knight Rises <---trailer (2012): ****/****

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