Monday, August 6, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

It was a fair bet that the last movie in Chris Nolan's Batman trilogy was not going to live up to the ridiculous hype of the second movie. But I think it's fair to say that, while we don't have a trilogy that measures up to only great trilogy in cinema history (Toy Story) we have a very solid finish to a very watchable trilogy.

Personally, this was probably my favorite of the three. If Nolan has a weakness—at least as far as I'm concerned—it's that his movie can be clever intellectually while not really engaging the emotion. In some ways, Insomnia is one of my favorite films of his because you really get a sense of Pacino's deterioration as the film goes on. (Plus I can relate to not having slept for long periods.)

But this was engaging on a lot of levels. There was tremendous layering and depth by a really top-notch crew of actors. The story begins several years after the last one ended with Batman having vanished, the scapegoat of the bad events of the previous film. Life is great now, with crime down and criminals being put away right-and-left thanks to the Dent act.

Gary Oldman does a fantastic job as Police Chief Gordon, who struggles every day with the lie he created for the greater good. New to this film is Nolan regular Joseph Gordon-Levitt, as the beat cop who believes in the Batman and knows what is afoot. Michael Caine's Alfred has the depth of a adoptive father, worried for the safety of his ward, far from the comic relief his character is typically associated with.

It's fair to say that, if these aren't the definitive interpretations of these characters, they are interpretations which future reboots will be measured against.

Anne Hathaway's Catwoman is particularly worthy of mention. In keeping with Nolan's hyper-realistic approach, she never really suits up and dons the mantle of "Catwoman". She's just a jewel thief. She only wears a mask at a costume party. They do this very clever trick of giving her special glasses that, when she flips up, look like ears.

She looks amazing in the jump suit—kinda have to get that out of the way up front. But she's shockingly convincing as a badass, delivering the occasional high kick and judo throw without ever getting camp.

She talks like an OWSer. I don't think Nolan was trying to make any specific political points: He's less about the OWS and more about the French Revolution, which is sort of what unfolds in Gotham during the course of the story. You can make your own parallels and draw your own conclusions; there's no reason for him to do so.

At the same time, if she's an OWSer, she's an early one, one who is horrified by the eventual climax and denouement of the revolution, like many of the people who got behind OWS at first only to later be appalled by the most noxious elements. Again, it's not necessarily an OWS commentary at all; these things happen all the time, and the OWS is just the most obvious recent similar example.

But travelling through the rubble of a once beautiful apartment, she picks up a photo and says "This was someone's home once." To which her female companion (Catwoman is totally bi, yo) replies "Now it's everyone's home." Catwoman's struggle is personal and profound, capturing the character's struggle between her sense of justice and the nagging remains of her morality.

There's an amazing sense of teamwork here, too. From Morgan Freeman's Lucius Fox and Marion Cotillard's Miranda down to Gordon and Blake (Levitt's character), I haven't mentioned the Batman his own self yet because he's just one character in this ensemble. Well, he's two: Batman and Bruce Wayne, and he's the hub around which the action takes place, though this isn't reflected all that much in screen time. (He's absent in the beginning of the film and also at the start of the third act.)

What's clear is that, unlike (especially) Burton, Nolan understands heroism. His Catwoman isn't a victim (whatever she's suffered), and each character gets a chance to be a hero, even the establishment-political-type-cop played by Matthew Modine.

Anyway, I should say Bale is beyond merely good as The Dark Knight. He seems comfortable—comfortable with the discomfort, you could say. He has less screen time in this than earlier films but he fills it well. I guess in part this is because in the earlier films, he was trading more on the past mythology of the Batman, whereas here we're looking at what he's done in the previous films, and the effect it's had both on the city and his own personal state.

Actor-wise, there are some nice touches in the form of the reappearance of Liam Neeson (as Ra's al Ghul) and Cillian Murphy (the Scarecrow). Heath Ledger's Joker is missed, but the movie is pretty well crammed—close to three hours in length, so his absence is more of a nostalgic ache than a conspicuous plot hole.

This is just the acting and characterization, and there are many other excellent points this movie: Like, getting away a little bit from the stark realistic feel of the last movie, this one really captures the imagery of the best comic book art. The initial battle between Bane and Batman is tremendous, a thrilling and horrifying spectacle with one shot directly lifted from the comic book cover. There's an excellent twist which would also be tipped if you knew your Batman—I only realized it after it happened.

Then there's music, set design—the sound mix was a little off in places, I thought, and I wasn't sure if it was deliberate, like, "It doesn't matter what they're saying."

But the biggest flaws were in this struggle that Nolan has between the comic book and the reality. I had this problem in spades with the last flick: The Batman's "no kill" code starts to look stupid in the face of the Joker's wanton destruction. There was a little less of that in this one but there were many other similar problems.

Bruce Wayne has some serious health problems, but they don't seem to stick. Like, he's been limping for years, but when he gets back into the suit he's fine. Now, they explain that with a little bit of mechanical assistance but it really just goes away, Bruce Wayne or Batman. And that's just the most obvious instance of a physical malady seeming nigh unconquerable only to vanish later on.

Then there's a little bit of comic-book-logic, which regular readers know that I love, but which is bizarrely out of place in Nolan's Gotham. The central plot device hinges on Wayne having put half his fortune into this unlimited energy source which he then abandons upon completion because it can be used as a weapon. Upon seeing it, Cotillard's Miranda exhales breathily, "Free energy for the entire city." And Wayne responds "but it can be turned into a bomb".

This is really beneath the Nolans (brother Jonathan co-wrote with Chris). First of all, we've already established it cost at least half the Wayne fortune variously figured at between $6 and $11 billion. And it completely renders the Wayne Corporation unprofitable. And Wayne's not the only shareholder.

So... free energy?

And the weapon it can be turned into? Well, a 4 megaton bomb. So...yeah, what's the point? It serves a certain dramatic purpose, to have the mistrustful Wayne turn over the keys to the bomb/fusion reactor to Miranda, but the setup struck me as kinda dopey. (Current nuclear plants are actually pretty safe from precisely this sort of thing.)

There's a prison in a remote region of—I think it's Tibet, recalling the first movie—but people seem to be able to get there and back pretty easily. Also, to be able to get a satellite cable hookup with big screen TV. Heh. How about that service call?

The Boy was particularly bothered by the street fight where everyone seems to forget they have guns. It's a thing with him.

I'm scratching the surface here. Point is, in some ways, it's not tight.

On the other hand, I could see going to see it again. There's a lot there. The drama is above par. The broad strokes are so right I can overlook the little stuff. A lot of satisfying wrapping up here, too. It's a good way to go out.

Anyway, nicely done, Nolans.

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