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Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Why I cheer for The Dark Knight Rises...

My fears were unjustified, but just like Batman has taught us: fear is necessary. As those who visit this blog regularly will remember, I wrote a post some time ago featuring my fears concerning The Dark Knight Rises. In said post, I expressed my concerns for the movie, stating overall that while I was excited, I was worried about being disappointed and that I was using my concern to keep my excitement in check.

And, as the introduction to this post relates, my fears were abated, but I'm still glad I had them. After seeing The Dark Knight Rises this past Sunday, I must say that I enjoyed it very much. In fact, I thought it was amazing! I will now go into why I liked it so much, having a spoiler-free section up here, and a section with specific analysis later on; don't worry, I'll warn you first.

The Dark Knight Rises was an incredible combination of everything that has made this series brilliant so far. It has an excellent cast, a brilliant storyline, an amazing score, and is complex enough to give die-hard fans something to talk about, while still straight-forward enough for the average movie lover to enjoy.

Let's review some of my fears and how they were dealt with in this film. The first thing I mentioned was "the Batman voice" as I call it. For anyone who has seen the first two films in this series, you'll know that Christian Bale's Batman often speaks so excessively gruff that often it's hard to understand what he's saying. This movie only had one scene where Batman was a little hard to understand, and he was quite upset at the time, so I'll excuse him for it. Another voice I failed to express concern over prior to this film was that of Bane. When the first trailer came out for The Dark Knight Rises, people immediately complained because Bane was too difficult to understand. He wears a mask over his mouth, for crying out loud, and you want to put him next to Bale's Batman!? Talk about a foreign film; 3 hours of mumbling, might as well be at a Van Morrison concert!

With an eye for detail, and probably a good outreach team, the creators of this film must have sensed this concern and immediately edited and fixed Bane's voice for the subsequent trailers and for the movie. Bane is not only easy to understand, listening to him is a pleasure. I don't know a lot about Tom Hardy, to be honest, the man who played Bane, but what few films I've seen him in, I've enjoyed his charisma. Bane is almost Shakespearean in his way with people.
 Every line of dialogue is beautifully intoned and everything he has to say carries such depth of meaning and such power. Bane is an interesting character, and this film does little to tarnish that reputation. His planning is brilliant, his skills are exceptional, and his menace and place as Batman's villain are convincing. The struggle to overcome defeat is obviously why we enjoy watching heroes succeed, and Bane is so good at being bad that Batman's journey is all the more extensive and enjoyable.
I mentioned that I was worried about Anne Hatheway playing Catwoman, and again, I shouldn't have been. Maybe it's because I know so little about her, but I honestly am impressed by her every time I see her in something. I mean, when I first saw The Princess Diaries, I didn't know what she normally looked like, and the transformation to princess flabbergasted me...I mean, it would have, if I'd seen that, yeah. But, Hathaway's Catwoman was a delight. She wasn't crazy like Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman, taking on the more recent character path of naughty and complicated. Right from her first scene, Hathaway's Catwoman captured my interest. Her street-smarts, her sassy attitude, and her ability to so quickly and easily switch from innocent Selina Kyle to the dangerous Catwoman make her a complicated, and interesting character, and Hathaway carried the right tone and was a delight to watch doing so.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Enough said.
No, that wouldn't be like me at all. But seriously, I love this guy. I've been a fan of his since Third Rock from the Sun and I haven't seen anything he's in which I haven't liked. I haven't seen all of his work, but I absolutely love him as an actor. He has such a realism about him, a way of becoming and unveiling his characters in such a way that I not only really relate to them, but just generally enjoy his time on screen. He doesn't let me down in this movie, playing a cop in Gotham City. With Commissioner Gordon being a little above the regular street-cop, it was nice to have this perspective again, of the people but also of the people who uphold the law. You need this in a movie about a superhero, you need to know how they feel about the vigilante. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays John Blake, and his role proves to be quite necessary and influential in the film. Without giving too much away here, for a movie with so many characters, the depth of development of the character of John Blake is impressive and Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays it in a way which feels so real, and so easy. While the depths of human emotion are not really explored too much for this character, the story is so compelling and his delivery so excellent that I found it very enjoyable.

Bruce Wayne made an appearance in this movie! Haha, what I mean is that I had expressed an interest in seeing more of the other side of Batman, knowing that Bruce Wayne is a tough character to play, and I wasn't too sure Bale was up to it. I've seen Christian Bale in many things, but usually, he's expected to play an exacting psychopath. While Bruce can be like that, it was really refreshing to see his character develop a little more in this film. When you get down to it, the movie was approximately 70% Bruce Wayne, and 30% Batman, when you consider Christian Bale's time on screen. And while I'm paying to see Batman, I need to know more about the man behind the mask, if I'm going to care about him.

After the events of The Dark Knight, Bruce has been in isolation and "retirement". Rumours persist, he never leaves his home, and things are rough for him. As is a classic in the genre of heroes, and a direct reference to Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, a crisis occurs which forces the hero back into action. Forces might not be the right word, as Alfred might say, but Bruce feels that way. Donning the cape and cowl, Batman comes back again, only to face an enemy for which he isn't truly prepared. As the name might suggest, the Dark Knight must rise, both figuratively and, funny enough, literally, going on a journey that touches deeper into the heart of Bruce Wayne than I expected. I can't say more without telling you the plot, but let's just say that it was a refreshing experience, the breaking down of Batman and his confidence, the laying and reminder of the foundation which makes Bruce who he is, and the rise to, and over, what he once was.

Christopher Nolan has expressed that while Batman Begins dealt with fear, The Dark Knight with chaos, The Dark Knight Rises deals with pain. This motif is everywhere, both ubiquitous and subtle at the same time. Bruce's journey exposes the depth of his pain, and what was preventing him from dealing with it. Alfred, Bruce's ever-present butler, shows a heavy heart in this film, making it very clear to Bruce, and to us, what he has suffered all these years, trying to keep a shattered little boy from killing himself through his vigilance. Bane is the embodiment of pain, hey that rhymed! The mask he wears is to moderate his own pain, and he aims to not only take Gotham, and to defeat Batman, but to destroy his soul, to break his spirit. He aims to make Batman's destruction complete and total. As Tom Hardy himself expressed about the character's actions, "It's about carnage." And Batman's will to overcome this pain shows an anger which had not, in my opinion, shown through before. While it may sound sadistic, it can be rewarding to watch the hero take out his anger on the villain. It was rewarding to watch Batman rise to Bane's challenge, and beat him at his own game.

Finally, Christopher Nolan reveals himself for what he is, not simply a director, but a composer, a maestro of movie making. The Dark Knight Rises proves itself to be a film worthy of the rest of the series. It was fresh, and while it borrowed from a lot of source material, it did so in such a way that only proved the genius of the film. There are so many important characters in this film, each with their own story to tell, and Nolan sets the pace so wonderfully that all is revealed in time, foreshadowed quite beautifully, referenced so easily, and sewn together so immaculately that even my skeptical eyes can barely find a weakness in the film. I'm not saying every one of you will love this film, I'm just saying that it was well done and if you don't think so, I'd be surprised. For those who know Batman comics, you'll see so many references and you'll even miss some, trust me. For those not as familiar, the movie provides an exciting and convincing conclusion to this terrific trilogy.

For those of you who haven't seen the movie, your journey should probably end here, thanks for reading, I appreciate it and had a lot of fun writing this blog post. For those who continue, I also thank you for reading, haha.

I warn you here and now that below this, I talk about some film specifics, don't read if you want to avoid spoilers.

Alright, so, a couple of quick things. Talia's presence felt a little rushed/unnecessary to me. It does work decently well for this movie, but really, if you removed her, the film wouldn't lose too much. I liked Bane being Batman's foil, and while Talia adds to the film, I probably could have done without her. But, I guess she did add some needed complexity to the story and Marion Cotillard captured the character very nicely.

Second, I think that it must be difficult to show surprise when you are wearing a helmet. Batman's look of shock is almost comical toward the end of the film, but I think I'm just spoiled by cartoon animation's ability to do anything.

John Blake's character development was amazing. Honestly, I loved this version of Robin, and simply applaud whoever came up with it. I mean, to my knowledge, this is a pretty original rendition of where Robin comes from, and not only is it original, it's very well done. The fact that he figured out who the Batman was isn't exactly new; Tim Drake (a different Robin in the comics) figures it out as a kid from, ironically enough, watching Dick Grayson's Robin, but the way he figures it out in this film is not only more realistic, but adds to the motif of pain in the film. Joseph Gordon-Levitt's portrayal really builds up to the final developing moment (there's a word for this, English students help me out...the moment when a character becomes who they were destined to be, when their fate is revealed and they take it upon themselves) when the cop blows the bridge. Here we have a cop, someone who's sworn his life to justice, seeing that very system, hell an actual Gotham city cop, doing what he is ordered to do, not what he has to do. This moment is perfect and it bridges the gap between John Blake and Robin so amazingly, that I had a hard time not doing this when it happened:

The film's conclusion was pretty good in my opinion. It satisfying left us with more on which to speculate, but concluded things enough not to make us demand a sequel. Bruce's escape was wonderfully Batman, especially the repair of the guidance system, and I really enjoyed Alfred's vacation and how that was developed and portrayed in the film. I am very happy with how things ended and while I would love to watch Joseph Gordon-Levitt play Robin, I would be happy to leave things as they are, with the hint of promise, allowing me to play it out in my mind rather than ruining it by misadventure.


  1. Spoilers, spoilers, blah, blah, blah:

    I was also impressed with Levitt's performance, but within it was one of the small number of things that I didn't like about the movie: I really didn't like the way he made the connection between Bruce Wayne and Batman! As you say, it fits very well into the overarching motif of pain, but it just didn't seem realistic to me. I mean, Wayne can't be the only person in Gotham with a look of inner turmoil on his face. What they could have done was used that moment where he reads the pain in Wayne's expression to spark his interest in him, and then have him deduce his true identity from there. Maybe have him offer up a bit more evidence, that kind of thing.

    All that being said, while I was watching the movie I was willing to let all of that slide, because in the end it's not all that important. Having mentioned a bit about Bruce Wayne, though, I'll jump on your comment from early on in the review: I was so happy to see more of Wayne in this movie! Which is ironic, because one of the most common complaints I've heard about the movie since it came out was that it didn't have enough A) Batman, and B) Fight scenes. Punching thugs and grapple-gunning everywhere is a part of what makes Batman who he is, true, but I think anyone who expects a movie about him to consist of mainly those two things should go off to a corner, watch the awful Batman Forever move with Val Kilmer, and shut the hell up.

  2. Agreed on all fronts, good points Marco!