Friday, July 20, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises Falls Short

Warning: Spoilers ahead

Much like numerous other devoted fans, last night I stayed up late to attend a midnight screening of the final installment of Christopher Nolan’s epic Batman franchise, The Dark Knight Rises. Although there were several aspects about this film that made it great, overall it left me shaking my head disapprovingly as I exited the theater.

I’ll first begin with the positive aspects of the film. Without a doubt, the highlight was Anne Hathaway’s performance as Selina Kyle/Catwoman. She stole every scene she was in and, in stark contrast to the over the top performances of the last two women to play Selina, (Halle Berry and Michelle Pfeiffer respectively) Hathaway presented the feline femme fatale in a strong, powerful way that was still seductive and sexy in a subtle way. Tom Hardy’s characterization of Bane was also performed well, although his Eastern European Darth Vader voice seemed more appropriate to a proper interpretation of Doctor Doom than Bane. The returning cast from the two previous films performed admirably as per usual, however Cillian Murphy’s reprisal of Jonathan Crane stands out most memorably or at least in regards to his role in the film.

The cinematography was shot beautifully, and made me ache to see the film in Imax as opposed to the traditional theatrical format. Furthermore, for some strange reason, seeing Bane “Break the Bat” made me the happiest I’ve been since I saw The Avengers for the first time, and I could not stop grinning like an idiot for at least ten minutes. However, the follow-up to this infamous scene from Knightfall marked the first significant issue I had with the movie. When Bane broke Batman’s back in Knightfall, although it was a bit of a cop out, it still took almost a year in real time for Bruce to heal and return as Batman. However in Rises, all Bruce needs to fix his displaced vertebrae is for some random prison inmate to kick him in the spine. I understand the suspension of disbelief needed to enjoy most movies, however this blatant deus ex machina seems even more insulting than Barbara Gordon’s recent ‘miraculous’ recovery in the pages of Batgirl.

As the movie progressed, it became very clear that Joseph Gordon Levitz’s character, John Blake, was going to play a significant role both in the film and in the future of the Batman mythos, in regards to the Nolan-verse. The ending was somewhat predictable, in that Blake assumingly takes on the mantle of Batman, after Wayne is presumed dead. However, the execution of this is done very poorly. For starters, the throwaway line that Blake’s real name is “Robin” is incredibly contrived and lazy; and as a friend of mine said “At least make it Dick Grayson.” When it’s revealed that Bruce had survived the nuclear explosion at which he was in the epicenter, it made me wonder if he had perhaps pre-stocked The Bat with same lead lined fridge Indy used to escape nuclear death in Crystal Skull. Furthermore, seeing Bruce and Selina together happily at the end negates everything that makes there cat and mouse relationship interesting, and plays out like a badly written fan fiction. Moreover, the fact that the movie is bookended by Bruce giving up being Batman, it seems that the writers mis-understood a key aspect about Batman, that he never gives up, and that much like the Punisher, his war on crime is never-ending.

Knowing that Christopher Nolan had previously looked to some of the greatest Batman stories for inspiration, I had presumed going in that since the film had a similar title, and identical initials to The Dark Knight Returns, that several aspects would be taken from that story. A few similarities could be found, such as comparable aspects of the lead antagonists, with Bane mirroring a more intelligent version of the mutant leader; seeing him lead an army against Batman, and even having a mask that aesthetically resembles the mutant’s sharpened teeth. In a broader aspect, both stories see Bruce return from a period of not being Batman, ‘faking’ his own death, and becoming a rallying symbol that inspires the next generation; however, whereas Returns shows Bruce leading a revolution behind the scenes at the end, Rises instead sees him abandoning the cape and cowl for selfish reasons, instead embracing a storybook ending unbefitting of Batman.

All and all, despite my issues, The Dark Knight Rises was not a bad movie. However, I feel that it will go down in the annals of cinematic history in a similar vein as The Godfather Part 3. That is to say, it will be regarded as a good movie overall, and a decent end to a franchise, but since it pales in comparison to its predecessors, and left an unpleasant taste in the mouth of diehard fans, it will unfairly be judged as being horrible overall.

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