Friday, July 20, 2012

Movie Review: The Dark Knight Rises

Like many of you, I get caught up in the excitement around franchises.  As a kid, I loved watching Batman: The Animated Series as it aired when I came home from school.  Not to date myself further, I actually liked Batman Forever as well.  The franchise was reinvented, on the heels of Spiderman, X-men and Superman.  I’m sad to say the best in this series was the second movie, The Dark Knight, and there is no other way around it.  There may be SPOILERS ahead, so read at your own risk.

I bought tickets for the trilogy last night, hunkering down at six for the first movie.  As the credits rolled, I turned to my friend Lay and said, ‘I don’t remember any of this.’  Batman Begins was released in 2005, though it seemed far more dated.  The first movie introduced the audience to a newer Batman with the same origin story as the original.  Christian Bale playing troubled Bruce Wayne as he seeks to make people safe by dressing up in a costume and beating people to a pulp with his bare hands.  Not a wholly sound character, but the deep flaws make the movie that much more compelling.  Seeing Batman Begins and The Dark Knight back-to-back did lend me to this true epiphany, I thought Katie Holmes was the better of the two female leads, but if your choices are her and Maggie Gyllenhaal, this really isn’t a fair competition for either of them.  This reminds me of an episode of Family Guy about both Jake and Maggie being insufferable, but it could be my limited lucidity over less than three hours of sleep.

The synopsis of Batman Begins is only relevant because the third movie ties the story together, but in all honesty, only ties the first and third movies together, glossing over the second movie almost entirely.  The critical piece to remember is the main villain, Ra's al Ghul was killed at the end of the first movie, but there is more to the story he told Bruce Wayne about what he’d lost and sent him down the path that he was on with his League of Shadows.  There are also a few cameos of characters from the first movie that are nice to see in the second and third.

In the second movie, by far the strongest of the three, we meet Joker, Batman’s greatest adversary.  What makes Joker such a great challenge is his lack of balance, in short, his insanity.  Joker has no rules and doesn’t want to make money, but kill everything in his path.  The Dark Knight came out several years ago and why this wasn’t the third in the series still baffles me.  Heath Ledger went to a great dark place within himself and to have an encore to his actions that pales in comparison is a disservice.  I won’t go into any detail summarising this movie, there should be no need.

The final instalment did what I call the ‘superhero flaw’ for movies.  In the first two movies, there were two villains for our hero to contend with, in this final set piece, we have four.  This is a testament, to me, that more doesn’t actually mean better.  Rest assured, the movie started late, and when a two hour and forty minute movie starts late, with twenty minutes of forgettable previews, the expectations grow tauter.  The story begins several years after The Dark Knight, placing Batman in hiding, as well as his alter ego Bruce Wayne.  Gotham City has been cleaned up, crime a memory.  Word begins to travel that a new ‘bad guy’ is running around, Bane.  Bane is ruthless, young and wears a crazy mask.  He also talks in a South African accent despite Bane’s original origin story setting him in South America.  He is seemingly working for ‘John’ Dagget, though in the comics, his name is Roland, it took me forever to figure out what was wrong with his name.  Bane comes to Gotham under the guise of assisting Dagget in taking over Wayne enterprises.  With the help of Selina Kyle, Catwoman, Bane gets Wayne’s fingerprints and they destroy his estate, losing all of his money.  Alfred walks out on him once he realises that Bruce, in his hampered state, expects to challenge Bane.  Catwoman walks him right into the trap and Bane, as he does in the comic, breaks Batman’s back.  He whisks Wayne to a prison halfway across the world, one he can’t easily escape from.

As my friend pointed out, for more than an hour, there was no Batman in the Batman movie.  I can appreciate the need for solid storytelling, but I sometimes struggle with this as many Twilight fans did with New Moon where there was no Edward for the majority of the story.  The advantage Batman has, other than superior writing is the fact that the movie was so long that you may not notice Batman missing for a third of it.

The story unfolds in predictable fashion here and I don’t want to continue to spoil the movie if I can help it.  Needless to say, Bruce once again overcomes his fears and returns to Gotham when it has been turned into a war zone.  Bane has trapped most of the police department and put the rich on trial, sending them to their deaths to cross the frozen river or be shot.

What started out as a manageable story begins bloated and uninteresting after a few hours.  The plethora of villains makes the movie busier than it needs to be.  And with more bad guys comes more good ones as well.  The cast has a good mix of good and bad, but there is little that makes any of it compelling.  A sub-plot with Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Blake is almost laughable as the story comes to a close.

I want to say I’m an unbiased party, that I came in expecting a good movie, but I didn’t.  After The Dark Knight, I expected to be blown away, not bored at varying points of the movie.  It is a good movie, don’t get me wrong, and I will give credit where it is due, both Anne Hathaway and Tom Hardy are fantastic additions to the cast, but Christian Bale has long run out of any leeway from me.  The gravelly voice is also a joke and his characterisations of Wayne are more of a caricature than a representation.  Kevin Conroy, the voice actor for Batman for the past twenty years, emotes more with just his voice than Bale does with his entire body.  Even the always reliable Gary Oldman and Michael Caine aren’t nearly up to their normally high level of acting.

The only thing I can take away from this movie is disappointment.  When you wait a series out, as we fans have done with so many series, I find myself expecting more and more and more, and often times there is less and less.  On the whole, it wasn’t a bad movie, but as a viewer, an educated one about this genre, I feel more troubled by the incessant changes and additions they made instead of seeing the story for what it was.  If you distract so heavily from the source material, as David Yates does in the final Potter movies, fans often come away with mixed feelings, as I do now.  As a midnight movie, it wasn’t a bad choice, but looking back, the past three I’ve been to have all been movies that disappointed me.  And if you read this blog, you know I’ve raved about other movies, and much of it is tied up in expectation, but that isn’t all of it.  The Dark Knight Rises deserves it’s lacklustre reviews because it isn’t the blockbuster that should have followed The Dark Knight, and that is a shame.

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