Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises - 3 1/2 stars

I loved this movie, but not quite as much as The Dark Knight.  Maybe it's not fair to compare the two movies.  TDK was so great there was almost no way this movie could live up to the previous installment.  No villain can be as much fun as Heath Ledger's Joker was. 

Luckily, the Nolan brothers (Christopher and Jonathan) and David S. Goyer chose to go in a completely different direction with this movie's villain.  Instead of recasting the Joker, or going for another similar villain like the Riddler, they went with Bane.  The Joker was a ruthless killer, but he also had a sense of humor.  He was always trying to amuse himself.  With Bane, he is all business.  He will kill anyone in his way but he doesn't seem to be having much fun doing it.

It's been 8 years since the events of TDK.  Batman took the fall for Harvey Dent's crimes, and everyone in Gotham believes Dent was wonderful.  After his death, The Dent Act was passed which helped end organized crime in Gotham.  Bruce Wayne has been holed up in his mansion for 8 years with no real contact with the outside world.  He has grown a beard, walks with a cane, and everyone thinks he is living like Howard Hughes (the crazy years, anyway).

Wayne reemerges into society after a cat burglar named Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) breaks into his safe and steals his late mother's pearls.  He tracks her down, and also learns that a mercenary named Bane is in Gotham.  This leads to the return of Batman, although things might have been better if Batman had stayed away. 

One thing I liked about the movie is how Batman sometimes does more harm than good.  When Batman makes his first appearance, it's to go after Bane and his men after they have just broken into the stock exchange.  Batman doesn't catch Bane, and it looks as though the police would have caught him if they hadn't been distracted by Batman.  I would think there are enough cop cars to go after both, but Commissioner Foley (Matthew Modine) is so eager to catch Batman he chooses to let Bane go.  If Batman hadn't shown up, they probably would have caught him and the rest of the movie wouldn't have happened.

Or not.  Maybe Bane had a plan to break out of jail and it wouldn't matter.  But either way, Alfred (Michael Caine) points this out to Wayne, and this leads to one of several arguments between them.  In one of the more heartbreaking scenes in recent memory, Alfred and Wayne end their relationship and Alfred leaves Wayne manor.  It's hard to imagine Batman without Alfred at home to back him up.

Bane is a great villain.  Not as much fun as the Joker was, although he does have some good lines.  But he is just brutal.  One hit from Bane can kill a guy.  The opening sequence for the movie has Bane taken into custody by the CIA, then being rescued by his army.  This is spectacular.  It reminded me a little of the opening to License to Kill where Bond and Felix capture a drug kingpin by hooking a cable to his plane in mid-air, and towing it by a bigger plane.  However, that sequence was child's play compared to this.  See this movie in IMAX.  It's worth the extra charge for this scene alone.

I also enjoyed Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle.  They never refer to her as Catwoman, which was much appreciated.  She had a lot to do, and while I had a hard time believing that Bruce Wayne would fall for her as much as he does, or forgive her crimes so easily, she was a refreshing addition to the cast.

The best character in the movie is John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a young cop who never stopped believing in Batman.  There is a stretch of time where Christian Bale is offscreen, and Gordon-Levitt becomes the star of the movie.  And I didn't miss Bale at all because John Blake was such a good character. 

When Batman Begins first came out, I remarked how much I loved that Gary Oldman was cast as Commissioner Gordon.  So often he either plays sinister villains or crazy people.  It was nice to see him get to play not only a nice guy but the moral center of Gotham.  Go back and re-watch Batman Begins, and notice how noble Oldman is without being corny or obnoxious. 

Oldman is back as Gordon, but this time I didn't like his performance as much.  I don't think he raised his voice nearly this much in the first two movies, and it doesn't seem like he is playing quite the same character.  I guess is makes sense that the guilt he feels for lying the last 8 years have changed him a little, but I wanted the same Gordon from the first two movies.  But that is a minor quibble.  Any Gary Oldman is better than no Gary Oldman.  This applies to any movie, by the way.

Some parts of the story were hard to follow, especially in the first half hour.  There is a lot to set up, including the fusion reactor that Wayne Enterprises funded, then shut down because they discovered that it could be used as a nuclear weapon.  I wasn't totally clear on Miranda Tate's role either.  Early in the movie it seems like scenes are missing, or cut short.  We get a line of dialogue or two, and then it's suddenly the next day.  This happened in TDK as well, but it seemed worse in this movie.  It's like they had to cut a half hour or more out of the movie, so they left in just enough to move the plot but cut out the rest of the scenes.

Once we get into the movie, things settle down.  And this is really an epic story.  It's amazing how big it is.  Bane manages to cut Gotham off from the rest of the world, and Gotham turns into some kind of anarchist state.  There may be some kind of message there about class warfare and the poor people getting revenge on the rich people, but I didn't see it as anything political.  Bane is just using people to carry out his mission, and he plays on their pettiness and fear to get them to act the way he wants.

The first time I saw it, I had some concerns about the end of the movie.  Without spoiling anything, it does seem like he is trying to leave things open for another movie.  I felt a little cheated by the way some of the details were wrapped up.  I thought Nolan should have had more confidence in ending the series the way he wanted without giving in to studio demands.

But now that I have seen the movie a couple more times, I like the ending.  It doesn't guarantee that there will be another movie.  It just ends the series with a certain amount of hope.  I like the way we leave these characters, and it's easy to imagine their lives going on.  We should be grateful that we got 3 Batman movies that stayed true to their writer's vision, and there were no nipples on the batsuit.

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