Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

Christopher Nolan's name is synonymous with great film-making at this point in his career. His last effort, Inception, was a terrific piece of art that thrilled audiences with intense action as well as challenged them intellectually with his thought-provoking narrative. However, he is best known for his contributions to the Batman franchise, which cannot be undervalued. Before his first entry in the series, Batman Begins, the caped crusader was in a very bad place with the movie-going public. Batman Forever and Batman and Robin had tarnished the Dark Knight's reputation so badly there were some who thought he might never properly resurface. Thanks to Nolan's handy-work, Batman not only made a stellar comeback, but he is now a part of one of the greatest trilogies of all time. Christopher Nolan is famous for concentrating on one project at a time, and for a while it wasn't clear whether he would return to conclude his trilogy. Thank goodness he did.

The Dark Knight Rises is easily the most complex blockbuster we've seen all year. Nolan is a master at weaving together complicated storylines in such a way that even casual film fans can keep up. In this film, Batman is facing an eight year hiatus from patrolling the Gotham streets, thanks to laws passed in the wake of Harvey Dent's death keeping criminals from being granted parole. However, the citizens of Gotham have no idea the circumstances behind Dent's death, believing Batman to have murdered the once "White Knight" in cold blood. Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne is a secretive recluse, his health and physical fitness deteriorating from years of inactivity, not to mention the effect of the many injuries he'd sustained while cleaning up the streets of Gotham. He is called out of retirement, however, as a new evil rises from where it's been buried. Led by the menacing terrorist Bane, a new evil has come to destroy the city and fulfill the aim of "The League of Shadows". That's as far as I'd like to go in order to avoid spoilers, but the narrative really kicks into another gear once Bane reaches Gotham.

I was surprised to hear some critics judging this film as "not as good as The Dark Knight" as if it's in a competition. While I understand that it is a direct sequel and therefore invites the comparison, I think it's more complicated than that. For one thing, each film in this trilogy stands alone and has its own distinct themes and feel. I was actually glad that we didn't get "The Dark Knight Part 2" but rather we got a film that was clearly carrying on and ending the legend while also remaining self-contained and unique on its own. I love the aesthetic of The Dark Knight Rises and can appreciate it as a separate animal than its predecessors. To me, Batman Begins is an almost samurai-esque origin story, The Dark Knight is a gritty crime thriller, and The Dark Knight Rises is an all-out war movie. Bruce Wayne is at a different part of his life and faces different problems. He isn't in his prime physically, even going into situations expecting (and even hoping) he won't be able to escape. This movie is tremendous in the way it wraps up the trilogy while also telling a gripping, visually dazzling, and incredibly emotional story of its own. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and, while this may be controversial, I think this is the best film in the trilogy.

The acting across the board is top-notch. Christian Bale has his best performance to date as Bruce Wayne/Batman, perfectly portraying his inner demons as well as his emerging altruistic tendencies. Tom Hardy is immensely intimidating as the hulking Bane, acting more effectively with his eyes and body language than most actors do without a mask that obscures half their face (by the way, I really didn't mind his voice). Most surprising is Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle/Catwoman, who I was most skeptical about. She turns in an impressive performance selling the audience on the conflict of the character and the physicality of the role. I could go on and on, as each actor brought something different to the table. Make sure to keep an eye out for the occasional cameo from returning characters to the series as well.

This film is dark, especially wherever Bane is. I didn't think they could get much darker than the previous film, but the brutality of some of the violence and the complete breakdown of order portrayed on screen can be difficult for some viewers to witness. Please do not bring young children to this movie. No little kid should have to see some of the ruthless acts of Bane and his henchmen particularly where the Dark Knight himself may or may not be involved.

As is common for Christopher Nolan's films, this is a densely packed screenplay that works on multiple levels. Even the title of the film has nuances that can be revisited and further examined. The cinematography is astounding and the visual effects groundbreaking, particularly the explosive opening. If you can, I definitely recommend seeing this film in an IMAX theater. More than an hour of this movie was filmed in the IMAX format, which makes the quality of the picture absolutely beautiful to watch. Do yourself a favor and check it out on the extra large screen. I absolutely loved this film. It's a thrilling and satisfying ending to this fantastic trilogy. I am definitely planning on seeing this movie again in theaters and I give The Dark Knight Rises a strong four stars.

THE DARK KNIGHT RISES is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some sensuality and language.