Friday, August 10, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises: Don't Believe The Hype

Directed By: Christopher Nolan

Hello! As I said in my earlier post, I recently moved back to New Mexico and I haven't had much time to write my review for The Dark Knight Rises. But I am here today to finally do it. Truthfully, after the events in Colorado, I wasn't sure how soon was too soon to write a review for the deliciously violent movie that was at the center of the tragedy. My heart goes out to the victims and their families. As much as I love violence in films, there is no place for such violent acts in our real life communities.

There is a fierce debate about this film going on in groups of friends, at water-coolers and at dinner tables all across the world. The question looms large. Did this movie live up to the hype, or not? Some were understandably underwhelmed by the third installment of Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy, while others are convinced it will win best picture at the Oscars.

The second installment, The Dark Knight, was arguably one of the best films of the last decade. It is impossible for any Batman villain to ever live up to Heath Ledger's Joker. There is no way to match the intensity, and sheer psychotic violence that The Dark Knight sustained from start to finish. There was a sense of fun, and wonder to the first and second film that wasn't present in The Dark Knight Rises. Perhaps it is the finality of it all. The sense that things are ending can often leave the audience feeling less invested in new characters. And this film had a lot of new characters.

Certainly we are all invested in Bruce Wayne (Bale), Alfred (Caine), Lucius Fox (Freeman), and Commissioner Gordon (Oldman), but we care less for Catwoman (Anne Hathaway), and Officer Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). But, this gets at the heart of the controversy surrounding this film. I think the audience was a bit confused with the direction this film took. We spent much less time with the characters we care about, and too much time trying to develop back stories for supporting characters. Perhaps people were disappointed that the film seemed to be casting the hero as a side player. We expected Batman to go down in a blaze of glory, but that's not what happened. It was not with a bang, but with a fizzle.

But in my opinion, these problems seem minor when compared with all of the things there are to love about this film. Firstly, I am a huge fan of long action movies, even if they are bad. I'm not the person in the theater itching for it to be over. So I thought the length of the film was one of its biggest advantages. I thought there was a wonderful flow to the film, and despite being nearly 3 hours long, it was remarkably fluid and never felt tedious. I have to commend the editors. Films like this demand invisible editing, but even with this straight-forward narrative, the editing really stood out.

But on the other hand, I feel like Nolan really backed himself into a corner when he decided, and then told the world this would be his last Batman. It forced him to spend a lot of time tying up loose ends while still trying to keep the story new and compelling. If he hadn't mentioned before the release of the film that this would be the last one, and had let the ending of The Dark Knight Rises be a bit more ambiguous, that might have been more successful.

The biggest draw for this film, is obviously the star studded cast. Christian Bale has always had a special place in my heart. I think he is one of the best actors of this generation, if a bit crazy. One comment I heard repeated over and over again was, "damn, Christian Bale looks old." I don't know if that's the work of an amazing make-up artist, or if it really has been seven years since Batman Begins (and twelve years since American Psycho). But, just like so many Hollywood leading men, Bale just gets better with age.

Christian Bale is a strong directors dream and his partnership with Nolan is one of the great Hollywood success stories. And it's not just because Bale is an incredible actor and Nolan an accomplished director. It's because together, they bring out each others strengths. When you watch these films, you begin to realize that Bale needs the structure Nolan's narratives provide, and Nolan needs a bit of that manic energy Bale is so famous for.

As great at Bale is, we cannot discount the other amazing actors rounding out this cast. Gary Oldman is easily one of my top-five favorite British actors of all time and I am glad the story utilized him as much as it did. As Commissioner Gordon, he does seem older, and more jaded, (which I didn't think was possible). But the film jumps ahead 8 years after the Joker incidents and the film takes on this ominous tone of stale anarchy. And the decay shows in Oldman's performance.

The biggest strength of this film, is that the people, and the world they live in, though fantastic, is very much rooted in reality. Though many try to diminish Batman as just a bored rich guy with a sociopathic need to enforce his will, Nolan and Bale work hard to make Bruce Wayne and Batman a sympathetic and broken character. He is certainly that, and I believe it.

Another stroke of genius was casting Tom Hardy as Bane. He is impressive in so many ways, especially considering the physicality of the role. When I say physicality, I don't just mean his beefy body, or his impressive fight scenes. Bane wears a mask, and anytime a character wears a mask, it requires a high level of kinetic awareness. The masks design itself purposefully seeks to hide his expressions by concealing his mouth. While we see his eyes, it's remarkable how hard it is to read someone's emotions when you can't see the lower half of their face. But it all adds to Bane's menacing presence.

While some of the characters, like Commissioner Gordon and Bane seemed right at home in Gotham, others were woefully out of place. As much as I love Anne Hathaway and as classy as she is, I did not find her performance all that inspiring. Let's be honest, Catwoman was a completely superfluous character, an after-thought at best. She adds nothing to the story except for a little T & A*, and Hathaway has never been a T & A kind of actress. While she fills out the cat suit quite nicely, and she's a bit more dynamic, and down to earth than that twitchy Halley Barry disaster, I still think her inclusion was cheap, and only sought to create some romantic tension in a film that didn't need it.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt, with his dorky charm and trendy fashion choices have made him an indie-favorite for a while now and I am sure any criticism of him will make many of you stop reading right now. But I take issue with Levitt as Officer Blake, I wasn't quite sold on the character or on his acting. The character alone was painfully cliche, and the only thing that made it bearable was the revelation at the end that he's the lauded side-kick Robin. But Levitt as an actor either over-acts or is a blank piece of paper. If he isn't trying to convince us he's a great actor, he staring blankly into the distance and there is very little in between. I also don't feel like he's actually acting, he just seems to be playing himself in a police uniform, and he's wishy-washy. All that being said, I still do like Levitt, and I like his movies.

I don't necessarily think that the film would have been better off with out Catwoman and Officer Blake, or even with out Hathaway and Levitt, they are both fine choices. But the problem is that the characters felt out of place and were forced to physically explain their back story. When a character needs to justify their presence in the story with dialogue, that's a bad sign. And you have both Selinia (Catwoman) and Blake, standing in front of Bruce Wayne telling him who they are and where they come from and why they are around, in excruciating detail. That for me, is lack of character and story integrity. Characters should always look, and feel apart of the films landscape, and should not feel like puzzle pieces being shoved into the wrong spot.

The other, more familiar supporting characters really contribute the depth of this film. They provide the emotional backbone of the story and do so in fewer scenes than any other character. They  legitimize the theme of the film, and make up for a lot of the failures of the new additions. Alfred, Lucius and Gordon look old, tired, and drained from Bruce's exploits. They are driven by their love for him, and by the commitments they made, but they no longer see an idealistic young man, they see a man growing old, isolated and physically weak. They feel helpless to change Bruce's path and while some feel compelled to stay the course, others desert him, but all are doing what they can to save him.  It was one aspect of the film that relied on nuance, and great acting instead of obvious cliches. And that is where the heart of the film lies.

And, as I do at the end of each of my reviews, I will speak a bit about the artistic aspect of this film. And after exhaustive thought, and internal debate, I've come to the conclusion that it was good. Not great, but good. It's nothing new, but it's well executed. The cinematography was acceptable, if a little uninspired, and the costumes were ok, with the exception of Bane's costume which was exceptional. Other than that, there isn't much to say. It is what you expect, and nothing more.

This film is Batman, from start to finish. This is the type of Batman I love, and I relate to. I like that he is an imperfect person, I like that his world is dark and violent, and a not-so-vailed social critique. I think too many people went in with inflated expectations. And no matter how great this film truly is, it will never satisfy the asshole fan boys. But Nolan did the best he could, despite being a bit tired of the material. And it's still an action packed superhero movie, with blood and violence. And at the end, Batman saves the day. And that's why we love him.

A- : It could have been better, but it's Batman, it's Christopher Nolan, you are going to see it, you are going to love it, and everything there is to dislike about this film comes down to nit-picking.

* Tits and Ass
Pictures off of Google

1 comment:

  1. I agree with you on Joseph Gordon-Levitt, his acting was a bit wooden.