Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

This is a Batman movie with not very much Batman.

Batman Begins, the starting point for this iteration of the franchise, took its time introducing the title hero. That would be expected in an origin story but this is no longer the beginning - it's supposed to be the end. The public intention of The Dark Knight Rises is to wrap up the trilogy, picking up from where the The Dark Knight ended.

It doesn't, not really.

At the end of The Dark Knight, Batman is on the run, and I would have expected him to be there at the opening of The Dark Knight Rises, still an outlaw, still on the run, but poised for redemption. But no. It's eight years later, and no one in Gotham City has seen the Batman since the night Harvey Dent was killed, supposedly by Batman himself..

The movie is more a story about people. It is the story of Bruce Wayne, who begins the movie a broken man. I read an article a year or so ago that talked about what a real-life Batman would need. The author speculated on the amount of money required, the amount of training and martial arts skill, and talked about the narrow window of youth. Batman, like elite, professional athletes, would have to train for many years to become expert, and following his training would only have a few years left of his prime in which to remain effective as Batman. After that, age inevitably brings him down.

So it's eight years later and for Bruce Wayne, the window seems to have closed. He has no cartilage in either knee. His elbow is shot. He walks with a cane. Batman would seem only a dim memory for Bruce Wayne. It is also the story of Alfred Pennyworth, who panics as Master Bruce begins to flirt again with the idea of cape and cowl. It is the story of Commissioner Gordon, sidelined like the Batman; he's seen by up-and-comers as yesterday's news. It is the story of Selena Kyle, cat-burglar for hire and how her life intersects first with Bruce Wayne, and then later with the Batman. It is the story of several other minor characters who all have important elements to add to the story; Miranda, Bruce Wayne's lover and the Wayne Foundation's last hope, Deputy Commissioner Foley, political and conservative and weak but suddenly the cop in charge.

But the movie's two main characters (apart from Bruce Wayne) are Officer John Blake, who seems to be Gotham's last remaining hope, ...

... and Bane.

Bane is the most powerful, the most vicious villain that Batman has ever faced. A complete contrast from the last movie (and therefore a great story choice) featuring the Joker who was dastardly, tricky and unpredictable, Bane comes at you from the front with heavy feet and raw, terrifying power. From the comic books, it was Bane that broke the Batman's back, picking him him up and breaking him over his knee. In The Dark Knight Rises, Batman and Bane fight, brutally and without finesse. It's obvious from the start that Batman is giving his best and is hopelessly outmatched. Bane allows him to land blows, just to show him. We in the audience are alarmed not just as Bane seems entirely unaffected but our sense of alarm ratchets up with every cutaway that showsthe calm regard of Bane's henchmen; they stand nonchalantly, their arms over their weapons, regarding Batman's assault on Bane with a confidence can be mistaken for boredom.

And then Bane picks up the Batman and he drops him over his knee.

It is a rare action sequence for the caped crusader who remains off-screen for most of the movie. As a result, I wonder if the character and story focus will suit the film more to adults than to kids and teens. I've heard snatches of Ian's comments to friends that seem to support this expectation. The Dark Knight Rises is the comic book movie with the least amount of comic book.

It is a grim, dark, wonderful and engaging movie. It provides a chilling sense of peril and jeopardy for Bruce Wayne and the Dark Knight.

It's also a long movie, populated by a lot of minor characters who, some have said, serve only to confuse the audience. I shared a similar sense of it from the first teasers and casting announcements. Joseph Gordon Levitt, who is HE playing? Marion Cotillard, same thing. Is this just Chris Nolan populating the movie with as many actors as he can from Inception (five?)? I would have been in complete agreement with this criticism ... right up to the last 15 minutes of the movie.

So, geez, am I really going to be the dissenting voice regarding Anne Hathaway? She has been receiving raves for her performance as Catwoman and, okay, she is good in the role. She is also very beautiful and a fine actor and her performance in this movie has been overhyped.

Finally, why three? Why is three such a magic and absolute number in this current trend of superhero movies? I'm not sure if the surperhero genre is blessing or bane for those who want to see honest-to-god good movies. But with the resolution (or not) of this Batman trilogy, it's as plain as the nose on your cowl that there remain several more excellent stories to tell. And it's a shame that this very talented team of director, writers, crew and actors are apparently not the ones who will be back to tell them.

Three Straws.

P.S. It hurts my heart that so many people, out to participate at this movie's premiere, same as me and my son,  people who were out with high and gleeful expectations to be entertained and just have fun, ended up being shot to death in Colorado. I am at a loss to express the horror of it.

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