Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

It's difficult to know exactly where to begin on terms of The Dark Knight Rises, the third and final installment of Christopher Nolan's take on the Batman saga.  There's a seeping of legend-- not just to the cinematic craftsmanship, nor the bravura epic seriousness of a comic book superhero movie-- but an almost longing and painstaking emotional investment to Nolan's trilogy.  Taking the realms of a series that felt both long in the tooth and in a sad display of self-parody, Nolan created a sturdy, realistic and nearly horrifying world in his Gotham City, a partial political ode to post-9/11 angst mixed with expected summertime bombast.  Whatever it was, it was something special, complete with Hans Zimmer's rousing orchestrations and a leaner, more complicated character at the helm, played, again with reticence and a canny sense of danger and unease by Christian Bale.  Following Batman Begins, a sturdy origin tale of man and superman, and The Dark Knight, which has it's own piece of legend and iconography, not just in the cinematic sphere, but in the pop cultural lexicon, a lot is clearly at stake in the third and final take, and Nolan, the showman, the puppeteer, the quizzical adventurist pounces, throwing everything on the line in The Dark Knight Rises.  Engaging and ever rousing, if a bit overstuffed and a lick too on the nose, his conclusion is a worthy send off to a truly special trilogy of films.

There's something else at stake, more so than anything that appears on screen and that involves the series legacy once the final credits have rolled.  Nolan's Batman is angry and moody, and more removed emotionally than any previous conjuring, and his take is bleak, even downright depressing.  What's rousing is also slightly meditative, and a near antithesis to the norms of contemporary summertime thrill ride.  Complain if one wishes about political messaging or murky encoded themes to Nolan's vision, there's a heft and gravitas that's unshakable, and never a moment of the candy-colored superhero features of, say this summers gargantuan The Avengers.  Nolan sets his fantasy and dour fun in a real world veneer, provoking and nearly transgressing the whole superhero genre, while simultaneously driving it and feeding it much needed nutrients.  The Dark Knight Rises is loud and blistering, full of action and effects and striking vistas that would make many awe in its splendor.  There's enough bombast to keep one amused, but it's the dignity and grounded fundamentalism of Nolan as a filmmaker that's riveting.  His focus on in the camera effects, use of mis en scene, appreciation for the unwaveringly, yet beautifully flawed evocative power of film.  And his noted distaste from third dimension distractions.  Whatever flaws come out of The Dark Knight Rises-- and it is admittedly messy in it's splendor-- the powerful filmmaking gifts of Nolan, and his incredible peak, overcome almost all.

Set eight years after The Dark Knight, with Batman a fugitive in the name of justice, and Bruce Wayne a reclusive, limping note of gossip.  Gotham City, however, is a safe haven.  Its denizens unaware of the actual fate of idealist Harvey Dent's undoing, are thriving in a world free of the underground crime rings that rotted Gotham and the newly instated Dent Act has, while under false pretenses, achieved wonders.  Of course Nolan, nor his eager audience, are interested in peace time, and a storm is brewing, as the ads promise, in the form of a new villain to the canon setting his sites on raising hell in Gotham City.  Bane, played with massive authority and imposing Hulk-like physique by Tom Hardy is the new reckoning on Gotham, and  Batman, that is if you can understand him--Bane's line readings correctly remedy any complaints that may have been voiced at Batman's ADR in the earlier films-- it's arguably the films worst stroke.  In reshaping the Dark Knight mythology (one that may have felt completely different had Heath Ledger still been around to thrill) the film at times feels a tad awkward and tenuous to the way the prior films unraveled, The Dark Knight Rises ultimately feels appropriate in how it reconnects to Batman Begins, with a mission to right what may didn't succeed the first time.

Bane's mission is to destroy the city from inside.  Creating a horrifying turn of events in order to get to the city to crumble from within.  Fear-mongering Gotham to attack the rich, the establishment, and thus become reborn.  Hardy, with his immense physical might is terrifying, and his performance looms with intensity-- his brawls are natural and unwaveringly brutish, and his tone and demeanor are all business.  It's a partial shame, that in the midst of setting up The Dark Knight Rises real world, seemingly Occupy Gotham-inspired relevance, that his character development gets squandered, even in a mighty running length of two-hours and forty-five minutes.  The action doesn't disappoint for adrenaline junkies however, as an entertaining (if ponderous) James Bond-style prologue sets the mood, and a centerpiece bout, with an earth-shattering, and edge-of-one's-seats style sound design, punctuates that Batman is in real trouble.  Bane still remains a mystery however, at least to the non-comic book devotee.

There's other challenges for Batman\Bruce Wayne as well, as a nubile cat burglar enters his realm, as well as him home in the form of Selina Kyle (played with a playful, tough-minded grace by Anne Hathaway.)  The ever serious (at times, perhaps a tad too much so) Nolan engages a more playful, and humorous take on his version of Catwoman, and Hathaway's game performance is striking, not just in that's so markedly different from prior takes, but because of the grounded humanity that shrouds such a cartoon-y character.  Kyle adds a notch in the sense of the political sculpting of The Dark Knight Rises, warning Bruce of the dangers and living so large while so many others suffer below.  There's a few other newcomers to the journey-- a jaded, but ever hopeful young cop, played with a refreshing ease by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and a comely philanthropist with eyes for Mr. Wayne, played by Marion Cotillard.  Surrounded by the sturdy support team of Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine, The Dark Knight Rises seeks to cover much ground, yet still manages to highlight the the solid ensemble-- the relationship between Wayne and his dutiful servant Alfred has never been so poignant before, and the conscience of Oldman's Commissioner Gordon never quite so raddled.

Nolan's world is near legend at this point, but his legacy on such an indelible piece of American fiction will rightfully remain intact due to his scope, power, and grandeur.  The Dark Knight Rises, even without an indelible imprint like that of Joker hanging towards the end of The Dark Knight should be seen as a worthy final chapter to an incredible and over-achieving reboot.  To the next auteur who tackles the Dark Knight, good luck. B+

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