Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

With the release of the very highly anticipated The Dark Knight Rises on Friday, what has become known as The Dark Knight Saga is now complete. Over the course of the past seven years, Christopher Nolan has been able to make Batman into a box office hit, creating new hype for and awareness of the comic book movie. Being the box office hits that they are, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight have been highly praised by both critics and moviegoers alike and have reached some memetic status across the internet, especially the latter film. After watching the previous releases again, I was able to view the final installment this morning; while the end result is a well made movie, I did end up finding some problems with it.

Eight years after the events of The Dark Knight, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has retired his identity as Batman and the Dent Act has significantly lowered the crime rate in Gotham City. Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) meanwhile keeps the conspiracy created at the end of the previous film to himself, believing that Gotham is not ready for the truth, also promoting officer John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) in order to gain his assistance. However, Bruce's retirement and Gotham's peace are about to come to an end thanks to the appearances of the master thief Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) and a mysterious terrorist named Bane (Tom Hardy).

To get my praises out of the way, I'd like to first speak about the acting. Christian Bale and Gary Oldman continue to put out great performances that show exactly why they were picked for the role, Batman voice aside. In the film they are both shown at first as being in a state of crisis, which they portray really well while continuing this level of acting throughout their recoveries and later roles. Morgan Freeman is also still great as Lucius Fox, providing Batman with new gadgets that end up helping him greatly in overcoming his latest nemesis. This character is still a good source of lightheartedness, giving a little balance to the otherwise dark picture.

The new actors also give solid onscreen performances. Anne Hathaway is a good fit for Selina Kyle, playing the character's cunning and charm with enough grace that makes her screen time very satisfying to watch, backed by great chemistry between her and Bale. I also thought that Joseph Gordon-Levitt did well enough for his character, though I'm not sure I feel the same way about Tom Hardy as Bane. While his acting wasn't bad at all, there were some outside problems that prevented him from shining through completely; more on that a little later.

What always impresses me is Batman's gear. His ever-expanding arsenal gets a couple of upgrades this time around, including a brand new vehicle that fills the shoes of the Batplane very nicely. The additions to his combat weapons and disruption tactics are impressive and his fighting prowess is improved by what he now has. What gets me every time though is seeing the Batpod, a motorcycle originally ejected from the Batmobile previously, in action; I'm delighted whenever I see the wheels spin to the side for the extra maneuverability. Overall, the designs and implementation of each vehicle or gadget is of very high quality and excellence.

At this point, I should acknowledge again that while the film was good, there were some things that held it back from perfection. One contributing factor comes from the film's running time. Clocking in at nearly three hours, making it the longest theatrically-released English-language color superhero movie in history, this movie is long and feels that way too. The pacing could get a bit slow, almost to a crawl at some points, causing me to look at my watch and wonder when the next scene would happen. With all the dialogue and stuff going on, I'll also admit to zoning out for a few seconds in a couple of scenes and thinking about something else. I feel that if the movie was paced a little bit quicker, I might have had a tighter focus on the events.

This brings me to my next point, which would be the sound. While the sounds themselves, including music and dialogue, were all good, there was a bit of a problem with the mixing. Sometimes the music would be mixed too high, causing me to miss some potentially important dialogue from the various characters. This problem I believe hit Bane the hardest, which is that outside problem I previously mentioned. While Bane at times can already be incomprehensible, whoever was in charge of the sound must have decided that Hans Zimmer's score was more important, thus sometimes rendering the character completely inaudible. This affects other characters as well, but it really robs Tom Hardy of some of his superb acting ability, and thus Bane of some of his power.

While I'm still talking about Bane, I also believe that he may have been a little mishandled in the final product.  I almost didn't really see the point of giving him a ventilation mask, seeing as how in at least the Arkham games he does not possess this handicap. To top it off, the film focuses on him to be a major threat to the dark knight, with truly twisted ideals that make him worthy of Christopher Nolan's vision. However, his character arc near the end is concluded in a way that felt very anticlimactic to me, though the reasons are particularly spoileriffic (if you've seen the film already: it's the part where he is suddenly replaced by Talia al Ghul, thus demoting him to just another mook, and then having both of them be killed off rather unceremoniously, Bane with Batpod missiles and Talia through a car crash).

Then there's the transition from the events of The Dark Knight to this movie. While I understand that The Joker is not in this one out of respect to Heath Ledger, the fact that he doesn't even get a passing mention almost makes the entirety of the previous movie completely pointless, save for the fact that Harvey Dent is somewhat pivotal here. In fact, there are so many call backs and references to the first movie that going from Batman Begins to this one feels like a much better transition (I also say this due to the fact that, due to circumstances outside my control, I watched The Dark Knight and then Batman Begins when catching up).

This next point relates a little to the pacing, but the movie is good at introducing some plot points and scenes and then leaving them hanging. While not quite as bad at it as The Amazing Spider-Man, I did feel that a couple of scenes could probably have been cut without affecting the overall build of the movie. Even then though, the ending felt a little rushed and still left some things unexplained while simultaneously hinting at future adventures that may never be filmed. In some ways the film suffers from the same problem that affected The Dark Knight: it had too much plot. The only difference this time of course is that it also manages to reduce the caped crusader himself to a bit part in his own movie, since he has very little screen time compared with literally everyone else.

Before I end my review, I feel it necessary to mention a recent tragedy that now unfortunately is forever connected with this movie. At the midnight premiere in Aurora, Colorado, a man went into a theater armed with sophisticated armor and weaponry and proceeded to massacre some of those in attendance. While he has been arrested, the pain of this awful turn of events cannot be erased so easily. I initially thought about this event during my showing, not helped by the fact that the exit door was open most of the movie, but as it went on, I was able to feel safe where I was and enjoy the movie itself. Still, my thoughts go out to the families of the victims of the shooting and I wish them a brighter tomorrow.

In the end, The Dark Knight Rises, while having the qualities of a good Batman movie, does not reach over the bar set by its predecessor. The sound mixing and overall pacing are more of a detriment and it could have been better about not only tying the trilogy together, but also its own loose ends. Fans of The Dark Knight Saga are encouraged to watch this for some (somewhat mishandled) closure, as well as those who want to see what all the hype is about. It's not on the same level as The Avengers, but it's a movie worth watching nonetheless.

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