Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises Indeed

This third installment of Christopher Nolan's vision of the life and times of the Batman completes a masterpiece. It is the piƩce de resistance of the franchise and one of the strongest finishes to a trilogy we've seen since Lord of the Rings wrapped up. It was as strong as Return of the Jedi, but without resorting to the gimmickry of Ewoks.

The film at times thrived on its pure adrenaline driven action cinematography, but tempered the thrill-ride with the familiar aerial pans Nolan used to effect in Inception and The Dark Knight to give his scenes a sense of loftiness and gravitas. Dark Knight Rises borrows a good deal of its visual language and staging from post-modern war cinema, showcasing battle as a brutal swarm of colliding men and steel. The view from above and the brooding score by Hans Zimmer plead for the viewer's sympathy rather than the "kewl" response elicited by the inconsequential bedlam of Avengers. As Batman's flying car (or whatever it was) careens inadvertently into buildings at times, you can't help but feel a twinge of Bruce Wayne's heartbreak at hurting the city he and his family built.

The development of characters both old and new kept the film feeling fresh and engaging, similar to The Dark Knight. TDK probably surpassed this film in depth of characterization, but here even tertiary characters are brought up to a level of interest that many of their comic book counterparts don't often enjoy.

Hardy's Bane equals Ledger's Joker in every way, though I suspect some will be reluctant to admit it. His villainy is absolute, but is forged from sources seemingly unknowable. He is a powerful force come to teach Gotham a lesson and in a way stands as a monument to Batman's hubris at thinking he can don and discard his cowl at a whim.

Christian Bale reaches the height of his powers in expressing Bruce Wayne's resolve and finally shows us a healthy measure of the steel Batman is known for rather than the anger we saw in the first film or the passion in the second. Wayne's prolonged disengagement from the public eye in the aftermath of TDK seems almost trivial in a Hollywood where only death or dismemberment can keep the average hero from seeking righteous and permanent vengeance. Nolan chooses to ground his Bruce Wayne in reality by giving him a lengthy eight year grieving period/forced retirement.

Bale's Batman is essentially broken and soft before Bane even shows up. Going by the timeline of the films, Bruce should be about 40 at the time this installment begins. Anne Hathaway, despite her relative youth, pulls off a convincing turn as the wizened beyond her years and mostly out for herself Selina Kyle. Michael Caine finally gets to prove they couldn't just interchange any Englishman for the role and that Alfred did, in fact, require an accomplished actor.

The action is a bit overindulgent, but enjoyable and complementary to a strong narrative and compact script that rarely rushes but still manages to pack in a lot of story. The thematic explorations and competing plotlines are intelligent and rife with the twists and turns that seem to be the Nolan brothers' specialty.

I would have made the film shorter by exactly 2 seconds, but I'll leave readers to figure out why.

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