This post was written before the details of the Aurora, Colorado shooting were released. My thoughts go out to the victims of that senseless violence.
Na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na… BATMAN!
Batman has been my favorite superhero for as long as I remember. When I was a little girl, I would watch the re-runs of the 1960s TV show Batman. Even at 6, I appreciated the camp factor. I may have even thought that the batusi was a real dance and I loved all of Robin’s exclamations of “Holy (insert pun here), Batman.
My affection for Batman only increased with the release of Tim Burton’s Batman in 1989. At the time, I couldn’t imagine anyone doing The Joker better than Jack Nicholson. I think I was drawn to the fact that Batman is basically a regular guy – he has no super powers and didn’t become a superhero from some freak accident – and therefore has the coolest gadgets to help him defeat villains. I eventually bailed out on the franchise as the sequels became increasingly bad, but my faith in the caped crusader was renewed with Christopher Nolan’s reboot Batman Begins. The follow up, The Dark Knight, was absolutely amazing, fueled by Heath Ledger’s legendary performance as The Joker. I may or may not have left work early with a headache so I could see The Dark Knight on opening day (I hadn’t yet discovered midnight movies). The Dark Knight became the high water mark for my judgment of superhero movies and I had no idea how Nolan was going to beat the standard that he set for himself. As the release date for The Dark Knight Rises approached, I became more and more concerned that there was no way that the movie could live up to the hype surrounding it.
I’m thrilled to report that thought The Dark Knight Rises is not better than The Dark Knight, it is a more than worthy successor. Nothing could possibly live up to the expectations or surpass Ledger’s performance, but The Dark Knight Rises comes closer than I would have ever anticipated. In short, I really liked it.
The Dark Knight Rises picks up eight years after the events of The Dark Knight. Batman (Christian Bale) hasn’t been seen since his showdown with The Joker and Gotham still believes Batman to be responsible for the death of Harvey Dent. Bruce Wayne has become a recluse; his only real human interaction is with his trusty butler Alfred (Michael Caine). Without his alter ego, Wayne’s life has lost meaning and direction. A chance encounter with Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) begins to bring Wayne out of his self-imposed cocoon, but Batman remains dormant. Without its protector, Gotham is vulnerable; along comes masked mercenary Bane (Tom Hardy) and his band of thugs, hell-bent on destruction. Will this be enough to lure Batman out of retirement and, if so, is he still up to the job? Or has something fundamentally broken in Wayne that makes him incapable of resuming his vigilante justice?
Bale is solid in his final outing as Wayne/Batman. The Dark Knight Rises gives him more opportunities to actually act, rather than just exacting vengeance, and he does a nice job of showing the anguish that Bruce Wayne is living in, both mentally and physically. Being Batman isn’t an easy gig and Bale effectively demonstrates the toll that it has extracted on the millionaire behind the mask. For a movie with The Dark Knight in the title, Batman has a lot less screen time than you would expect; the movie is more about Batman in the abstract rather than the actual superhero. However, the action sequences involving Batman are very exciting and well done. There’s just something about a guy in a cape (in this context; in real life, that’s weird). Bale has received a lot of criticism in the past for the voice he uses as Batman, but I think it was much improved for this finale. It still is gravelly, but it was easier to understand what he was saying. Perhaps Batman has laid off the Marlboro Reds.
I am not particularly an Anne Hathaway fan – her history of movie roles and my personal taste don’t exactly intersect – nor am I particular fan of Catwoman, but Hathaway really did a fantastic job. The women in superhero movies aren’t normally given much to do other than pine over the hero, but Catwoman as conceptualized in The Dark Knight Rises can kick ass along with her male counterparts. Her interactions with Bruce Wayne and Batman are fun since she doesn’t seem particularly impressed with either one of them. She keeps her cool and has her own agenda. She’s not necessarily inherently good or bad – she does what she needs to do to get by. Hathaway seemed very comfortable with the stunt work required of her and her detached portrayal of Catwoman added some nice tension to the film.
Of course, it’s the villain that makes all the difference in superhero movies and while Bane was in no way superior to The Joker, he was much better than I would have imagined. I wasn’t particularly familiar with this character before the movie, so I didn’t know what to expect. And in Tom Hardy’s meaty hands, Bane was kind of terrifying from a physical point of view. He is the most imposing of any villain that I can remember in sheer size and physically can do some damage. He is definitely a bad guy and he makes The Lizard in The Amazing Spiderman look like a joke. But what he is lacking is personality. What made The Joker was so fun was he was clearly unhinged, but he was a lot of fun to watch. Bane doesn’t have much of a point of view – it’s not really clear what motivates him and while he is pretty scary, there isn’t much to him. He lacks panache. The mask that he wears limits his ability to evoke any emotion and the voice that he uses is difficult to understand a lot of the time. I probably only understood about 75% of his dialogue, though it was the important 75%. This is not to say that Bane is a terrible villain – he does hatch some pretty cool action sequences – but he suffers in comparison to the flamboyance of The Joker. You just want your mad men to have a little more character. He’s got the wonton destruction down; he just needs to improve his charisma.
The plot of the movie is a little complicated and not all of it 100% works. There are a lot of movie pieces and the film is very ambitious in scale, but it was also a little hard to keep track of everything. The underlying tension of class warfare and inequality occasionally feel a little forced – there is an attempt to make some social commentary in The Dark Knight Rises, but with so much else going on it isn’t always effective. While there are some pretty spectacular visuals and action sequences, there are also long stretches where nothing blows up and no one fights. That’s fine in my book, but others expect more wall to wall excitement. The Avengers was a lot of fun to watch; The Dark Knight Rises is a much, much darker film. There is some humor, but it is sporadic at best. If you are looking for a superhero who likes to quip, you are in the wrong movie
Some other thoughts:
- The rest of the supporting cast was also very good, especially Joseph Gordon-Levitt who plays a heroic police officer that refuses to believe that Batman is Gotham’s enemy. Gordon-Levitt is god in pretty much everything he does and there is some nice payoff for his character in the film.
- There are also some blasts from the past that make brief appearances in The Dark Knight Rises. Pay attention during the “courtroom” scene.
- This movie is long – 2 hours and 45 minutes – so make sure you visit the bathroom before it starts and you get comfortable. You are going to be there a while. The movie didn’t necessarily feel long, other than the fact that I was really tired. But I can’t think of much that I would have taken out – there isn’t a lot of fluff in it.
- Batman has some pretty cool vehicles in this one – his motorcycle in particular is pretty awesome.
- While there are obvious references to the plot of The Dark Knight, there were more references to Batman Begins than I would have expected. It’s not necessary to have seen both films beforehand to understand what is going on, but it will enhance what you get out of The Dark Knight Rises (plus they are both awesome).
- This was my first midnight movie experience with a movie that has a crazy fandom – I’ve been seeing most superhero movies at advanced screenings, so you don’t get the element of people dressing up for the movie. That was definitely not the case last night – there were people in costume EVERYWHERE. These people took this very seriously – the movie theater even had an invite only masquerade ball to mimic one of the scenes in the movie and people went all out. There were Jokers all over the place and two guys dressed as Batman and Bane made a brief appearance in our theater. It was kind of crazy. I managed to snap a picture of these two women, dressed as Catwoman and Poison Ivy
I cannot think of any circumstances where I would dress up for a movie. I decided not to wear my Batman t-shirt because I thought that was lame. But more power to them – they seemed to be having a great time.
- How popular was this movie? I wound up sitting in a traffic jam leaving the mall – at 3 am. There were definitely a lot of people at the midnight shows.
- Three and half hours of sleep makes for a very long Friday at work. Coffee is my friend today.
- No 3-D. You have no idea how happy that makes me.
- I always try to eavesdrop on people leaving the theater to see what they think and the response I heard was overwhelmingly positive.
- I did not see the ending of the movie coming – they did a good job of tricking me with several plot points, which is hard to do. I figured out the “twist” in The Sixth Sense within the first 10 minutes of the film.
- Speaking of the ending – I absolutely loved it.
- I have a friendly bet with a friend over which film will gross more domestically over their first ten weeks, The Avengers or The Dark Knight Rises. I don’t want to have to buy him lunch, so I’d appreciate if you go see The Dark Knight Rises, preferably multiple times.
I really, really enjoyed The Dark Knight Rises, but I have to concede that it might be the weakest of the three films. The Dark Knight is definitely better, but it has been a while since I’ve seen Batman Begins. That being said, it is still one of the best films that I’ve seen this year and I would absolutely see it again. I thought it was a fitting end to the Nolan years of this franchise. It has its weaknesses, amplified by comparisons to The Dark Knight, but I would still whole heartily recommend it.