Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Review: The Dark Knight Rises

The Homeless Nerd Reviews:
The Dark Knight Rises

At a glance- superhero action, drama and explosions, the final movie in a trilogy

What is it? This summer has seen a reboot to the Spider-Man franchise and also, with this movie, a closing of the Batman series. Batman is a complicated character. After witnessing his parents' death as a small boy Bruce Wayne becomes masked crime-fighter The Batman. The first Batman comic was in 1939, the first Batman TV show in the 1960s and the first Batman movie in 1989. That's a lot of stories for one character.
One reason for the proliferation of Batman-related media is that the character himself is very complex. He is dark and brooding, fighting crime because of personal drive – and yet he typically has Robin, his wise-cracking (though also capable) teenage sidekick. He is a great fighter, called “The Dark Knight” - and yet also brilliant, designing all his own weapons and also called “The Great Detective.” Like James Bond, Batman ends up falling in love with different women, yet most every relationship ends badly since his hometown of Gotham city is his first and truest love.

The acting- As the 6th actor to take on the role, Christian Bale is to me one of the best of the Batmen. He has the billionaire playboy good looks and yet moves like a dangerous athlete. He also pulls off the tortured and conflicted Batman well (not so much the driven intellectual, but nobody's perfect).
    Our villain is the masked Bane, played by Tom Hardy, a Russian master-criminal who has set his sights on Gotham city. I feel for any actor who has to play a part with a mask or dark glasses – one's face is vital to expressing emotions which in turn is vital to selling a role. You can take the easy way out like Sylvester Stallone in Judge Dredd and just take off the offending helmet/whatever; but it is far more difficult to act the role the way that it looks in the comics. Mr. Hardy does a good job of being physically imposing, but not like a mindless brute. My only complaint was that the distortion in his voice from the mask made it hard to hear some of his lines (though, it doesn't help that I'm partially deaf).
    Anne Hathaway takes on the role of part-villain / part-love interest Selina Kyle aka Catwoman. I was surprised at how much I liked her. While not physically imposing she still appears dangerous, and she carries the moral ambiguity and sex appeal of the comic character. Catwoman and Batman have had a long-term on-again off-again relationship, which is odd given that he is essentially a lawman and she a criminal. It's an 'opposites attract' thing.
    Speaking of lawmen, we also have Commissioner Gordon (played perfectly, again, by Gary Oldman) and the new character of Police Officer Blake (played by Joseph Gorden-Levitt). Gordan's world-weary leader and Blake's idealistic up-and-comer give some added dimensions to the script, and both men play their parts well.
    Rounding out the cast are the other love-interest, Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), engineer and businessman Lucius Fox (the always fantastic Morgan Freeman) and loyal butler Alfred (Michael Caine – the best of the Alfreds ever).

The story- There are several common themes in the superhero genre, on of which is “wishing for a normal life.” As our final act starts Harvey Dent's death has led to new legislation allowing the police to crack down on crime, and 8 years have passed with Bruce Wayne living as a hermit and having given up on being Batman. Losing his true love in the last film has shown him how high the price of being Batman is, and it's too much. “Gotham doesn't need the Batman,” he says. Until, of course, a new villain shows up – Bane. Incredibly strong and trained by the ruthless League of Shadows (a flashback to the first movie), Bane is out to destroy Gotham city. So once again Bruce Wayne has to face the cost of becoming the Batman and his desire to live a normal, happy life. The Dark Knight Rises does a good job of playing to its theme. Bruce has to face defeat and ultimately rise above his fears and struggles to save Gotham. Some parts are very unrealistic, like in most superhero movies, for example an improvised back surgery that takes place in a third-world prison (and would leave a real person crippled for life). Despite a few bumps the story unfolds nicely and there are lots of heroes and larger-than-life action. Judged by its theme, it is a good movie.
    Which is where this review goes a little sideways. I did not like this movie. That may come as a shock since it was generally well-reviewed and I just said it was a good movie. The problem is not the movie following its theme, the problem is with the theme itself. The “wishing for a normal life” is common to superheroes because so many of them acquired their powers involuntarily. Superman was born with his abilities, Spider-Man was bitten by a radioactive (or now genetically-enhanced) spider. They didn't ask to become heroes, and so they often wonder what life would be like as normal people. That is not true for Batman. Bruce Wayne decided to become Batman, he spent an insane amount of time and training to make himself into a hero. He knew the job was dangerous when he took it (to quote Super Chicken). Comic book Batman has faced no end of pain and suffering and never given up on being Batman. In the comics when Bane appeared, called the 'Knightfall' story arc, when Bruce Wayne was too injured to go on he called another hero, Azreal, to take over. Then Bruce went on a trip to the best doctors, studied again under the master assassin who trained him originally, and came back to Gotham to beat up Azreal – who didn't have the willpower and emotional toughness necessary to be Batman. In the comics, other more powerful heroes were afraid of the Batman, because his will and his intelligence were so great that he could find a way to defeat any foe. Comic book Batman would not give it all up for 8 years and let the cops handle things. After all, the cops weren't able to save his mother and father from being killed.
    Ultimately that is why I didn't like this movie: it didn't feel like it was true to the source comic book material. Had it been another hero in the starring role I would have enjoyed it, it is a good superhero movie, it just didn't feel like a Batman movie. Several things, beyond just Bruce Wayne's character, are significantly altered from the comics. To me that's a deal-breaker. I understand a movie is different from a comic book, and heroes with decades of stories have to be reduced to 2 hours; however, the movie still has to respect and be true to the original comics and all the work that created the character in the first place. At least, that's what I think.

My recommendation-
    If you haven't read the comics: if you like superhero movies go see it, it's good.
    If you have read the comics: go see it, but know that it will be different from what you have read, so keep an open mind and no expectations.

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