Yeah, there are spoilers here so if you haven’t seen the film go away!
Back in the 80′s being a Batman fan meant you collected his comic books and action figures – maybe you watched the Super Friends on Saturday morning and played some NES games, but that was about it. There were no movies about Batman – unless you count the campy 1960′s Adam West bullshit.
I did all of the above in the 80′s – I even had to make my own Batman t-shirt as there were none to be found in the stores. All that changed in 1989. Tim Burton’s Batman film hit the screens on June 25th 1989, my birthday actually, and Batman was fucking everywhere!
Behold, the Summer of Batman!
I saw the film with my family on our summer vacation to Disneyland. We stood in line for an hour at the smallest theater I think I’ve ever been to. The excitement was palpable – everyone was stoked, including me. I couldn’t believe I was about to watch a huge blockbuster based on my favorite superhero of all time, by one of my favorite directors at the time. Then the movie started. Something was not quite right. Something felt off. It felt…. staged. Shot in back-lots and sound stages. It felt unreal and fake.
Take a look at Richard Donner’s 1978 Superman: The Movie. He took the absolute cheesiness of Superman and made that shit seem real as hell. I believed in that film (this was also due to Christopher Reeve’s performance. Still the greatest single superhero acting job of all time). But here, this Batman film with it’s Prince soundtrack and Nicholson hamming, just left me wishing for something more honest. On the bright side, you could now buy a Batman shirt at K-Mart for 10 bucks.
1989′s Batman was a huge success though, regardless of what one nerdy 17 year old thought about it, and soon the sequels starting rolling in. One after another – Batman Returns, Batman Forever, Batman and Robin - Hollywood kept cashing in on the caped crusader until the well ran dry and the public said enough of this shit. Not only did Batman disappear, but the comic book movie genre did as well.
Then, at the dawn of the new millennium, came The X-Men. Bryan Singer’s film once again made people take notice of the comic book movie and wiped away the stain of Shumacher’s bat jizz. Singer showed us that if you treat the material with respect you can get the people to come out in hordes to see your film (Just as Donner did all those years ago). X-Men was the start of the Golden Age of Super Hero movies.
As a result of X-Men’s success the Batman franchise was reignited with a talented director and cast. Everyone involved in this re-boot treated the material as if they were filming Citizen Kane. And because of this we got the outstanding Batman Begins – Christopher Nolan’s opening shot of his Bat-Trilogy
(side-note: it was discussed tonight at our weekly Idle Time Meeting if Nolan really envisioned his Batman films as a true trilogy – much like Peter Jackson’s Rings movies – or if he decided after the fact? It was determined that if you “pretend” that the 3 films were all part of the Nolan’s plan from the start they work a lot better).
Never before had a super hero movie felt so goddamn real and important. But that was just the beginning, because the next film he gave us, The Dark Knight took the notion of “real” and “important” and sent it into the stratosphere. The Dark Knight is a masterpiece of comic book cinema. I’ll go on record here and say that this is the best comic movie ever made (sorry MDG, The Avengers is damn good but it’s no Dark Knight). From the start of the movie with the bat symbol in flames coming right at you, to the end with The Joker hanging upside-down laughing, nothing in this film is wasted. Every beat is pitch perfect and played for keeps. And of course Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker? Fuck.
So how could Nolan top That? How could his third film be better and improve on the comic book film genre even more? Well, it can’t and it doesn’t. And honestly, I think Nolan knew that and doesn’t even try to top The Dark Knight. What we get instead in The Dark Knight Rises is the most “Un-Super-Hero Super-Hero” film ever made. That make sense? What I’m saying is that this movie doesn’t feel like a comic book film. It feels like something else. But I’ll get to that in a bit – let’s start at the beginning.
The Dark Knight Rises begins eight years after the events of The Dark Knight. Batman has disappeared, becoming a fugitive and taking the blame for killing Harvey Dent, who has become a champion of Gotham City – dude even got his own “day”. But all that shit was built on a lie that only Commissioner Gordon, his family, the Joker, and Bruce Wayne/Batman know. During a speech on Harvey Dent Day, Gordon almost lets the cat out of the bag, but holds back, knowing that the city needs Harvey Dent to be the hero he never was. This lie needs to be maintained or The Joker wins. Gordon and Wayne can’t let The Joker win so they lie about Harvey, but deep down they know, yeah, the fucking Joker beat our asses.
Speaking of beating asses, its time to meet the villain of the movie, Bane. While not as theatrical and flamboyant as The Joker, Bane more then makes up for it in shear unstoppable force. The dude is one imposing motherfucker. Throw in that creepy mask and he is barely human at all. To make things even more unsettling, his voice, which you expect to sound like a cross between Darth Vader and Godzilla, sounds more like a cross between Count Dracula and Stephen Hawking. It works though.
Bane stages a hijacking at the start of the film that is easily one of the best segments of the film – and I kind of wish I hadn’t of already seen it in a preview before watching Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol in IMAX. But regardless it is a pretty amazing piece of stunt work and film making.
We then meet up with a broken down Bruce Wayne. His knees shot from years of abuse, he now uses a cane to get around the mansion. His butler Alfred follows him around giving him a hard time for not getting out of the house and getting laid. During all of Alfred speeches of wisdom, he starts to cry. It’s like Alfred has the end of E.T in a perpetual loop inside his head that causes him to tear up at the drop of a hat. Poor guy.
Around this time we also meet Selena Kyle – aka Catwoman. Anne Hathaway is decent in the roll here, and I wasn’t too annoyed by her or her character – which I was expecting to be – but her scenes with Bruce Wayne/Batman are some of the best in the film and she holds her own against Bale’s growling and brooding.
It turns out Bane wants to finish what Ra’s Al Ghul started way back in Batman Begins - destroy Gotham City – like Rome and Constantinople before it. Bane is part of the League of Shadows and was trained by Ghul, just as Bruce Wayne was. This is a nice connection with the first film and ties those two movies together beautifully. But what about tying in that awesome second film, The Dark Knight? Well the Harvey Dent connection is evident, but there is no mention of The Joker at all in the TDKR, which is too bad. Not even when Bane releases all the prisoners from Blackgate Prison do we see or hear about the Joker. I guess they keep him locked up somewhere else. You would think that Bane, who knows all about Bruce Wayne and Batman and where he keeps all his wonderful toys, would have recruited The Joker as one of his number one guys or something.
Bane does get Johnathan Crane, The Scarecrow, to be his Judge and dispense sentences to those that break the rules of his new Gotham, but no Joker. Was Nolan scared that no one could replace Heath Ledger? Or was it out of respect for his performance that he didn’t re-cast the role? I’m sure Bane and the Joker would have been BFF’s. Anyway, yeah it’s a bit of a stretch to connect the 2nd film, but like I said if you “pretend”, it all flows seamlessly. Now Nolan’s films join the ranks of the greatest movie trilogies of all time – Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and Beverly Hills Cop.
The Dark Knight Rises is one fucking long ass movie and unfortunately you start to feel it at about the 2 hour mark. I can’t help thinking that this film could have benefited from some serious editing, but I get what Nolan was trying to go for here – the LONG passage of time for Batman to RISE out of that hole in the ground he got tossed into after Bane broke him. And I do mean BROKE. Jesus fucking Christ, the fight scenes between Bane and Batman are bone-crushingly brutal and unrelenting. I also love how Nolan isn’t giving us any overly fancy film making during these fight scenes - ala Zack Synder and Micheal Bay. There are no slo-mo shots or crazy back flips over shit. Nope. Just punch after punch after punch after punch after punch after punch…..
HERE’S THEIR FIRST FIGHT!
Bane is a wrecking ball and completely sure of himself as Batman’s better – and he is. Batman never truly beats Bane. In the end it took a fucking cannon from the batcycle to bring him down just has he was about to cave Batman’s skull in. Bruce Wayne is one lucky billionaire bachelor.
Over the last few years since The Dark Knight came out there have been a shit load of comic book movies. Some good, some bad, but one thing they all did was acclimatize us into what a comic book film should be. The Avengers, Captain America, Iron Man, all great and fun movies. We have become adjusted to what to expect from a comic book film now – we are all old pros in the genre now. The Dark Knight Rises is not really a comic book film and I think that is throwing a lot of people off. The masses are heading to the theater to see Batman fly his awesome Bat-Plane and blow shit up and save the day, all the while making witty remarks (ie: Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man). What they got instead is the dismantling of Bruce Wayne’s Batman and the rise of another.
The “other” I’m talking about is Robin. But don’t call him that, he’s a bit embarrassed by that name. He much rather be called John Blake, a young “hotheaded” officer in the GPD, but also a fairly good detective. Dude figured out that Bruce Wayne was Batman, and dug up some shit on Bane to help save the day. Joseph Gordon Levitt nearly steals the show from Bale here, but pulls back just enough at the right times. Bruce likes this kid and starts to give Blake advice like “Get a mask. It helps protect the ones you love from getting hurt by your enemies.” Blake moves up the ranks quickly and groomed by both Batman and Commissioner Gordon to replace them when they are gone. Without knowing it he becomes the heir to the cowl.
AHHH SHIT, WRONG ROBIN!
So what feels like 10 hours later we finally get to the last act of the film – here things get a little formulaic. We have the ticking time bomb plot mixed in with the “shocking twist” reveal. Both work fine within the context of this epic and Nolan is a talented enough filmmaker to keep us interested and invested (although I groaned when Comish Gordon fumbles the box that he needs to attach to the bomb to disarm it with only seconds left!). If you are a devoted reader of the comics you probably could have seen the “twist” coming too – Tala Al Ghul turns out to the mastermind behind the whole thing and Bane was just her bodyguard. I could have done without this plot twist – things were working just fine with Bane running the show. Oh well, minor issues that might play better with repeated viewings.
Overall I liked The Dark Knight Rises. Loved? Maybe. One day. Christopher Nolan does a nice job wrapping things up and sets up the possibility of a new Batman franchise (with Gordon Levitt) or will Warner Bros leave this trilogy alone and do an Amazing Spider-Man and re-boot the whole deal – new origin, new cast, new everything. Either way rest assured, in a few years we will know the answer.
The Dark Knight Rises – 7 out of 10 ghosty orbs!
P.S – This film was meant to be seen in IMAX and you are doing yourself a disservice if you don’t see it in that format. Almost half the film was shot using IMAX cameras and those scenes are incredible. Do it!