Friday, July 20, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

Having spent the last eight weeks living and breathing the life of Batman, writing endless reviews and trying my best to 100% "Arkham City" (and failing), and even once dressing up in a cape and actually beating up local criminals, it would have been a terrible shame if it all was for naught.  If all that effort and dangerous obsession was all to lead up to something less than one of the best movies I've ever seen.  I made sure to be reasonable with my expectations, to lower my sights to just another fine Master Christopher Nolan film.  If it was just mediocre but enjoyable like the recent "Spider-Man" movie, I was ready.  Though in that case, I would have fallen into an existential crisis about just what the heck my whole life had been about.

Right now, I'm not in an existential crisis.  I'm not even merely satisfied.  I'm gleeful, I'm ecstatic, I'm bouncing off the walls in idiot joy.  "The Dark Knight Rises" is not merely a good movie, it doesn't merely wrap up Master Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy in a grand flourish, and it does not merely ante up the stakes of this Batman adventure to an unprecedented desperation and bleakness, its also one of the best goddamn experiences I've ever had in a movie theater.  I mean, I'll have to quantify the fact that I've been eagerly awaiting this movie for weeks, that I was sitting with a cheering crowd full of Batman fans*, but - and I feel like an absolute crazy person for saying this - this may be the best movie I've ever seen in my entire life.  I don't say that easily, I don't say without embarrassment, but I simply cannot think of a movie I have enjoyed more.  It was everything I wanted out of "The Dark Knight Rises" - all of my wildest dreams come true and still somehow more.  Its at the point that I am 100% certain that this is the best movie of 2012, without any possible hope of real competition in any way.  This is THE Batman movie, its a whole new league.  Before when Tim Burton said that his movies look like "Batman on Ice", I thought he was just sucking up.  Now I know, he was right.  I still love Batman on Ice, but "The Dark Knight Rises" is THAT good.  Holy shit.

This unfortunately is where the non-spoilers are going to end.  I really only had the vaguest idea what was going to occur during "The Dark Knight Rises", and I really could not have guessed the sheer magnitude of the final product.  This isn't merely a superhero adventure, this is a war movie.  Imagine the biggest most impossible odds for Batman to overcome, multiply by about one hundred, then you might have a brief clue as to what "The Dark Knight Rises" is actually about.  But I don't want to spoil anything - WATCH THE MOVIE.  WATCH IT NOW.  Then come back here, and you can read the rest of this review.  The less you know about whats going to happen, the better.  You will be pleasantly surprised.  "The Dark Knight Rises" is going to knock your asshole insideout, it will grow tumors of pure awesome inside your brain, and then it will go back in time and punch Hitler in the face in case you have any lingering doubts.  This movie is simply incredible, fantastic, amazing, holy fucking shit this movie rocked!

Okay, this movie is HUGE.  Probably the biggest single movie I've ever reviewed, so this review is going to be massive itself.  I'd apologize, but its better that I have a lot to talk about than nothing at all.

So right from the start, the biggest problem "The Dark Knight Rises" had was to overcome the clear overwhelming benchmark that was 2008's "The Dark Knight" without the "Rises".  "Batman 2" was one of the most popular and beloved movies of the last decade, you would have to search far and wide to find somebody who doesn't love "The Dark Knight".  And when you do find that person, tell me about him, because we're going to town on that motherfucker with a pitchfork and a cricket mallet.  Anyway, the Joker's reign of terror was simply so unnerving, he was a wild animal running around, and even with the full force of Gotham's government against him + Batman, the Joker continued to conquer and ravage the city.  Basically the only thing that could top a threat like that is a full revolution, which is exactly what Bane supplies, powered with a stolen nuclear bomb along with a fleet of enemy Batmobiles.  "The Dark Knight Rises" gives Batman a challenge so overwhelming that halfway through the movie I was hoping that Superman would fly in and save the day.  Because this really is not a job for Batman, this is a bit above his pay grade, we need the Man of Steel here.

Unfortunately, this is the Nolan universe, so Superman really has no place here.  And that's really for the best, because I don't see how such a bleak mood could ever work if you got Martian Manhunters and Amazons and Green Stupids flying around.

At the beginning of "Dark Knight Rises" eight years have passed since the Joker went to jail**, Bruce Wayne has become a recluse, having been deeply wounded by the Joker.  Rachel Dawes is dead, the Batman persona has been abandoned in order to take the fall for Harvey Dent's madness, and worse, Bruce Wayne is emotionally and physically defeated.  Wayne Enterprises is a shell of its former self, having lost millions on a failed attempt to make a Fusion Reactor.  But at least Gotham has clean streets thanks to Harvey Dent's false legacy.  Poor Commissioner Gordon isn't doing too well himself, being racked with guilt over living a lie, praising the very man who tried to kill his son.  At the beginning of the movie, Bruce Wayne has cut all ties with humanity, becoming something of a strange legend among Gotham.  He walks with a cane, he has a terrible beard, he has nothing to live for at all.  That's until Catwoman breaks into his mansion, and suddenly Batman is intrigued enough to return to a life of superhero-ship.

Now normally, this would be nothing but celebration - the hero's return to what makes him important.  However, as Michael Cane's Alfred points out, Bruce Wayne needs to move on beyond the Batman persona.  Alfred is a far more morose and sad character than we've seen him before, knowing that his master has lost everything that gave him any chance to be happy.  He even reveals that he had a dream that Bruce Wayne would just disappear and leave Gotham and his demons forever, that Wayne could finally be happy somehow.  Now Alfred can recognize immediately what this return to the cowl is not going to be Frank Miller's glorified psychopath - no.  Nolan is going someplace very different with Bruce Wayne's return to Batman - Bruce Wayne is trying to kill himself in his cape.  In the first half of the movie, the now more battered Christian Bale character isn't really working towards any kind of great cause, there is a villain to fight, but things don't get real until later.  For now, Batman is jumping off rooftops to end his miserable existence the easiest way he can, and that's a far grimmer interpretation of the Dark Knight than we've seen before.  Alfred does the only thing he can do to knock some sense into his master:  he leaves.

Probably because this Bruce Wayne is so much more deranged than usual, "The Dark Knight Rises" was the first time I truly bought Christian Bale as Batman, that was quite a thing.

Now what's really important about "The Dark Knight Rises" is that its not simply a movie about Batman, its an ensemble story involving lots of characters fighting their own battles against a violent invasion from the supervillain Bane.  There's of course, Lucius Fox and Commissioner Gordon, both returning allies who find themselves essentially under enemy occupation.  Then there's Catwoman, played by Anne Hathaway.  This Catwoman is a lot closer to that of the cartoons and comics than Michelle Pfeiffer's role in "Batman Returns".  While Pfeiffer was a vigilante woman edging towards madness in every direction while playing up an over-the-top femme fatale persona, this Catwoman is just a ninja thief, as you'd expect.  She's one of the sanest characters in the movie, simply working to survive any way she can.  Nolan manages to keep this Catwoman toned down, perhaps too much at times (for example, he never calls her "Catwoman", not once), but still, Selina Kyle is a pretty hammy character just by nature, and somehow Hathaway manages to sneak in some Burton-esque one-liners in the movie.  Hathaway does a fine job with this character, I thought.  Marion Cotillard is Bruce Wayne's other potential love interest, playing a - of course - French industrialist who wants to save Wayne Enterprises and thus the world with Arc Reactor technology.  Then there's Joseph Gordon-Levitt, playing Officer John Blake, a member of the Gotham Police who appears to be the most competent dude on the force.  He's just an average human, who even manages to piece together Batman's identity, but is thrown into impossible odds here.  Gordon-Levitt manages to not exactly steal the show, but his character does come off as the most sympathetic person in the movie, and you can tell immediately what Nolan is setting him up to become.  Here we have a Batman successor in the making.

Okay, what would the movie be without a villain?  Now its time to talk about Tom Hardy's Bane.  Master Nolan decided on Bane being the villain here because he's the farthest thing possible from the Joker.  Bane isn't a hammy lunatic out to torture Batman any way he can, Bane is just here to get stuff done.  He doesn't make jokes, he doesn't laugh, his face is covered by a huge breathing apparatus, and he's HUGE.  For the first time ever in any Batman movie, we have a foe here that can go toe to toe with Batman in a completely fair fight and trounce him.  Of course, Tom Hardy is a huge improvement over Poison Ivy's mindless sidekick from "Batman & Robin", since not only is he the worst physical threat Batman has ever faced, but he's also a military genius, the direct heir to Ra's Al Ghul as the leader of the mad League of Shadows.  In the opening of the movie, Bane performs a daring raid on a CIA plane, kidnapping a nuclear physicist by grabbing that plane out of the sky with a bigger aircraft.  Holy damn.  Hiding under the sewers of Gotham, Bane builds an entire secret army.  Then he blasts his way into Lucius Fox's armory, steals a bunch of spare Batmobiles, and finally takes on Batman directly.  Here is probably the most intense moment of the entire film, where Batman gets into a fist fight with Bane.  No matter what the Dark Knight does, no matter what tricks he attempts, Bane simply overwhelms him, its completely hopeless from the beginning.  Then in a final coup de grace, Bane smashes Batman's back, leaving our hero completely crippled for the next hour of film.

While Batman is thrown down into a Middle Eastern pit of a prison, Bane begins his attack on Gotham.  This is where things go from really bad to completely hopeless.  In a series of explosions, Bane traps the entire Gotham police force underground, blows up an entire football game, and suddenly declares that Gotham City is his.  In a single day, Bane does not merely threaten Gotham, he conquers Gotham.  Every bridge out of the city is destroyed, the entire city is held hostage by the Wayne Enterprises Arc Reactor, which has been reverse engineered into a ticking nuclear bomb.  One move by American military power to save New York Gotham and Bane's secret agent flips the switch and Gotham becomes a smoking crater.  Now the remaining heroes of Gotham have to live under enemy occupation for months, while trying to find a way to retake the bomb before the five month deadline clicks down.  There's no Gotham, the prisons full of mafia soldiers are free, and the city is in complete chaos.  Bane has promised a kind of psuedo-socalist revolution where the 1% have been completely defeated, however, all he's offering is madness.  The Scarecrow is running Gotham's courts!  How much worse can it be.

Well, Gotham could be in Bruce Wayne's position, he's stuck at the bottom of a pit.  So not only is the city conquered, but the only person who could ever save the day is in some underground prison thousands of miles outside of Gotham.  The final climax of the movie involves Bruce Wayne finally escaping from the ultimate physical challenge, overcoming every personal demon that possible remained within him as a child.  This isn't the same old Bruce Wayne fighting to avenge his parents and defeat his fear, this isn't even the death-seeking Bruce Wayne from the beginning of the movie, he's now something more:  a more complete person.  A superhero.  Then its time for the epic final battle, a full military engagement on the streets of Gotham between the police, Batman, and Bane's army of mercenaries and criminals.  It is the final grand engagement of two forces:  civilization vs terror right in the streets of Gotham.  Batman pulls off some Dragon Ball Z power-level boost up, defeats Bane, and the day, seemingly is saved.

Unfortunately nothing is quite so simple as that.  Here come the twists, BIG TWISTS.  Spoilers are really attacking you right now, so you better batter down the hatches and not read this part.  I mean, you shouldn't have read a word of this, I told you not to, but really, stop now.  Bane is not Ra's Al Ghul's successor, he wasn't the child Bruce Wayne followed out of the Lazarus Pit.  He's just an enforcer, a soldier under the real leader of the League of Shadows:  Marion Cotillard, or Talia Al Ghul.  Yeah, we didn't see that coming, did we?  Batman is stabbed right in the chest, right where he least expected it.  Well, he gets over his worst single moment, and blows her up without much thought, and then rolls right over to play yarn with Catwoman.  That's adaptivity right there.  Batman has to fly his Batwing out of Gotham to blow himself up, taking his own life to save the city in its last moment of desperation.  A final sacrifice, a final gift for Gotham.

But this wasn't right though.  This ending doesn't work.  You can't end the Batman story with Alfred tearfully begging forgiveness to Thomas and Martha Wayne for failing to save their son from his suicidal crusade.  I mean, it has a kind of internal plot logic to it, but its not the reward a superhero deserves for dedicating his entire life to save a city.  So then there's the final twist:  Bruce Wayne wasn't in the Batwing when it went, he fixed the auto-pilot.  And where is Bruce Wayne now?  Having dinner with Selina Kyle in Italy, the romance that failed in 1992 finally succeeding in 2012, even if that had to be thrown together in the last minute.  That's the ending Bruce Wayne deserves:  to not just overcome a group of psychopathic supervillains, but to overcome Batman.  To move on with his life, to be something more.  Meanwhile, the Batman story does not end, because a successor has been found:  Joseph Gordon-Levitt, AKA:  Robin.  Holy crap.

On one level, "The Dark Knight Rises" is a huge epic of a movie.  A fifty-course feast of exciting action, brilliant acting, a great script, just beautiful filmmaking from beginning to end.  Its a thing of art, not just superheroism.  This is, in all likelihood, Christopher Nolan's best movie, with set pieces the size of air craft carriers.  Nolan is a director of the old school, a man who doesn't rely entirely on the computers to do all the filmmaking work for him like so many less talented Blockbuster directors out there.  Most of the work you're seeing here is practical effects.  Those Batmobiles that Batman is fighting, they're real vehicles.  That's a real bike Batman is riding, and his cape is actually floating.  Every set is real, physical, visceral.  Its even filmed in natural light, no blue and orange bullshit, thank god!  To his credit, he didn't even waste our time with 3D, because Master Nolan realized what nobody else in Hollywood has:  nobody likes 3D.  Nobody.

But on the other level, as a huge Batman fan, I like this movie a bit more than I should.  I can't really judge this as simply a movie, its an event.  A cultural passage of supreme importance.  For the average viewer, Marion Cotillard revealing herself to be Talia Al Ghul might just be a confusing note, but for me, its incredible awesome.  Killer Croc gets referenced in a quick joke.  The Scarecrow returns for one final hilarious cameo.  The revelation that Joseph Gordon-Levitt's real name is Robin will not be quite so obscure, everybody will see the reference immediately.  But really, the most epic fanwank moment for me was the triumphant return of Liam Neeson, showing up in a dream sequence to taunt his student one last time.

Now, is "The Dark Knight Rises" perfect?  Um... no.  If I must complain about something, and I do, its Bane's voice.  In the earliest previews, people were having a lot of trouble understanding Tom Hardy, so Nolan fixed that bringing Hardy back to dub over his lines in the movie.  Well, even though dubbing worked fine with Darth Vader, its pretty obvious here, because the Bane voice is several octaves louder than every other piece of dialog in the film, it sounds like its coming from some totally different dimension of loudness.  And I was doing really good at understanding what Bane was saying, but even I couldn't quite get it.  (And to really nitpick, I wish Bane died a tad bit more dramatically.  And to REALLY nitpick, Scarecrow never gets to fight anybody.)

However, my conclusion here is completely clear.  "The Dark Knight Rises" is the best Batman movie ever made, it may be one of the best movies I've ever seen.  Its everything.  Batman is pushed to his final limit, the ultimate test, and he passes, he moves on.  Batman defeats evil, and his reward is simple:  to become Bruce Wayne.  From there, a new Batman takes his place, somebody who can take up the mantle by choice, not because of the bad memories screaming inside his head.  But beyond that, its simply an epic.  A huge monster of a movie, a complete war for the soul of Gotham right on screen.  We're beyond Blockbuster now, we're beyond simply selling toys, its almost beyond simply being about Batman.  Some might say that makes "The Dark Knight Rises" is a bloated overdrawn mess, I disagree entirely.  This is the National Epic for the comics world, the most extreme that any movie can reach.  I'll admit that this is the upper limit, that this is as big as a movie can be.  But even with such a huge scope, Master Nolan pulls it off.  A grand victory for the forces of good over evil.  Batman triumphant.

What a fucking movie, wow.

Anyway, let me briefly discuss what the possible future of the Batman franchise might be.  Christopher Nolan's era is over, but his continuity may not be.  The movie actually ends with somebody else standing in the Bat Cave.  Bruce Wayne's time under the cowl may be over, but Robin's may not be.  What Warner Bros may be doing here is leaving a door open to have a brand new Batman to link up with a huge continuity of Warner Bros films.  But somehow, that all just feels like a false note.  It would be off-key no matter what.  When you take Batman all the way to beyond the limits, when you start WWIII in Gotham City, its a bit difficult to go back to costumed foes robbing banks, isn't it?  Batman needs years now to cool off, at least a decade.  So that Batman can turn in a new direction, probably a sillier direction, but a new one.  Hopefully... BATMAN BEYOND.  Is anybody with me here?

And sadly, I must end this review on a sad note, due to the tragedy in Colorado last night.  What a sad sad world we live in that fans must be rewarded for their diligence and care for watching a movie by being attacked by a goddamn lunatic with a gun.  What a sad miserable world we live in.  Almost makes one wish there was a Batman.

* I really wish that you didn't have to go to midnight releases to hear audiences cheer or applaud movies.  Why are we so quiet all the time in our theaters?  We should get invested!  I didn't hear a single damn cheer when I saw "Spider-Man", why not?  Maybe if somebody cheered when I saw "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter", it could have been a better experience.  Of course, that's assuming there was anybody else in that theater with me, which there weren't, it was totally empty.

** The Joker, of course, is not in "The Dark Knight Rises" due to Heath Ledger's tragic death.  The loss of him and his character are an unspoken phantom over this entire production, like a nasty secret that nobody wants to mention.  I guess Nolan handled it the best he could, despite the Joker's broad boasting that Batman and him will be fighting forever (as they do in the comics and cartoons), in this universe he was more realistically thrown into the deepest darkest prison out there, and never heard from again.  Usually a supervillain can escape from jail with all the difficulty of a morning commute to work, but not in these movies.  I guess we can applaud the realism.  Its not like real-life supervillains, Charles Manson or Khalid Sheikh Mohammed ever escaped.


  1. This movie was absolutely incredible. A couple of people behind me complained towards the end about how it made no sense adapting to the comics, but watching Batman and Bane fight a second time thankfully managed to make me forget about those guys for the rest of the movie.

  2. THIS MOVIE IS LEGEND-wait for it-DARY!!!! From start to finish me and my friends were on the edge of our sits with sparkly eyes and giant grins on our faces. They even included the bat breaking scene from the comics which made me and several other people sqeee in nerdy delight. And Batman Beyond? YEEESSSS!!!! As long as they bring in Christopher Nolan to direct it (movie or Tv wise either one is good) I would gladly spend money on it. BTW I know Batman Countdown is over and you probably already hung up your Batman Blogger Cape can you pllllease do a review on it? It doesn't have to be now just sometime in the recent future.

  3. Oh god, this movie was a masterpiece! The audience actually briefly applauded twice, then went into an uproar. The first applause was the reveal of Gordon-Levitt's name. The second was the reveal that Bruce was alive. The uproar was when the movie finally ended.

  4. This Film is one of the best films i have ever seen. ha cant wait to brag to my classmates who thought avengers would be better than this.

  5. To your Batman Beyond Film I remember when gotham was being blown up 'well blue got his wish'

  6. I'm so relieved it was spectacular!