The Dark Knight Rises

July 24, 2012 by  
Filed under Movies

Back in 2005, Christopher Nolan rescued one of the most self-destructive franchises in movie history when he resurrected Batman in “Batman Begins”. What began as a promising run with Tim Burton in 1989 devolved quickly once it was taken over by Joel Schumacher in the mid-90’s; and the culminating film, “Batman & Robin”, promised that the franchise had completely fallen apart. After that film, I think we were all sick of Batman. At least, we were sick of *that* Batman. But, Batman as a symbol of justice, as a comic book hero, is still intriguing. The costume, the super rich alter ego, and the inner struggle of the character, are still something we yearn to see.

And so, Christopher Nolan, who at the time was still making his way into the Hollywood mainstream, rebooted the whole thing and started from scratch. At the time, we didn’t have an onslaught of comic book movies every year, so it didn’t feel as much as a saturated genre (as, say, watching “The Amazing Spider-Man” did). And Nolan took a serious approach to Batman, someone who wanted to do a character study as well as an action film. The result, “Batman Begins”, was a smashing success. Finally we saw Batman as a real character. The film was dark and brooding much like Burton’s 1989 version; but we learned so much more about Bruce Wayne and Batman in this film. With champion efforts by good actors like Michael Caine and Chrisitan Bale, this Batman movie was thorough, thought-provoking, and sensational.

His follow up was one of the biggest and best comic book epics brought on screen with “The Dark Knight” in 2008. Though that movie was surrounded by the hype of the passing of Heath Ledger, the film stood as a fantastic, big scale action thriller with one of the best “villain” performances in film history. It would be hard to top an achievement such as “The Dark Knight.”

This time, Nolan tries his best with “The Dark Knight Rises”, throwing everything and the kitchen sink at us with big explosions and massively complex action sequences. The result? Well, I said it’d be hard to top “The Dark Knight”. And, it certainly doesn’t come close. In fact, this to me was the weakest of the 3 films. It spends so much time on the action and too much time on corporate politics, and so little on character, that this was an imbalance.

“Rises” begins big with an escape by the villain Bane (played by Tom Hardy), a hulking cross between a roided up bomber pilot and Darth Vader who has a curious wit that could be appreciated if we could understand what he was saying half the time. While the voice is a bit bass amplified and broadcast through surround sound, sometimes it’s so muddled that you just have to give him the benefit of the doubt. Other times, his voice goes so over the top it’s hard to tell if he’s aware of how silly he sounds. But when Bane throws his hands, it’s no laughing matter. There’s no question that he is the most physically imposing villain that Batman has faced in the entire movie series, dating back to the 60’s.

Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne is bankrupt after a venture with Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), who seemingly comes out of nowhere to help Wayne Enterprises, and has invested in a fusion power project that has ultimately cost him his fortune, and his board removes him from the company. She and Wayne share a brief romance; but there isn’t a lot of time spent on their relationship, and perhaps it’s for the best in the end.

As for Batman, he’s retired. Wayne suffered an injury that has left him a bit crippled. This is taken advantage of by another adversary, who is Selina Kyle, or, Catwoman (Anne Hathaway). She’s a burglar who only steals from rich people…like Robin Hood. Only with much more sex appeal. There are two sides to this character, though, and she is actually one of the stronger ones in the film thanks to a brilliant performance by Hathaway. There is a vulnerability inside her; but she “masks” it (ahem) with a hard edge that says she can’t be manipulated. Wayne somewhat sympathizes with her; she feels something for him as well, but she just can’t show it.

Batman does make a comeback, however, as expected. Otherwise I guess the movie would’ve only been 45 minutes long and called “The Dark Knight Says I’d Rather Not”. He’s not as strong as Bane, however, and routinely gets dominated by Bane’s strength and agility. The reason Bane is so similar to Batman physically is because he was trained by the same man, Ra’s al Ghul (reprised by Liam Neeson) in the League of Shadows. Bane was excommunicated, and is seen as Batman as a “rogue”. But Bane wins out, and Batman is cast into the same prison that Bane grew up in, with his only hope of escaping is by climbing out of a hole and leaping to freedom. Allegedly, Bane is the only one who could ever do this, and it was when he was a child.

The city of Gotham is at Bane’s mercy, and he destroys a part of it with explosives in the ground that erupt and blow up a football stadium (one of the more breathtaking sequences in the film), and some of the bridges. It also encases the entire police force underground, leaving the city to a Lord of the Flies-like Martial Law. However, this won’t last very long as he has coveted a nuclear bomb after releasing the core from its fusion power chamber, that will detonate in 5 months. Whomever programmed a time bomb for that long either forgot to carry the one, or is a very patient madman.

The only cops that are above ground are the disgraced former Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) and a bright young cop named Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Blake still believes in the Batman even though he’s part of a police force that was after him when Batman was still capering in Gotham City.

All of these stories meshing together do make for an ok 165 minute lark. There’s never a moment of boredom in the film because it’s packed with so many intense sequences and climactic action scenes. It does not wear you out. However, because of the scale of the epic, and a drop off in character development, there are some lulls in the storylines that leave some very wide open plot holes. I’m all for suspending disbelief, but this really tries your patience on more than a few occasions, especially at the end. Then it goes beyond suspending disbelief to the point where you have to damn near expel it. Also, Bane is not nearly as interesting or consistent as the Joker was. Granted, it would be hard to top Heath Ledger’s performance. But Bane really doesn’t have much of a personality; and, as I mentioned before, it’s hard to understand a word he’s saying sometimes. Hardy does as much with his eyes and body language to convey his meaning; but the overpowering inability to hear his words really hurts the performance. I blame this on post production and Nolan’s stubbornness more than Hardy’s acting chops, however.

The film’s pace is fine, and it does have some superior effects; on balance, I would have still recommended it…had it not been for the ending, as I mentioned above. Nolan has always seemed to rise above standard movie cliches and even with the somewhat bloated “The Dark Knight”, he still told a compelling story rich in story and character, and here I just felt left out. But beyond that, which I could still forgive, the ending is not only cliched, but ultimately impossible. And in its final shot, more groan inducing than moving. Nolan is an intelligent writer and filmmaker; but here, he seems to take the easy way out to appease the audience. I would’ve expected a more complicated or compromising climax out of such a grandiose trilogy. Instead, it’s very predictable and relies so heavily on your belief in comic book hero magic that it just felt out of place in a film series full of so much…reality. And that’s what had separated Nolan’s Batman series from the others.

This is still a strong trilogy; in time, I may forgive the film for its flaws. For now, I can only give a mixed review and say I would’ve liked to see more out of a filmmaker I respect as much as Christopher Nolan.

My rating: :?

Martini Take – Summer Movies 2008

September 15, 2008 by  
Filed under Blog

With the forthcoming weather getting decidedly cooler, and the box office draws becoming decidedly weaker, it’s time to realize that we are entering autumn, one of my favorite times of the year–and, one of my least favorite times of the year. Well, as a filmgoer, at least. I’m sure I’ve chimed in more than once about how much I hate September for movies, and October doesn’t get much better. In fact, things really don’t start getting good until November and December when you get the Oscar nods out and the quality is much better. And the pretention is off the charts!

So, I decided why not take a look back at what was the summer of 2008, the highs and lows, and the meh’s.

I’m going to cheat a little bit, and start in the spring. The only reason why I’m doing this is because I wanted to write some glowing words about a seemingly forgotten comedy that I thought was wonderfully entertaining.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall

This was released in late April, but had the feel of a summer comedy, mainly because it took place in Hawaii most of the time. The film starred Jason Segel, who also wrote the screenplay, about a guy who works in Hollywood as a musical composer for a hot Network TV show that’s a hilarious parody of “CSI”, called “Crime Scene”. Segel’s character, named Peter, is also going out with the show’s main star, Sarah Marshall. But she ultimately breaks up with him, and just by a strange coincidence, they both find themselves on the same resort in Hawaii. Peter goes because his friend, played by Bill Hader (Michael Ian Black, I miss you dearly), tells him he needs to get away. Sarah goes because she is with her new man, a hippie rockstar played by Russell Brand. Brand’s character is actually sympathetic toward Peter, and while Peter makes his situation more miserable by dwelling on Sarah, the friendly and beautiful receptionist Rachel (played by Mila Kunis), tries to help him…forget her. The film is very funny and honest about love and relationships, and I pretty much bought it the entire way. The only nagging problem, which I’ve alluded to before with Apatow movies, is that the scenes did go on too long at times, and while the Dracula puppet show was a good pay off, the scene in which it is first presented is a bit awkward, even for awkward’s sake. But a great pick up on DVD, a great date movie, and if you’ve just been broken up with…maybe you can pretend you’ll find your Rachel too, and keep on kidding yourself. My rating: πŸ™‚

Moving right along into May…we start to inch closer to summer, but not before…

Iron Man

One of the biggest surprises for me of this year. I wasn’t really expecting it to be much of a film, even though I am a big time Robert Downey, Jr. apologist (can you really be a fan of this guy?). I still wasn’t really into the whole thing, and while I do read comic books, Iron Man never really interested me that much. But my God was I impressed. This movie was a lot of fun. Now, it’s important to realize that this is a comic book movie. There are certain rules in comic book movies: 1) Don’t follow the science of things. It is really just made up, and made to look really cool. Anybody pounding away on a keyboard, or doing some diagnostic work on something chemical or robotic–it’s not going to be accurate, and it’s not going to be logical sometimes. But it still looks cool! Okay? Now I’ll be honest and say that the plot isn’t exactly going to blow you away. It’s fairly predictable. But it is well done, and it’s well executed. It’s not boring. And of course, the best part–Robert Downey, Jr. The guy is just a lot of fun to watch. He really makes you forget you’re watching a comic book movie. The film does devolve a bit into typical comic book movie “Final Boss Fight” mode toward the end, but it’s still a great spectacle, and anyone who didn’t find the movie entertaining should probably lighten up. This was a great start to the summer season. My rating: πŸ™‚

Now after that, a monkeywrench is thrown into the whole thing. What was the Summer of 2008 without…Indiana Jones? Well, I’ll tell you what it was with Indiana Jones–lamer.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

This was without a doubt the most anticipated movie of the summer until a certain actor died right after playing a certain role in a…all right, you get it. 19 years after the last Indiana Jones movie, which I was 10 when I saw it, and I could not wait for this movie. Now, I didn’t have the highest expectations. Let’s be real: Spielberg hasn’t made a really good film in years, and Lucas hasn’t written anything coherent in decades. And then you add David Koepp to the mix? I think Monty Burns’ monkeys could have concocted a better script than this drivel. But, it’s not the script we look for in an Indiana Jones movie. It’s the action, right? And that was done fairly well. But, a little heavy use of the CGI and not enough Indy kickin some A, the movie sort of fell flat…in just about every aspect. Cate Blanchett wasn’t even good in this movie. Overall, I didn’t hate it. But I thought it was a bit of a wasted opportunity. And the ending? I think I went into diabetic shock with how sugary it was. It will most likely be the last Indiana Jones film, and that’s fine with me, if this is where it was headed anyway. My rating: πŸ˜•

Then you have a movie come out of nowhere at the end of May that I thought was actually quite good. A well done horror film that is a bit of an old school throwback to the chilling slasher flicks like “Halloween”.

The Strangers

This is the debut of Bryan Bertino, and you can tell, especially with the unnecessary way it ends. But, he definitely shows some promise as he takes us on a journey with a couple that is sort of on the brink of break-up, after the main character proposes to his girlfriend, and she tells him, “No.” To make it worse, he had done up his parents’ old summer house all romantic like, thinking she would say “Yes” and the two would have a great night to remember. Well, it turns out to be a night to remember, in far worse ways. A trio of masked individuals taunt and scare the couple, and ultimately trap them in their own house. There is never a reason for their behavior, and that makes it all the more unnerving. The film has a very claustrophobic feel, and the scenes in which the masked people are just staring at the couple in different areas is absolutely haunting. The film loses its touch in the final moments, but the wheels don’t completely come off. I think this movie fell into oblivion during the summer, but should make a comeback around October, when it’s Scary Movie Time. Overall, a very solid horror flick. My rating: πŸ™‚

And with that, summer arrives. It’s June. “Kung Fu Panda” is released, another Adam Sandler movie is released that nobody’ll watch except Adam Sandler and his friends, and…whoa, what’s this? “The Happening”? So M. Knight Shyamalan be a summer hero?

No.

The Happening

Probably the most pitiful excuse for a horror or a science fiction thriller produced in recent memory, “The Happening” is trite, boring, incomprehensible, and a total waste of good acting talents. The movie’s “plot” revolves around people killing themselves because…get this…it’s the revenge of the plants. They’re revolting against us! Shyamalan has to be on thin ice right now, and if this is his best effort to try and save himself from his latest blunders “The Village”, and “Lady in the Water”, his next appearance in the movie theatres may involve him ripping your ticket. My rating: 😑

June actually got stronger with a decent second effort on the Hulk franchise, and I really enjoyed Ed Norton’s more somber approach than Eric Bana’s angry-at-everything-for-some-reason approach. “The Incredible Hulk”, unlike the hollow “Hulk”, had some depth and some charisma. It didn’t have the overall feel of a comic movie, there were some moments in which the Hulk felt like a character, but it still, again, devolves into comic book fanboydom with the final battle. “Get Smart” proved to be a winning comedy, and then you had “Wanted”, which surprised a lot of people because it was actually more entertaining than most expected. I think you could put that one in the “sleeper” category. Oh, and then there was “Wall-E”. Did uh, anybody see that?

So we move into July, and we’re in the meat and potatoes of the summer. With the exception of the over-the-top disappointing “Hancock”, there were some nice surprises like “Stepbrothers”, “Hellboy II: The Golden Army”, and in my opinion, the best movie of the summer, “The Dark Knight”. July had to go and end on somewhat of a sour note with “The X-Files: I Want to Believe”, but we won’t get into that. Seriously, Chris Carter…seriously? Man…

August never really brings that much excitement, but I was stoked to see “Pineapple Express”, and was bummed out by how long it was, and how it wasn’t as funny as it should have been nor as endearing as it could have been. I didn’t bother with “The Rocker”, because…well, I love Rainn Wilson but I’m not a teenager, so I didn’t think this one would really be that appealing. “Star Wars: The Clone Wars”? Next? Of course, “Tropic Thunder” rounded out things nicely, and the more I thought about it, the more I thought maybe it could have hit a little harder. “Tropic Thunder” might not have the staying power that, say, “Zoolander” does, but it was still an enjoyable movie.

Biggest Winner

Definitely “The Dark Knight”. I felt it delivered on every level. I know people say Nolan’s “Batman” series is more pretentious and artsy-darksy, but I for one like the change from the goofy Batman, and I think this is far more embracing than Burton’s cold but spiffy Batman.

Biggest Loser

Has to be “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”. Many a Youtube Vloggers will agree…it “gargled balls”. It was an insult to the franchise, and they should be ashamed of themselves for making it! Well, okay I know I said it wasn’t that bad…it is a lot of fun to make fun of though. And besides, they’d make fun of YOU the first chance they get!

Sleeper of the Summer

While I’d like to give it to “Stepbrothers” because that turned out to be a very fun film, I’d still say “Tropic Thunder” pwned the box office longer than I thought it would, however, there may have been enough hype to knock “Tropic Thunder” out of sleeper status. “Wanted” is definitely in the conversation, but I think a lot of movies that were supposed to do well did well, and the ones that didn’t, didn’t. I may be wrong about that, but it sounded good when I said it. And, really, do you care what I think? Do I? Hm…

Best Actor

Heath Ledger. What a surprise, huh? But I’m sorry, the guy was just downright superb. He made the Joker into a much more sinister, devilish character. Nicholson’s was a bit more jovial, while Ledger’s was far more  deranged. Runner up: Downey, Jr. Not just for “Iron Man”. He was fantastic in “Tropic Thunder” as well.

Best Actress

Gillian Anderson. Even though “The X-Files” was a waste of time, her performance was anything but. It was a shame, because she’s grown so much as an actress, and was so convincing again as Dana Scully, it’s a shame that she had to waste it on such a poor script.

Worst Actor

Mark Wahlberg. I don’t know if there was anyone who could convincingly say any of the awful dialog that M. Knight wrote in “The Happening”, but Wahlberg looked completely out of sorts in this movie. It was really strange, and embarrassing watching. Just about everybody was terrible in this flick. It was almost like they didn’t even want to be a part of it, and just did it to…be nice.

Worst Actress

Cate Blanchett. I mentioned before how bad she was in “Indiana Jones”. I mean, her accent was so over the top, and I realize that that might have been on purpose. But it was even more irritating and distracting than Malkovich’s french accent in “Johnny English”. It was very half assed. I was disappointed, because I’m usually a very big fan of hers.

Overall Thoughts

I didn’t really know how I wanted to tackle this whole “blog” because I’m not really much of a blogger. I wanted to at least give out some reviews of movies I saw before the web site started, and then gloss over the ones I’ve already written reviews for, obviously. I think overall, this summer was a good one for movies. There have been a lot of summers recently that haven’t really delivered, and I think this one had at least a few movies that lived up to the hype. You’re always going to have over hyped films, and you’re always going to have surprise movies that will go quietly.

I’m looking forward to our upcoming Oscar Season, with movies like “Milk”, “Frost/Nixon”, and “Harry Potter and the Half Blood Pri–” oh…nevermind. Yeah…still not quite over that one yet.

There will be a slight hiatus from me viewing new films until the end of this month, but I still intend on renting some and keeping up the reviews as best as I can. And one of these days I do plan on buying some new music. Worry not!

Hope you had a great summer, and we’ll do it again next year. BFF.