Sunday, August 12, 2012

Christopher Nolan "Rises" with the final act of his Batman trilogy

Christopher Nolan first tackled the Batman saga in 2005 with Batman Begins. By taking the character back to his roots, and grounding the story in the real world, he successfully reinvigorated the franchise, and told a compelling origin story of Gotham’s famous vigilante. Nolan took things to the next level with 2008’s The Dark Knight, in which the late Heath Ledger’s intense performance as The Joker became the film’s centerpiece. Both movies dealt with themes that are familiar to fans of the caped vigilante’s comic book saga; the dual nature of good & evil & the thorny path we travel when we seek vengeance. The films also asked the question: when you fight monsters & madmen using their methods, do you become just as bad as the evil you're fighting? What toll does it take on you to be the hero of a violent, corrupt city? In the closing act of The Dark Knight, Batman had to make a difficult choice: saving one life meant losing another, the life of someone he loved. In making a choice for the greater good, Bruce Wayne set in motion a chain of events that had devastating personal consequences. In taking the blame for the crimes of another man, he spared Gotham a scandal that could ruin the city. But did he lose his own soul & sense of self in the process?

Now, Nolan completes his story with The Dark Knight Rises, and it’s a fitting capstone to his trilogy. This time out, it’s been 8 years since the events of the last film, and crime is virtually non-existent in Gotham. Bruce Wayne is a recluse, and no one has seen him or Batman in ages. Bruce is holed up in his mansion, with the loyal Alfred (Michael Caine) at his side. He’s still grieving over the loss of childhood love Rachel Dawes and remorseful about his part in her death.  Wayne Enterprises is in financial trouble, but nothing seems to bring him out of his self-imposed exile. Out of nowhere comes Bane, a terrorist whose plan is the destruction of Gotham, and the beginning of a new world order. He seems to have a connection to a figure from Bruce’s past. Another new player is a sassy cat burglar named Selina Kyle, who intrigues Bruce with her charm & style, even while’s she’s stealing from him. Eventually, as Bane’s acts of terror and violence escalate, he forces Bruce out of his reverie, and back into action. But is an older, tired & conflicted Batman strong enough to stop a villain whose conviction to his goals borders on the evangelical?

Nolan goes for a truly epic feel here, and succeeds. He brings full circle elements and themes from the first two films, so you may want to view them before heading out to see the movie. The Bane saga was handled in a different style as part of the DC Comics series Knigthfall, but it’s re-worked in an interesting way in the screenplay by Nolan and his brother Jonathan, from a story by the director and David S. Goyer. Other elements & themes threaded in from Batman Begins feature supporting characters from my favorite Batman comics era, when writer Dennis O'Neil & artist Neal Adams brought Batman back to being a darker character after the fantastical stories of the 50s and 60s and the campy, pop art TV series. There are also some nods to Frank Miller’s classic tales The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One, as well as some other well-remembered Batman stories from the comics world.

The actors are excellent; Christian Bale proves why he’s the best movie Batman ever, doing a fine job as Bruce Wayne and the Dark Knight; Anne Hathaway is sexy, slinky and fun as Catwoman; Tom Hardy is chilling as Bane. The supporting cast is flawless: Caine, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman, Marion Cotillard and Joseph Gordon-Levitt all have fine moments. And there are also cameos by a familiar face (or two) from Batman Begins. It’s an A-list cast that doesn’t play down to the material. Nolan and many of his usual technical collaborators, including cinematographer Wally Pfister, editor Lee Smith & music scorer Hans Zimmer also do outstanding work here. There are some visually stunning sequences, including a plane hijacking in the the film's opening moments and a great chase sequence later in the film. These movies are superhero stories that work for people that don’t generally like superhero movies; they’re good films and well told stories, in any genre.

Some have complained that the movie’s a bit overlong, and has too many subplots, but Nolan is climaxing his magnum opus here, and does so in effective fashion. He’s no stranger to complex, dark tales about the nature of man & the struggle between light & darkness in all of us; check out Inception, The Prestige, Memento and Insomnia to see what I mean. Nolan is also on board as a producer & co-writer of next summer’s Superman reboot, The Man of Steel, so it will be interesting to see what influence he’ll have on the story of that other classic DC hero. In the meantime, you can check out his excellent trilogy of Batman stories: Batman Begins & The Dark Knight are now available on DVD, Blu-ray and various digital download formats. The Dark Knight Rises is currently in theaters.

Here's a link to the film's trailer:

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