Monday, July 23, 2012
I opened my review of The Dark Knight with a baseball analogy, so I guess it's appropriate I do the same thing here.
Imagine watching a baseball game where one of the teams commits multiple errors on defense and the pitcher gives up hit after hit after hit. By all rights, they should lose in a blowout. But amazingly, they manage to score enough runs to not just stay in it, but ultimately win.
That's The Dark Knight Rises.
I spent a great deal--possibly even most--of The Dark Knight Rises in relative shock at how badly Christopher Nolan had bungled the movie. I mean...there's so much about this film that drove me nuts. And yet, I walked out of the theater not just satisfied with the movie on its own, but with Nolan's trilogy as a whole. To (very) loosely paraphrase a line from the end of The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises isn't the ending we deserve, but it's the ending we needed.
-- The villains. Catwoman was kind of a no-brainer, but I was surprised when I heard that Nolan was going with Bane. Of all the villains he hadn't used so far, Bane seemed like one of the least Nolan-esque. As such, it was a safe bet that Nolan would tinker with him just as much--if not more--than he did the Joker and Ra's al Ghul. And sure enough he did, but it managed to work.
Anne Hathaway was predictably great as Catwoman in what was arguably the closest thing to a villain's comic book counterpart in the entire franchise. I was pleasantly surprised at how her costume looked roughly a thousand times better on screen than it did in the photos that were released ahead of time.
-- The Miranda/Talia twist. I saw it coming a mile away, based on three things: 1) I'm familiar with the comics, so I know Ra's al Ghul has a daughter, not a son, 2) It's a rule in action/adventure movies that the hero is never allowed to have two love interests, and that one of them will always die or turn out to be evil, and 3) Stupid Internet spoilers from months ago suggested Talia would be in the film. But if I hadn't been aware of this, I imagine it would have been a pretty awesome twist.
-- The visuals. Obviously, Nolan is a fantastic director and I've seen enough of his films that I shouldn't be shocked by how well they look. But he really outdid himself here. I thought it might be a bit jarring going from Chicago standing in for Gotham City to Pittsburgh, but in this film, even more than the previous two, Gotham comes off as a living, breathing entity.
-- The last five minutes. Just fantastic. Honestly, I've been somewhat annoyed with Nolan ever since it was announced that the next Batman film will be a reboot. It takes balls the size of Texas for any director to declare that his take on Batman (or any iconic character) is so great, so definitive, there's no point in continuing it without him, and that starting over is the only option. And really, I think it would have actually been quite easy for another director and actor to replace Nolan and Bale. But I can't complain about how it all wrapped up. Gotham is safe, we finally get Robin (sort of), and Bruce Wayne gets the happy ending that he'll never get in the comics.
-- Robin. I know I just brought this up, but the scene deserves its own mention. There was no way a kid sidekick would have fit into Nolan's film universe. (Actually, I guess the concept doesn't really fit into any film universe, as Burt Ward and Chris O'Donnell were both in their 20s when they played Robin.) Nolan could have just had John Blake reveal his real name was Dick Grayson or Tim Drake. It would have mostly had the same effect, but Nolan actually going with Robin was a nice bone to throw the fans.
-- The eight year gap. This sort of ruined the ending of The Dark Knight for me. When Batman took the fall for Dent's death and rode off into the night, the implication was that he'd still keep the whole vigilante thing going, just without the support of the police or public. Instead, he holes up in Wayne Manor and mopes around over Maggie Gyllenhaal for almost a decade? No. Fuck that. That's not who Batman is. If Rises had been set just a year or two later, it wouldn't have bugged me so much. But eight?
-- No mention of the Joker. Nolan said he wanted to be respectful of Heath Ledger's memory. Which...fair enough, I guess, but it's a pretty weird omission. It also presumably means that since Bruce never put the cowl back on, the Joker had been safely locked up for the entire eight years in Arkham. That's both really disappointing and really un-Joker-like.
-- The Dent Act. I'm not a lawyer, but since when are cities, even ones infested with masked psychos, allowed to pass their own legislation that, in all likelihood, was grossly un-Constitutional?
-- Bane's plot. So...okay. Bane and Talia want to finish what Ra's started, and destroy Gotham City. Good! That makes sense! You know what doesn't? Isolating Gotham for three months while Occupy Gotham goes apeshit crazy, then destroying it. What does that accomplish?
-- The trapped cops. The entire Gotham police force was trapped underground for three months? Yeah, they were given food and water, but still. Three months. And not only didn't they emerge as malnourished, filthy, half-crazy animals, but were mentally and physically capable of taking on Bane's army in hand-to-hand combat? If Nolan wanted to get rid of the Gotham P.D. for that long a stretch, I have to think there were a few dozen more logical directions he could have gone in.
-- Bane's voice. Supposedly, they cleaned it up after the first, largely unintelligible trailer came out. They should have done a better job.
-- Batman's voice. Still awful.
-- Ripping off The Dark Knight Returns. There are, like, a thousand awesome moments in Frank Miller's classic Batman story, but some of the best occur the night Batman comes out of retirement for the first time in years (much more than eight), and we get to see Gotham's stunned reaction. My favorite part is when the anchorman is relaying a bulletin about "a large Bat-like creature" being spotted, then stops and says, "You don't suppose..." But a close second is when a veteran cop and his rookie partner run into Batman, and the rookie tries to arrest Batman.
Does that scene sound familiar? It should. Nolan rips it off wholesale from The Dark Knight Returns.
I have no idea whether WB will ever get around to making a Dark Knight Returns film, but I do know that the story deserves far better than Christopher Nolan chopping it up and using it for spare parts. Other notable Batman stories had elements that popped up in the film--Knightfall and No Man's Land, chief among them. But Dark Knight Returns is borderline sacred and anything coming from it should have been nixed.