Tuesday, July 24, 2012

I saw "The Dark Knight Rises"

I went to see The Dark Knight Rises on opening night (my birthday, as it happened) in the madhouse that is the District’s Chinatown.  On the whole, I was very pleased, enjoyed the film way more than I could have imagined enjoying anything with “Bane” in it, and felt it was a very satisfying conclusion to Nolan’s filmic trilogy.

I’ll endeavor to keep this review spoiler-free; I would appreciate it if any commenters followed suit.
First off: Bane.  I’d be hard pressed to think of a Bat-villain I find stupider than Bane, one of the great avatars of All That Was Wrong with the Nineties.  I don’t think I’m alone in this; I think most Batman readers who were past adolescence when Bane was introduced have a similar opinion.  The name, the costume, the ‘venom’, the motivation; and that’s just the character, not even the storyline.  Honestly, I’d rather see Batman versus a grim’n’gritty reimagining of the Eraser or Mr. Polka Dot. 
Okay; maybe not Mr. Polka Dot.

But the choice of Bane as the film’s villain almost kept me from seeing it.  However, Nolan (and actor Tom Hardy) did a good job of editing the Bane character enough to make him acceptable while still leaving him recognizable. He’s still big and strong, he’s still ‘born in a prison’, and he’s still got a thing on his face.  The rest of him, however, got a welcome make-over; no venom, new connection to League of Shadows, new motivation.

In the original storyline we were expected to believe that Bane decides to take down Batman as an exercise in pure alpha dog-dom.  Which is, frankly, really unlikely and supremely stupid (which Bane was NOT supposed to be).  It was another example—one of the worst—of an ad hoc villain, one very obviously designed and tailored only for the purpose of taking on the hero, which is lazy writing.  Heck, it’s almost like a Spider-Man villain, whose only motivation always seems to be fighting Spider-Man.

The movie Bane has a motivation—it’s whacked out, of course, but it’s identifiable.  Even better, it combines the motivations of the villains from the previous two films. 

The first film’s villain, Ra’s Al Ghul, wants to destroy Gotham for, um, “balance, mumble mumble hubris something”.  Actually understanding the motivation would be tantamount to agreeing with it, so suffice to say, he (and the League) deem Gotham City a Tower of Babel and symbol of Western decadence that must be toppled.  Misguised? Yes; but comprehensible.  Of course, neither the villain nor the film itself try all that hard to prove the thesis that Gotham City is morally reprehensible.  Sure, it’s got some Big City/Mafia-driven corruption. But neither the Mayor nor the Police Commissioner are on the take, so it’s already better than many real world cities.

The second film’s villain, the Joker, takes that next step, trying to prove that Gotham’s people are corrupt or easily corruptible.  One can argue that his “prisoner’s dilemma” set up didn’t really do that, and wouldn’t have regardless of the outcome.  Nevertheless, that’s pretty much his stated motive.

The third film’s villain, Bane, aims to do BOTH.  It’s that dual goal that is confusing some viewers, who think, “If Bane is going to annihilate the city anyway, why does he waste five months bringing it low?  It makes no sense.”  But it does… if Bane’s goal is to show that Gotham deserves destruction before he destroys it.  Occupying Gotham proves something, but accomplishes nothing; his occupation will inevitably fall.  Destroying Gotham accomplishes something, but proves nothing; um, so you got a bomb and blew up Gotham City, good for you.  Now our second most important city becomes our first and what’s on TV tonight?

Bane is out to demoralize AND destroy Gotham, as an object lesson to the world on the wages of sin and hypocrisy.  Why else would he bother exposing the Harvey Dent Lie?  In that context, his actions make a bit more sense, and it’s a much more comprehensible motivation than, “I’m gonna take out Batman just because, you know… BATMAN.”

Plus, there are certain occurrences toward the end of the film that really .... put Bane is his proper place, let's say.  Even before then, Tom Hardy makes it pretty clear: Bane is, in fact, kind of silly.  He's grandiose and talks like a Bond villain, and is a little hard to take seriously.  Unless he's cracking you in half.  Or blowing up your city.  Because evil--real, dangerous, twisted, devastating evil--often looks kind of goofy.

Hitler? Rather dweeby, certainly not physically impressive, and laughable in his scenery-chewing on stage.  That nut-job who opened fire on the cinema crowd in Aurora?  Sitting there in court with his dyed bozo hair, he looks ridiculous; but a lot of people are still dead or injured.  Evil often seems ridiculous and unthreatening--that's the worst part about the threat.  And isn't that the point of many Batman villains, the Joker and Penguin included?  Instead of trying to puff Bane up into the Ulimate '90s Bad-Ass, Hardy and Nolan take Bane over the line, letting him resemble every ridiculous tin-pot dictator and cult leader who's ever disgraced the face of the earth.  But no less dangerous for it.

There are plenty of other reasons I enjoyed the film.  The things set up in the first film that finally pay off in the third.  Jim Gordon, who is on the one hand kind of goofy schlub with a funny moustache.  On the hand… he’s still Jim Gordon, and shows that people with capes aren’t the only ones who make a difference.  The character arc for Matthew Modine’s character.  Catwoman is a morally ambiguous delight.  John Blake, who is SO dreamy.  And the fact that this film takes Batman to a place that, well, a place that I have never ever seen Batman go before; that ALONE is an accomplishment, and one you’ll understand once you see the film.

But what did YOU think?


Nathan Hall said...

Haven't seen it - but happy birthday.

Or, as they say in Chinatown,


Bryan L said...

Yes, I'm seeing it tomorrow (Thursday), so I'll provide my input after that. Got stuck with out-of-town visitors over the weekend who didn't want to go see it. Philistines.

Hoosier X said...

It has its moments.

But a three-hour movie has to have more than a few good moments.

I thought it was starting to pick up a bit in the last hour when Bane set off his explosives and trashed Gotham. I thought it was going into "Gotham as Urban Madhouse" mode. But this has been done soooooo much better in numerous comic books that I found it very disappointing when so little was done with that.

I prefer Batman movies with Batman in them.

(I was very bored at times, as well. But I really liked Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle. There's almost no movie without her.)

Beta Ray Steve said...

I liked it; I thought it was a better movie than the second installment. That had a great performance by Heath Ledger, but also a half hour interlude ("hostages on the ferries") that 1)brought the movie to a halt and 2) did not feature Batman beating people up or Joker stabbing people in their eyeballs.
Dark Knight Rises had a similar stretch, but this time it related directly to the plot, culminating in the resolution of the Matthew Modine plot.
I thought they should have reconsidered having talk through that voice box, as it always sounded over-dubbed. Really mad you lose the immediacy of his speech when you don't see his lips move.
I left the theater wanting to see more Joseph Gordon-Levitt and more Anne Hathaway. They really should make a Catwoman movie some day...

Anonymous said...

Possible Vibe news again:


Scipio said...

I would be upset if that were true.

(1). Vibe is NOT Mexican. He's Puerto Rican. That is not a minor distinction.

(2). Vibe is NOT a supporting character is someone else's story, especially not someone as minor as "Bunker".

Bryan L said...

Back on track, I did see the movie. I found it over-long, but I'm not sure what I would like to see cut. It felt like Nolan realized (rightly) that Hathaway's Catwoman was top-notch and allowed certain of her scenes to run long (dancing at the party, bar scene, etc.) Nonetheless, it was a fun romp, though I did struggle with a couple of plot points, specifically (though not TOO specifically) financial markets, billionaire resources, and near-miraculous recoveries. Then there were a couple that only occurred to me after the movie, but I'll stop. If I pick at threads, things start to unravel. I'm almost more intrigued with where the film ended -- I think there's a LOT of potential there to proceed with a fresh start, unencumbered by comic continuity while still paying homage to it. Kind of like Batman Beyond.