Friday, July 20, 2012

Movie Review - The Dark Knight Rises

*This review is spoiler-free. The only things I will mention specifically are things seen in the trailer.*

People who have followed this blog will know that I think Christopher Nolan's Batman films are absolutely wonderful, and that The Dark Knight holds as one of my favorite films ever made. Both films had absolutely perfect casting, great direction, and great screenplays backing them, and the way the second film never gave you a moment to rest, and managed to have a running time of nearly three hours which never seemed padded even for a moment was one of the biggest achievements in comic book filmmaking.

So naturally I was very excited for The Dark Knight Rises, the epic conclusion to Nolan's trilogy. Does it stand up to the other two films, or does The Dark Knight Rises fall (HAH! COMEDY!) under the weight of it's predecessors?

The Dark Knight Rises is a very, very good movie. If you take nothing else away from this review, then at the very least take that away. The action is great, the cinematography is great, it continues the trend of perfect casting, it tries to tell an original Batman story, while at the same time taking loads of inspiration, and even plot points, from some of the best Batman comics ever written. For the most part, this movie succeeds in the same way Batman Begins and The Dark Knight did, in that it takes the characters, and places them in a grim and gritty, realistic setting.

The cast of this is absolutely phenomenal, just like the other two. Anne Hathaway is, without a doubt, the best Catwoman ever seen on screen, and I don't think she could have possibly done a better job to portray the character. Is she as memorable as the Joker from the last film? No, but that's nearly impossible. Her performance is every bit as good as Liam Neeson's R'as Al Ghul, Cillian Murphy's Scarecrow, or Aaron Eckhart's Two-Face, all of which are great, great roles. 

Tom Hardy's Bane is more difficult to judge, partly because the character takes more liberties from the comics than any other character in the franchise to date, and partly because Hardy is confined to be wearing a muzzle throughout the entire film, but at the end of the day, he did a great job in the role, and the character always feels like a presence. Even when he isn't doing anything, you just feel like Hardy is standing there, with unbelievable strength being constrained. Bane also comes across as intelligent, an important aspect to making the character a legitimate threat to Batman, and not just another brute, though the complete removal of venom from his backstory seemed to betray the character a bit. At the end of the day, some may view this as one of the best parts of the movie, and others may view it as an in-name-only version of a villain who's only notable for breaking Batman's back that one time, it depends on your view of the character, I suspect, but personally I liked this version. (I should mention that I had a ton of trouble understanding what the character was saying in my theater, but I've spoken with people from other showings and it sounds like that might have been an audio problem on my end.)

The problems The Dark Knight Rises face, however, and what holds this back from reaching the levels of greatness the second film had, are an unfortunate pacing in the first half, and several gaping and obvious plot holes. Now, I won't list them specifically here, but there were four or five things throughout the movie that just irked me, and either felt like they betrayed a character, or outright made no sense. One of the great things about The Dark Knight is that, as I said above, while it was nearly a three hour film, it never felt padded, and every scene felt essential to the experience as a whole. This movie doesn't have that, even though it's longer than The Dark Knight was. The first half just feels like it takes it's time to get going, and spends a lot of time setting up the events of the second half through a convoluted plot which, while it makes for a great action scene, leads to one of the movie's biggest plot holes by the end, which a screenwriter could have solved very easily, and either cut out a half hour of the film, or given different motivation to the action scene that time filled, or even given Catwoman more screen time and development, something that would not have gone unrewarded, as her scenes are some of the best in the film.

That said, around halfway into this movie, when things start going nuts, things start going nuts, and when Batman fans like myself realize exactly what story arc the second half of the film is borrowing from, their probably going to get very excited. The entire second half of this movie is incredible, and a great ride, provided you can ignore some of the plot holes and sloppy character derailment which it took to get that far. Bane manages to be genuinely chilling at moments, especially in the second half, and if you're willing to look past a few irks, this is easily one of the best movies of the year, giving The Avengers a run for it's money. 

As it is, while The Dark Knight Rises doesn't manage to match Nolan's previous film, an unrealistically high bar, it still manages to thrill and entertain, and I can't imagine a much more perfect ending to the series. You should absolutely see this movie, make no mistake.

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