Movie Review: The Dark Knight Rises [2012]

The Dark Knight Rises [2012]

The Dark Knight Rises [2012]
Directors: Christopher Nolan
Genre: Action/Crime/Drama
Starring: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard and Morgan Freeman
Runtime: 164 minutes

Note: I tried to make this review as spoiler-free as possible, but you may want to tread lightly in the comments/feedback.

Eight years is a long time. After the wanton chaos and destruction in 2008’s The Dark Knight, it’s hard to imagine Gotham City remaining in a peaceful state for eight long years, especially without their legendary protector, Batman.

The man behind their hero, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), has also gone missing during this time. Now a recluse with a bum leg, Wayne spends his days locked inside Wayne Manor. It’s not until a run-in with master jewel thief Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) that Bruce musters up the will to do anything meaningful. Quickly he learns about the recent appearance of a monstrous villain, Bane (Tom Hardy), who is on a mission to destroy Gotham. Despite warnings from his loyal butler Alfred (Michael Caine), Wayne once again suits up as Batman to save his beloved city.

The Dark Knight Rises [2012]

That is a summary of the plot in its most basic form, but at a sprawling 165 minutes, there is a lot to digest. Bane’s planned destruction of Gotham is at the forefront, but a number of minor characters are introduced into the chaos, all of whom are tied into this in a variety of ways. Newcomer Joseph Gordon-Levitt has an especially crucial role as rookie police officer John Blake, a clever lad who acts as a bit of an understudy to Commissioner James Gordon (Gary Oldman) while also discovering Batman’s identity on his own. Two other newcomers play important parts in this ever-encompassing saga: Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman, who has a very complex relationship with Batman/Wayne, and Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), a philanthropist investor with an interest in Wayne Industries.

All of these characters, and many old favorites, are seamlessly interweaved together to create a grand feature that can holds its own against the rest of Christopher Nolan’s trilogy. A strong case could be made for any of the three to be the “best” of the bunch, and right now I would put this a close second to The Dark Knight.

The Dark Knight Rises [2012] -- BANE

A big reason why this film succeeds is because of its main villain. Every good superhero movie needs a badass adversary, and Bane is one of the best yet. Menacing and physically dominating, Bane is frightening nearly every time he is on screen. As I witnessed the destruction of Gotham City first hand, I was wondering just how the hell Batman and/or the city would make it out in one piece. Bane is as intimidating as I have seen any villain in recent years, and his bizarre face mask only adds to his daunting persona. There were a few moments where his mask would make it hard to understand his dialogue, and his audio did seem unnecessarily louder than others, but these are mere nitpicks. The dude is impressive, and he is a more than worthy rival to our legendary hero.

For a film pushing three hours in length, there really isn’t a lot of “fat” here. Everything happens for a reason, and most plot devices are explained in depth for newcomers (or those who need a quick refresher). There are definitely moments in which a certain amount of suspension of disbelief will be required, including the much-discussed ending, but that is to be expected in a fictional universe like this. Taken on its merits, The Dark Knight Rises works exactly as it should.

The Dark Knight Rises [2012]

Is this a perfect film? No, not exactly. The weird audio problems with Bane are a little too noticeable, and I found occasional bits of dialogue from others that irked me the wrong way. There is one cop early in the movie, a very minor character, who has maybe three lines of dialogue total. Even though he was incredibly minute in the big picture, I winced every time he was on screen. Each line was forced and unnecessary, and it felt strangely out of place while in the middle of an epic car chase. Again, I am really nitpicking here, but that stuck with me for some reason.

Regardless, tiny complaints aside, I couldn’t ask for a better conclusion than The Dark Knight Rises. The story, the cast, the characters, Han Zimmer’s score. All top quality. This is a film that demands to be seen on the big screen, and I would be hard pressed to find a better summer blockbuster this year.

9/10

Poll Results: Favorite Batman Actor

Batman has been played by a lot of people over the years, but the race for favorite actor pretty much came down to two men. After a push near the end, there was no doubt who the winner was:

Christian Bale as Batman

THE RESULTS:
– Christian Bale: 9 votes
– Adam West: 6 votes
– Michael Keaton: 2 votes
– Val Kilmer: 2 votes
– George Clooney: 1 vote

I don’t know if there was a better choice than Christian Bale to play Batman in the Dark Knight Trilogy. Bale has been an absolute force in the last decade, and it seems like a lot of you are pretty big fans fans of his portrayal of Bats as well. I don’t know about you guys, but this poll has made me want to revisit the pre-Nolan Batman films. It has been a looong time since I saw any of them.

Have a great weekend everyone, and make sure to vote in this week’s new American Reunion-themed poll.

Movie Project #45 and #46: It’s a Wonderful Life [1946] and The Prestige [2006]

The 50 Movies Project is a personal “marathon” of mine. In June, I compiled a list of 50 movies that I felt I needed to see by the end of the year. Old, new, foreign, English — it doesn’t matter. These are all movies that I have heard a lot about and have been wanting to see for some time. This project gives me a way to stay focused on the goal.

It's a Wonderful Life [1946, Frank Capra]
It’s a Wonderful Life [1946, Frank Capra]
Starring James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore.

It blows my mind that somehow this slipped past me despite being played repeatedly during every Christmas season. It’s easy to see why this is a holiday favorite — it really is the quintessential Christmas film. Equal parts heartwarming and inspirational, It’s a Wonderful Life takes us into the life of George Bailey (Stewart), a man on the brink of suicide. Lucky for him, his guardian angel (Henry Travers) is sent from the heavens to intervene and show him all of the lives he has changed for the better over the years. It turns out that his life isn’t so bad at all.

Admittedly, I was a little worried when the guardian angel appeared. I was concerned that the movie would become overly preachy and attempt to shove religious beliefs down our throats. Thankfully, that never happened. This is just an all-around good-hearted film that is anchored by timeless performances by James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore and the rest of the cast. I will give this a slight edge over the other Capra film from this project, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and I could easily see it becoming a yearly Christmas tradition in my household. I still don’t know what took me so long to see it. 10/10

The Prestige [2006, Christopher Nolan]
The Prestige [2006, Christopher Nolan]
Starring Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman, Michael Caine.

When it comes to Christopher Nolan, I am generally a fan of his work, though I do not hold him in as high of regard as most. The Prestige, however, damn near succeeded in making me a fanboy. This intricately detailed portrayal of two magicians (Bale and Jackman) who continually try to upstage each other really impressed me. The movie starts off fairly tame, with both men sabotaging each other’s magic shows, but it quickly grows lethal to the point of multiple fatalities. This culminates in a twist ending that I did not see coming at all, and it is one that warrants extra viewings of the film in order catch on to hints and tricks.

I wasn’t sure what to make of the film’s sudden dip into science fiction (aided by a terrific performance by David freakin’ Bowie as Nikola Tesla), but I quickly grew into the idea and embraced it all the same. The fantasy aspects may turn off some viewers, but I really enjoyed the ride. Bale, Jackman and Caine are all wonderful, and the smaller roles from the likes of Scarlett Johansson, Rebecca Hall and Andy Serkis are all great additions as well. The Prestige is a thoroughly fascinating movie, and may be my new favorite from Nolan. 9/10

The Fighter [2010]

The Fighter [2010]

The Fighter [2010]
Directors: David O. Russell
Genre: Biography/Drama/Sport
Language: English
Country: USA

In a year where real life stories adapted to films reign supreme, The Fighter belongs near the top of the list. Based on the true story of boxer “Irish” Micky Ward, director David O. Russell’s latest work is so much more than just a boxing movie. Micky (Mark Wahlberg) is a once-promising, but currently struggling, boxer who is frequently stuck in the shadows of his older brother and local legend, Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale). Dicky’s claim to fame is that he once knocked down Sugar Ray Leonard, and although his career was quickly derailed due to crack abuse (a problem he continues with throughout the movie), he is still respected in his hometown of Lowell, Massachusetts. In essence, this movie is just as much about Dicky as it is Micky, and in fact the entire family is front and center throughout this. The matriarch of the family, Alice (Melissa Leo), is proud of her boys, and she acts as their manager as well. She has a barrage of daughters who will back her up no matter what she does, for better or for worse. When Micky gets a new girlfriend (Amy Adams) who is not afraid to infiltrate this hardheaded family, all hell breaks loose and this shakes the very foundation this clan has always been based on.

So, although some people might be quick to dismiss this as just another boxing movie, it is clearly much more than that. There is a strong overlying portrait of just how important family is, especially in tight-knit groups such as the Wards. Although Micky starts to believe he can succeed with different management and training, he has a hard time leaving his family behind. The Fighter excels at showing the hardships of finally leaving the nest.

Perhaps what I loved the most about The Fighter was its strong attention to detail. I felt like I was right there in the middle of Lowell in the 1990’s, and although at times it wasn’t comfortable, Russell really nailed the life of the lower class, especially the crack house that Dicky often frequented. I also loved how when there was actual boxing, it didn’t feel like your standard Hollywood bullshit. Instead, the old school HBO-style cameras were used to make it look like these were real pay-per-view bouts, and that is just really cool.

Of course, much of the hype and praise about The Fighter is because of its acting, and yeah, the movie wouldn’t be half as good without its stellar cast. Christian Bale continues to impress with his wide variety of roles, this time shedding a bunch of weight in order to play the crackhead boxer, in a respectfully energetic performance. Mark Wahlberg is solid in the lead role, never really taking the next step but still getting the job done admirably. The two main women in the movie, Adams and Leo, are fiery gals who don’t take shit from anyone. Both deliver outstanding performances, especially Adams who stepped out from her shell and played a much “dirtier” character than she has done in the past. All but Wahlberg received Oscar nominations for their work in this film, and all are certainly deserved.

If I were to have one problem with the movie, it would be its questionable soundtrack. While Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones and others were effectively played, The Heavy’s “How Do You Like Me Now” was used too often for its own good. Even still, that is a minor fault in an otherwise great film.

I had heard good things about The Fighter beforehand, but I can safely say that the movie exceeded any expectations I had for it. With an outstanding cast, excellent attention to detail, and some intense fight scenes, I have no reservations about putting this up there amongst the greatest sports movies. Highly recommended.

8.5/10