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

Movie Project #43 and #44: Mulholland Drive [2001] and Million Dollar Baby [2004]

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.

Mulholland Drive [2001]
Mulholland Drive [2001, David Lynch]
Starring Naomi Watts, Laura Harring, Justin Theroux.

I don’t know if there has been another film in my project that has lingered in my mind like Mulholland Drive. I know David Lynch is a very peculiar and often confusing director, and I was proud of myself for keeping up with everything that was happening in the movie. Well, at least until the last twenty minutes or so. That’s when shit hit the fan and I suddenly became lost. Thanks to some theorizing with others and with the help of Wikipedia’s extensive encyclopedic entry, I gained a better understanding of what the hell was going on near the end. With everything in perspective, the movie almost made sense.

Mulholland Drive is very much a hate it or love it type film, as evidenced by my girlfriend’s remarks of frustration as the credits rolled. Lynch’s works certainly aren’t for everyone, but I have a fond connection to his quirks and eccentricities. Nothing is ever as it seems, but it’s hard not to remain fascinated even as you remain clueless. This is particularly true with Mulholland Drive, and I felt that the movie kept getting better and better as it went along. Just doing this brief writeup has made me want to watch it again, this time to pick up on hints that I know I missed the first time around. That, to me, is the sign of a damn good film. 8.5/10

Million Dollar Baby [2004]
Million Dollar Baby [2004, Clint Eastwood]
Starring Hilary Swank, Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman.

I was a little disappointed that I already knew the big “twist” near the end of Million Dollar Baby. I had heard others discussing it after its release, and I was mildly worried that it would ruin my movie watching experience. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case at all. Watching Hillary Swank rise through the ranks from white trash waitress to a badass boxing machine was a lot of fun. The boxing scenes in particular were very impressive and felt authentic. While I knew not to expect a happy ending, I almost wish the movie went in a different direction, as the last 20-30 minutes were completely different from the rest of the film. It was a jarring transition, even though it was handled with care.

Still, there’s a lot that I liked about Million Dollar Baby. As far as sports films go, this is one of the better ones. It certainly helps that Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman are in excellent form here, with the latter doing his trademark narration as well. I don’t know if I would go as far as to say this is the best picture of 2004, but it is definitely a good one, and I am glad I decided to watch it despite knowing the outcome. 8/10

Movie Project #22 and #23: Zodiac [2007] and Unforgiven [1992]

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.

Zodiac [2007]
Zodiac [2007, Fincher]
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo

Zodiac is one of the only David Fincher films that I hadn’t seen, and I was particularly intrigued by its strong cast and dark subject matter. The movie revolves around the infamous Zodiac killer that terrorized the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1970s. While the cast is extensive, the story focuses mainly on those working to find the killer and reveal his identity. Three men in particular become obsessed with the story: Paul Avery (Robert Downey, Jr.) is a newspaper crime reporter who is trying to decrypt the letters that the killer is sending the San Francisco Chronicle. The paper’s political cartoonist, Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhall), has better luck at this and becomes outright consumed with determining the Zodiac’s identity. Finally, there is Detective Dave Toschi (Mark Ruffalo), who is officially assigned to the case. All three men reach incredible lows as the case gets the best of them. This is a story of obsession more than anything.

Zodiac is a rather exhausting film, clocking in at a whopping 157 minutes. There is certainly a lot of story to tell, and the character development is a major plus, but I still feel a good twenty minutes or so could have been removed. This issue aside, the film does a stunning job transporting viewers into the 1970s. Everything from the vintage clothing to the old muscle cars to Mark Ruffalo’s epic sideburns help encapsulate the era. Fincher’s directing, as expected, is wonderful, and the cast delivers strong performances overall. There’s a lot to like about Zodiac, but it didn’t blow me away like other Fincher films. 7.5/10

Unforgiven [1992, Eastwood]
Unforgiven [1992, Eastwood]
Starring Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman

When it comes to Clint Eastwood, I still have a lot of catching up to do. I have missed out on a lot of his most well-regarded films over the years, and Unforgiven was perhaps my most glaring omission. This 1992 Best Picture winner really impressed me, and it is easily in the top three or five Western films I have ever seen. Eastwood stars as Will Munny, a reformed outlaw (and recent widow) who is persuaded to take on one last job to make money to support his two young children. He recruits his old partner-in-crime, Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman), to help him out, and they form a reluctant trio with a tough-talking youngster (Jaimz Woolvett). Their journey brings them to the hard-living town of Big Whiskey, where a group of prostitutes have pooled together a reward for whoever kills the two men that sliced up the face of one of their workers. The town is run with an iron fist by Little Bill Daggett (Gene Hackman), a mean son-of-a-bitch who has banned all weapons from those passing by.

Unforgiven is dark and violent, but it tells one hell of a story. The movie has a bit of a slow burn (which I loved, though it may grow tedious for others) before exploding into chaos and mayhem during the last twenty minutes. The drastic change near the end was so explosive that I still can’t stop thinking about it. Many of the characters seem like decent folk at first, but their evil ways start to seep through over time, clearly showing that no one ever really changes. The progression of Little Bill stands out most, as he seems to have decent motives for his town (no weapons, no crime), but his violent behavior makes him absolutely frightening. Eastwood, Hackman, and Freeman are all amazing here, and I also really enjoyed Richard Harris’s character of English Bob, a sniveling coward of a man. The cast, the set pieces, the story of revenge and change… I loved so much about Unforgiven. A great film, and one of my favorites so far in this project. 9/10