erik lundegaard


Monday July 23, 2012

Movie Review: The Dark Knight Rises (2012)


Is Gotham City worth saving? One wonders if Batman ever wonders that.

Thomas Wayne tried saving the city in “Batman Begins,” but he and his wife were killed by a petty criminal, Joe Chill, in a back-alley mugging, and the city was overrun by organized crime and corrupt law enforcement. It took Wayne’s son, Bruce, alias Batman (Christian Bale), to save it from both the slow, sad death of corruption and a quick, mad death ordered by Ra’s al Ghul (Liam Neeson) and the League of Shadows. In this, there is one good police, Lt. Gordon (Gary Oldman), and one good prosecutor, Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes), and that’s about it.

In “The Dark Knight,” the Joker (Heath Ledger) tries to prove that the moral code of the citizens of Gotham is a bad joke, dropped at the first sign of trouble, and does. He holds the city hostage by demanding that: 1) Batman unmask himself; 2) a petty functionary of Wayne Enterprises be killed; and 3) two ferry boats engage in a test of wills, or souls, to see which blows up the other. In this, the citizens of Gotham: 1) agree; 2) start shooting; 3) redeem themselves by not acting, which, given Gotham’s history, is less ferry-boat ending than fairy-tale ending. The good citizens, Lt. Gordon and Rachel Dawes (now Maggie Gyllenhaal), are joined by Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), a white-knight district attorney whose face is eventually mangled into the grotesquerie of Two Face, and who goes mad from pain and loss. His crimes are then pinned on Batman, by Batman, who believes that Dent’s true, sad end would be too much for the delicate natures of Gothamites, who would lose all hope.

poster for "The Dark Knight Rises" (2012)Now, in “The Dark Knight Rises,” the League of Shadows is back, in the form of Bane of the basso profundo (Tom Hardy), who, in a master stroke, blows up all but one of the bridges connecting Gotham to the rest of the world, and, with a nuclear device holding the city hostage, becomes its defacto warlord, urging “the people” to take back from “the rich” what is theirs. They do. In a flash, law and order crumbles, Gotham becomes Paris in 1789, and our old pal, Dr. Jonathan Crane (Cillian Murphy), becomes the sentencing/hanging judge. Chaos reigns.

So one can forgive Batman for thinking, “Really? Again? You can’t...? OK. But seriously, this is the last fucking time.”

Or maybe it’s the citizens of Gotham who should be doing the wondering. Specifically: Why does this always happen to us?

The answers as revealed in each movie in the Dark Knight trilogy: 1) because the League of Shadows wants to wipe out your city, which is hopelessly corrupt; 2) because the Joker wants to prove your city can be hopelessly corrupted; and, 3) because the League of Shadows wants to wipe out your city, which is hopelessly law-abiding.

One can forgive Gothamites for asking for a little consistency from its supervillains. Or its writer-director.

Needlessly complicated
That’s Gotham’s true problem—and ours. Christopher Nolan, the writer-director of the Dark Knight trilogy, loves, too much, the needlessly complicated schemes of his supervillains.

This is just part of Bane’s plan in “Dark Knight Rises”:

  1. Using Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) to lift a fingerprint of the now-reclusive Bruce Wayne, eight years after the events of “Dark Knight,” so it can be used to bankrupt him. In this manner, Wayne Enterprises, which includes a potential nuclear weapon in its basement, can be taken over.
  2. Defeating Batman and throwing his broken body into the horrific third-world, underground prison from which Bane emerged.
  3. Dozens, maybe hundreds of men, working in Gotham’s sewers for months, without anyone knowing, in order to create the explosives necessary for the takeover.
  4. Having all of these explosives go off at the exact moment that 99 percent of Gotham’s now squeaky-clean but fairly incompetent police force are searching the sewers for same, effectively trapping them below ground, and leaving Gotham ripe for 1789-style anarchy.

Let’s face it: a helluva lotta luck goes into 3) and 4), not to mention 2). Any of these go wrong—Batman beats Bane, some bum discovers the men in the sewer, the cops don’t go underground at that exact moment—and the plan goes bust.

But was 1) even necessary? Bruce Wayne and Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) wind up blocking unethical corporate raider and Bane benefactor Daggett (Ben Mendelsohn) from gaining control of the company, which winds up in the hands of rich socialite and super-hotty Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard). But Bane takes the nuke anyway. So why the financial machinations when things can just be taken?

Don’t even get me started on the kidnapping of Dr. Pavel (Alon Aboutboul), supposedly the only man who can arm the device. It involves Bane pretending to be a CIA prisoner, and members of the League of Shadows rapelling from a bigger plane to the smaller CIA plane in order to blow it apart. Really? You can’t kidnap one Indian dude off the street? You have to wait until he’s in the sky?

Even so, for most of its 164-minute runtime, I was enjoying the dark opera that is “The Dark Knight Rises.” I felt pain, a kind of childish pain, watching Batman fall, and seeing his armory raided for the purpose of subjugating rather than liberating Gotham.

I continued to be impressed with Gary Oldman’s low-key performance as Gordon: the ordinary man caught in extraordinary events.

I liked Joseph Gordon-Leavitt’s stolid police officer, Blake, who, despite an upbringing at St. Swithins orphanage, in which he talks about the masks one needs to wear to survive, is the most straightforward character in the movie. It feels like he gave up on bullshit long ago. He also figures out Bruce Wayne’s secret without breaking a sweat, which, yeah, seems a bit much.

And I loved Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman, who doesn’t merely ride Batman’s motorcycle fetchingly (giving added meaning to the movie’s title), but plays whatever woman she needs to play—mousey, frightened, sexy—in order to get what she needs from the nearest man. She also has some of the movie’s best lines.

Lucius: Fox I like your girlfriend, Mr. Wayne.
Selina Kyle: He should be so lucky.

So I was enjoying myself. Then the 11th-hour reveals began.

All al Ghuls all the time
First, we find out that Bane’s master plan isn’t Bane’s at all. It’s Miranda Tate’s. Because she’s really Talia al Ghul, Ra’s’ daughter, getting revenge on Batman and Gotham in the name of her father.

As a result, Bane—a one-note villain, yes, but a pretty cool note—goes from mastermind to guard dog in a flash. His eyes dim and he stands around waiting for commands. A few moments later he’s shot and killed by Catwoman. Hey, how come no one tried that before? You know. When Bane was terrorizing everybody?

So Nolan undercuts the villain once again. He did it with Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson) in “Batman Begins,” who, it turns out, was controlled by Dr. Crane, who, it turns out, was controlled by Ra’s al Ghul. The al Ghuls keep getting in the way. In the entire trilogy, only the Joker is Ghul-free.

Then we get the extended backstory. It was Talia, not Bane, who escaped that horrid third-world prison as a child. She’s the love child of Ra’s al Ghul, whose lover, unbeknownst to Ra’s, was placed pregnant into that third-world pit as part of a deal that allowed him to escape. There, the mother is killed, but Talia, with the help of Bane, survives, and, with the help of Bane, escapes; then she and her father return to rescue what’s left of Bane. But the father resents the benefactor and excommunicates him from the League of Shadows. Does Talia not resent this? Does she not resent her father for abandoning her and her mother? Apparently not. Apparently she’s still willing to risk everything to carry out his mad plans.

And what’s with that prison anyway? Why is the mother, the daughter, and Bane attacked, and Bruce not? Why do inmates chant “Rise” as Bruce attempts to escape? Did they chant “Rise” for Talia? If so, why attack Bane afterwards? Why aren’t they high-fiving each other?

And if it’s Talia who masterminded everything, when exactly was she going to reveal this to Batman? After she nuked Gotham? Via the TV hookup or in person? Did she have her “slow knife” line ready for such an encounter? Because surely she’d want Batman to know who brought him low.

And if she truly wanted to bring him low, shouldn’t she have done nothing at all? He was wasting his life, a gimpy recluse, before she and her plan made him interested in the world again. That’s quite a gift. He should’ve thanked her.

And she’s League of Shadows? She shows no stealth. What happened to that organization anyway? Its members are a little less shadowy these days. Bane and Batman, in particular, are bruisers. Their fights are like Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed in the 14th round. The promise of ninja-stealth from “Batman Begins” is long forgotten.

As is, by the way, summoning bats with the sonic device in Batman’s boot. Seriously, if I were Batman? I’d be doing that shit every time I showed up.

Some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb
Anyway, that’s the first 11th-hour reveal. Talia is the mastermind; and Bane, reduced to functionary, is removed with a single bullet.

So now we follow her. She is helped into the passenger seat of the truck carrying the nuke, and when the driver is killed, and it crashes, and Batman and others arrive at the scene, she, like in some soap opera, ekes out the words, “My father’s work is done,” then does the head-tilt-to-the-side to indicate death. Lame.

But it sets up our dramatic end, the final sacrifice of the Batman. In the trailer and in the movie, Batman and Catwoman have this exchange:

Catwoman: You don’t owe these people any more. You’ve given them everything.
Batman: Not everything. Not yet.

So we go in expecting the death of Batman. And that’s what we get. Batman, in his batplane, hooks onto the ticking nuke and flies it over open waters, where it explodes far enough away to save Gotham and its citizens. (Look for future mash-ups with Adam West’s famous line from the 1966 “Batman” movie: “Some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb!”)

The second 11th-hour reveal is that Officer Blake, who throws away his badge in disgust after the battle is over, has a seldom-used first name: Robin. After Bruce’s death, Wayne Manor is transformed into the Thomas and Martha Wayne Home for Orphans, and Blake, working there, discovers the batcave. The legend lives on.

At first I liked this. Gordon-Leavitt’s face and body type are almost perfect for the role. Plus, as played here, he’s cool, which means Robin would actually be cool for the first time in his long, sad history. But then I realized the folly. “Wait. Bruce Wayne trained for seven years for this. Dude’s a ninja. Robin’s not bad in a fight, but he ain’t no ninja. At the least, he has at least one Nepalese trek in his future or he won’t last long.”

The third and final reveal is that Batman isn’t really dead. Autopilot, remember?

This was immediately disappointing. I suppose I wanted the finality of his death. I suppose I wanted his earlier lines (“Not everything. Not yet”) to have meaning. I suppose I wanted to see something different in a blockbuster movie.

Besides, it means that Bruce Wayne at the end of the movie is in a predicament similar to Bruce Wayne at the beginning of the movie. Sure, he’s away from Gotham City, as Alfred long advised. Sure, he’s with Selina Kyle, who’s totally hot. Sure, it’s like he’s on vacation, sitting there at the outdoor cafe in ... is it Italy? But what is he going to do with his life? And what do these two, the bat and the cat, do all day? Have sex? Go to museums? Read books? Take a breath after the relentless pace of the last three movies? How long before they get bored with it? How long before they come up with a plan to do something?

Whatever that plan, I hope it isn’t needlessly complicated.

Posted at 09:01 AM on Monday July 23, 2012 in category Movie Reviews - 2012