Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises: Batman Punches Criminals

Last night, I went to see The Dark Knight Rises.

I don't normally go to see movies, because most of them are simply terrible.  Typically, they offer nothing more than crude jokes and flashy special effects, with explosions and jiggly ladies.  The times when I do go to see a movie, it is because a friend has harassed me enough into seeing it, and I leave half wanting to demand my friend repay me for my wasted money and my time.  Really, my most enjoyment from movies tends to come from abusing the fans by loudly insulting it
to them.

But not so with Christopher Nolan movies.  Because Christopher Nolan makes great movies.  He makes movies with great depth, yet he conveys the entire message through the visual medium of film.  He effectively uses movies to communicate messages and stories every bit as intriguing as anything you could read in a book.

So I went to The Dark Knight Rises excited, prepped, stoked, ready to see a master do what he has mastered... and I left disappointed.

There aren't any "spoilers" below; nothing like "Dumbledore dies" anyway.  Nothing you couldn't have learned by watching a trailer.  Maybe you'd want to see the movie first before reading, anyway, just to be sure.

DKR is a bunch of fisticuffs linked by a tenuous terrorist plan.  The visual effects are stunning, the chase scenes and explosions are great, people get beaten up and thrown through windows, and Anne Hathaway as Catwoman is a total vamp in tight leather pants... so if that's what you like in movies, you will like this.  Babes and 'splosions abound.

If you were looking for something like a conclusion to Christopher Nolan's brilliant redevelopment of the Batman mythos, something to wrap up the plot and purpose of Dark Knight, then you will not find it.

The second movie, the Dark Knight (which is the only other one I saw), involves explosions and fisticuffs and awesome military equipment... but that isn't what it's about.  It's about the nature of civilization, versus chaos and anarchy.  It's about morality and pragmatism and idealism.  It's about human empathy.  It's about the line between criminal and criminally insane.  TheJoker is really a Philosopher, and he forces Batman and Harvey Dent and the audience to question what it means for human beings to live amongst each other.

Should you kill the one man to save the town?
Should you kill the prisoners -- who are guilty of crimes, but innocent of involvement in the situation -- to save the non-prisoner civilians?
Should you kill the bad guy, who otherwise will kill thousands of innocents?
How much does it take to drive the hero overboard?
What makes the hero the hero?
What separates a vigilante from a criminal?
What separates a criminal from a madman?

It isn't just a matter of Heath Ledger's portrayal of the Joker.  He totally nailed it, as I don't even need to say, and showed us a Joker thousands of times more troublingly insane than the smiling prankster of earlier movie adaptations.  But it's also about direction and screenwriting.  Heath Ledger nailed the Joker, but he nailed the role in a movie that used the role to maximum efficiency to drive the plot and purpose of the movie.

In DKR, Thomas Hardy might very well have nailed Bane.  From the very beginning, he is every bit as coldly intelligent as Hannibal Lector. And it is that intelligence that is emphasized over physical strength.

My only familiarity with Bane was from Schumaker's Batman and Robin, where Bane was some ridiculous grunting body builder full of some kind of toxic fluid that makes him super strong and somehow removes his ability of vocal articulation.  When I heard Bane was in this one, that's what I was expecting.

So I was extremely impressed to see an almost-Shakespearean-voiced Bane in the opening scene, who was able to make plans and threats and witticisms, or other activity more than obeying Poison Ivy's every command.  The opening scene sets him up as a mastermind.  He is portrayed every bit as cunning as a stock-movie brilliant scientist, with a whole crew of lackeys at his disposal.

Bane's face is covered with the mask, so the actor was limited to body language and vocal expression to portray the entire character, and still pulled it off.  The very first line of dialog out of his mouth, in his bizarre mask-voice with the almost cartoony twists in it, tells you a hundred times more about this character than furrowed eyebrows or a smirk ever could.

And while we're at it, Anne Hathaway nailed Catwoman.  The character isn't about looking sexy in leather pants, but using flexibility and stealth to steal jewels.  Most of her work is fitting in at evening parties with aristocrats.  She's part cat burglar, part social engineer, and Hathaway was a perfect cast for it.  She isn't even called "Catwoman" once, because she isn't about being Catwoman, but about being a master jewel thief trying to reform her ways.

So the performances by the actors were great.  They weren't the Joker, but the lack of the Joker didn't ruin the movie.  There were great actors playing great villains enough without the Joker.  Even if this movie had the Joker, it would only have ruined Ledger's legacy of playing the character.

Here's why this isn't a good movie.  The second movie, the Dark Knight, was about all the important questions I asked above. It was a commentary on polity and morality.

What is the Dark Knight Rises about?

It's about some criminals who do crimes and Batman has to stop them.

If you just wanna see Batman run around and punch people, then go see this movie.  This movie has more punches than in any movie I've ever seen.  If you wanna see Christopher Nolan finish his masterpiece interpretation of Batman... go see it anyway, because you should, but  get ready for a let-down.

No comments: