Monday, July 23, 2012

FILM: The Pros and Cons of The Dark Knight Rises

I, much like many people who frequently read entertainment news, was truly pissed off when the inconsiderate and, at this point in his career, indifferent David Letterman ruined the ending of The Dark Knight Rises. I was even more pissed off when coworkers on the other side of my cubicle had THE LOUDEST conversation about the ending of the movie. And I pretty much exceeded my pissed limit when I heard that a complete lunatic who called himself the Joker murdered and wounded eager Batman fans at a midnight screening, tainting the film's history for all time and forever linking the pain of hundreds of people to a comic book icon that's never going away, ensuring that they will be consistently haunted by that horrifying night forever.

Many of my friends said it made them not want to watch the film, either out of fear of going to a theater in the event that there should be a copycat shooter, or out of respect, for this is a time of mourning and not entertainment. I was a little wary myself. There were as many cops in Times Square this weekend as there were vendors, and when the lights went down, I did feel an overwhelming amount of dread--that kind of fear that washes over you when you know a horror movie is about to start and you're not sure if it'll be a slowburn that eases you into the gore or a shock-and-awe that gets right to it. If it wasn't for the guy who wouldn't shut up next to me, making peanut gallery commentary throughout the whole film, and the fact that I had to pee half way through the movie, I would've remained that agitated and distracted the entire time. But I actually think that this unforeseen tragedy made the film resonate more with me--as horrible as that sounds. We know that the world is filled with real horrors and life is filled with more losses than wins, but we don't always remember, because for most of us, as long as we have food, shelter, a job, good health, and family, the world seems just. It isn't until we're reminded, by one tragedy or another, that tyrants and terrorists live among us, and are shown a story, real or fictional, of good triumphing over evil that we remember what winning actually looks like. I can't tell you how proud I was to watch a city, torn apart by fanatical ideals, rise up and fight.

So I'll admit that that night has truly affected how I judge The Dark Knight Rises. It may have put it on a pedestal for me, and raised it above all other comic book films of the year. But that doesn't mean it was perfect. Check out the pros and cons:

• Why don't we just get it out of the way: Yes, sometimes you could not understand what Bane was saying, especially during his first fight with Batman. I think the problem is we don't realize how accustomed we are to reading lips as we listen, so when that option is taken away, it diminishes our ability to hear. I'll definitely have to watch it again with subtitles, which is a testament to the script really because unlike most villains, Bane actually had interesting things to say. It wasn't just filler.
• I realize that Michael Caine is a seasoned actor and he deserves a little more than a few one-liners, but I feel like his role this time around as the voice of reason was a bit bloated. Granted, in past times, the love interest and the commissioner would help Alfred talk some sense into Bruce/Batman, and this time around Alfred was on his own, but it seemed a little unnatural to me. I always felt like Alfred always had Batman's back. It never occurred to me that he is probably the only person in the city who loves Bruce Wayne more than he loves Batman, and would do anything to save him from himself. As a result, I didn't feel the weight of the moment when he admitted to burning Rachel's (Maggie Gyllenhaal) letter in the last film, leading him to believe that she would've chosen him over Harvey Dent, and plummeting him into a depression that made him resign from the world.
• While I'm happy for Blake, that he got to become a detective for all his diligent work, you don't become a detective just because the commissioner wants you to be one. You take a test!
• I'm not saying that women have trouble with electronics. What I'm saying is that anyone who rides the Batman motorcycle would need a little tutorial. It doesn't look in the least bit self-explanatory. It's like the IKEA of motorcycles. So Catwoman just hopping on and figuring it all out in a matter of seconds is bullshit.
•  When Blake sends out orphans to alert nearby residents that it's time to evacuate the city, all I could think was, Who the fuck's gonna believe a bunch of kids?
•  While I think Marion Cotillard, the Oscar winner, has a lovely voice. I do not think her American?/British? accent was that great. There was a little French peeking through. She needs to work on her enunciation.
• I am not a doctor. If I took a biology exam today, I would fail so bad that the only check would go near my name. But seriously, vertebrae breaks, fuses back together on its own in a few weeks, and you can walk just fine? Seriously? That's a thing? Are you telling me that we're wasting our money on hospital bills and we should all just take a couple naps and we'll be fine? Come on? Let's be serious. It's going to take a little more than will power to get you to climb a wall, let alone walk.
Does metal survive nuclear bombs? Not quite sure how they recovered the Bat plane for a diagnostic of functionality if it exploded. Feel free to explain in the comments.
• I always thought of Robin as a sidekick not a solo hero, so it's weird that the baton was passed to Blake in Batman's absence. Not to mention, Joseph Gordon Levitt's not exactly a brawny dude and may look a lot dorkier than Spiderman in spandex or even an armored suit.
• And the biggest con of them all is the fact that the movie could've ended SO much sooner had Batman just shot Bane in the fucking head. Thousands of lives, two football teams, and hundreds of cops would've been saved had he done that from the beginning.

• I thought Anne Hathaway was actually pretty good as Catwoman. She was definitely copying that old-school femme fatale that used to use cigarette holders, hourglass dresses, and billowing fedoras, like Faye Dunaway. I actually thought before seeing the film that Charlize Theron would've been a better Catwoman, because I was basing my idea of Catwoman on what Michelle Pfeiffer did in 1992's Batman Returns. I thought she was going to be playfully evil. But this was not a driven-to-insanity, sadistic sexpot with a desire to maim and kill. This Catwoman is retaliating after decades of abuse and has her survival instinct at its max. Most of all, she was designed to be redeemable, a sort of sidekick. With that in mind, Hathaway did a great job. She effortlessly jumped between faux damsel in distress and cunning thief.
• While it's true that some of what Bane said was inaudible, I still liked that he had such a refined accent for such a meathead. I actually thought it was hilarious. It was just hard to laugh because he kept murdering people.
• I really liked how there were several twists. For example, I was initially wary of Miranda because she spontaneously showed up to the Wayne mansion when it was pouring rain without an umbrella. Because rich people never check the weather or have umbrellas, right? I chalked it up to a desperate attempt to make a sexy scene happen--something Bale isn't actually adept at. Sexy has never been a switch he's flipped. Intimidating? Yeah. Wise? Definitely. Brave? Of course. Sexy? Meh. But then she started getting really pushy about the clean energy project, so I chalked that up to her being an eager eco-activist. But something about her makeup and the way she sauntered made me still quite wary. What clinched it for me in realizing she was in fact Talia Al Ghul, the hidden daughter of Bruce's former mentor Ra's al Ghul, were two things: 1) The young boy in the tale of the prison escape looked super familiar. And I couldn't quite put my finger on it until after the big reveal, making me realize that that kid looked super familiar because it was the adorable Joey King (Ramona and Beezus), who is actually a girl, despite her name. I kept thinking, Does she have a brother? 2) When Batman went to go save Miranda, she was wearing clothing that is specific to the region of where Ra's al Ghul trained, which was a little random, and therefore, telling. Of course, I was so busy watching Bane get his ass kicked that I forgot she was in the room, so I was still surprised when she attacked Batman.
One of the most impressive twists, however, was how they established throughout the entire film that the mercenaries who followed Bane's orders were willing kamikazes. And then at the end, when it's revealed that Talia is actually the leader, we see that Bane is nothing but a kamikaze as well, just as willing to die for his master as his men were for him.
• The cement laced with explosives was a genius villainous plot. You would never see that coming. One of the least nefarious group of people in the city are construction workers. They may seem douchey or dirty, but never homicidal.
• I was not only psyched to see Liam Neeson return as Ra's Al Ghul for a short hallucination sequence, but for Cillian Murphy to reprise his role as that complete lunatic Scarecrow.
• Speaking of which, I loved the scene where he placed judgement on the commissioner, asking Death or Exile (exile being a walk across an unstable frozen river that had water so cold it kills the judged in minutes)? When the commissioner admirably chose Death, Scarecrow responded, " Exile." Hilariously cruel.
• I loved seeing so many familiar actors pop up throughout the film. From memory, I recall Juno Temple from Atonement, who plays Catwoman's assistant; Josh Stewart from "No Ordinary Family" and "Criminal Minds," who plays Bane's right-hand man; the unsung Winklevoss twin of The Social Network Josh Pence, who plays a young Ra's Al Ghul; Daniel Sunjata from "Grey's Anatomy" and "Rescue Me," who played a special forces captain sent to help by the government; Desmond Harrington from "Dexter" and "Gossip Girl," who played a cop who had the tough task of carrying out preposterous orders to keep the people in the city even though a nuclear bomb was going to go off; Reggie Lee from "Grimm," who was trapped under the city with hundreds of other cops and acted as the messenger to the outside world; Will Estes from "Blue Bloods," who played a rookie cop who has a funny moment with Batman; Rob Brown from Finding Forrester, who plays a SWAT leader at the Stock Exchange takeover; Thomas Lennon from "Reno 911!," who plays the doctor who tells Bruce that his body is deteriorating; and Christopher Judge, a formidable mercenary who goes up against Blake, and who looked so much like that bald-headed alien in "Stargate SG-1"...because he was in fact that bald-headed alien from "Stargate SG-1."
• While it's true that the initial ending, Batman dying, was ruined for me, it kind of wasn't. Yes, he died. But technically he didn't. Batman the hero will never return, but Bruce Wayne gets to move on with his life. Clean slate. No billions. No Batmobile. No burden. He saved the city using the autopilot on his kickass plane that resembled a hornet kind of, and ran away with Catwoman/Selina, using the very software she was so desperate to acquire to develop brand new untraceable identities. That was an awesome way to get both a poetic ending and a victorious one.
•  Last, but not least, I love the wrap-up at the end. Fox realizes that the autopilot was fixed on the plane, so Batman must've survived. Alfred gets his wish, looks across a European cafe, and sees Bruce in his happily ever after with Selina, and gives him a very reserved head nod of approval and affection. And Blake claims his inheritance and it's revealed that his real name is Robin, then we see him swing into the bat cave, his new lair.

Side note: There have been rumblings that there will be a Catwoman origin story. I think that whatever the story is it should take place after this film. If you think about it, her moral arc, which is supposed to occur in the origin story, already happened in this film. Plus, we already know how it "ends," so anyone she should meet before this is inconsequential. However, it's perfectly plausible that she and Batman won't work out romantically. She did after all deliver him to Bane and they both have trust issues and a difference of opinion when it comes to what constitutes right and wrong. It's not exactly a match made in heaven.

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