Friday, July 27, 2012

Just Seen: The Dark Knight Rises

Batman (Christian Bale), contemplating
the end of his franchise.

If all comic book movies were as good as The Dark Knight Rises, I would forever swear off making fun of them.

Consider the faintly silly premise: A billionaire who wears a disguise and fights crime with his bare hands and cool gadgets in his spare time. It's a crazy thing, and there are movies who laugh at the whole superhero idea: Kick-Ass (2010) and Super (2010). But there is nobody more serious about comic-book movies than Christopher Nolan. He understands something about how audiences connect to this genre that few other directors in the genre do.

This is the key: There are no superheros in Christopher Nolan's superhero movies.

Bruce Wayne is just a rich guy with great toys who is often in over his head. The Batman may be the titular center of this trilogy, but there is also a cast of perfectly regular people who take up probably as much screen time as he does. Some are rich, some are brilliant, but for the most part most can be summed up in the character of Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) A regular, hard-working person whose only superior aspect is the amount of decency he embodies.

Nolan went through the cast of comic-book characters and remade them as relatable people: Selena Kyle (Anne Hathaway as Catwoman, but is never called that in The Dark Knight Rises) is a thief about to be overwhelmed by her past. Alfred (Michael Caine), is tormented by the reckless choices Bruce Wayne makes in his pursuit of justice-- A performance I guarantee will choke you up. Joseph Gordon-Leavitt plays Blake, a perfectly normal, if exceedingly decent, cop who somehow knows Batman's true identity. Even Bane (Tom Hardy, according to the credits), the villain of the piece, is given a backstory near the end that is more tragic than ominous.

Blake (Joseph Gordon-Leavitt),
a regular guy kneeling over
a regular storm drain.
Nolan's passion for getting the outsized down to a relatable level even extends to how he stages his amazing action sequences. Sure, some are digitally constructed-- you can't blow up a bridge or a football stadium for a movie, though Nolan did blow up a hospital for the last movie-- but only when digital is the only practical solution. His car chases are real, and the amazing mid-air kidnapping that starts the film was real too. I wrote a while ago about It's a Mad, Mad Mad, Mad World (1963) and the impact it still retains through it's stunning number of spectacular, absolutely real stunts. Nolan understands the power of showing what is real: real human-scaled characters, real stunts. Showing what is real resonates with audiences.

Is there a correlation between relying on virtual effects and synthetic heroes, 3D movies and flat characters? Joss Whedon has been dealt a hatful of heroes in Marvel's The Avengers but I defy you to really care about any of them (except for Mark Ruffalo's Bruce Banner/The Hulk, who was quite soulful). The Amazing Spider-Man, that contractual obligation comic-book movie which opened a few weeks ago, drew huge ho-hums (it did quite decently, though it hasn't covered it's $230M budget quite yet).

The Dark Knight Rises
is not just the best comic-book movie this summer: It's a superior motion picture, one that delivers everything it promises, makes you care, and leaves you wanting more at the end.

A few loose notes:

Bane. You'll be seeing a lot more
of him come October 31st.
• As much as I liked everything about this film, I think they way they decided to portray Bane (a Batman graphic-novel villain from the 90s) was a serious misstep. I had no problem with his character: He introduces himself to Gotham as a super-determined revolutionary, the scourge of the One Percent, before he unveils his chilling true mission. But he looks kinda, I dunno, cheap: like a baddie someone slapped together with costume pieces from a Spirit Halloween Superstore. He has a wheezy, hard-to understand voice: like a combination of The Humongous (from The Road Warrior) and Lane Pryce from “Mad Men."

• It's impossible to ignore the horrific events in Aurora, Colorado when watching The Dark Knight Rises. It's an itch of a thought, popping up unexpectedly during the quiet moments and the most violent ones. It's a remarkably bloodless movie (It's PG-13, and Warner Bros. Knows their core audience well) but the nihilism that is the driving force of the villains cannot help but make one reflect on the senselessness of Aurora.

The dark tone of the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy stands as a reflection of the damage to our collective psyche caused by the 9/11 attack. That catastrophic attack tore a hole in America's sense of self that we're still trying to fill, an awful puzzle we're still trying to solve. It was the ultimate expression of deliberate, compassionless mass murder, done for a purpose we still do not fully understand. This collective dread of inexplicable violence is written into every scene of The Dark Night Rises (and even more so in The Dark Night). This movie, a work of escapist entertainment depicting a world full of nihilistic villains, will now be intimately and forever bound to an actual act of a nihilistic villain.

• Seen at the Century Tanforan in the XD auditorium (bigger screen, cushier seats, still not IMAX), a venue I used to dread because of the high proportion of jerky kids usually in attendance. But there has been a slow but profound change in both kids and public behavior in general over the last few years. I looked around when the lights came up and-- Yup, everyone was staring raptly at the blue glow of their phones, stroking them tenderly bottom-to-top to see all the status updates they missed over the last three hours. It's annoying and a little depressing-- but it sure is quiet.

1 comment:

  1. Bane makes me think what Darth Vader would sound like if Ricardo Montalban was the voice.