Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises: Epic Excellence

The Dark Knight Rises seems like an impossible challenge. In addition to recalling characters, themes, and events from the previous two movies, it introduces a host of new characters and a completely new plot to destroy the inhabitants of Gotham. Can writer-director Christopher Nolan wrangle all of these elements together into one coherent story? The answer is, of course he can.

The movie is meticulously crafted, resembling an epic novel in its scope and vision. There are elaborate set pieces that either propel the story forward or exist simply to inspire awe. There are people telling stories which seem like mere stories until flashbacks reveal these legends to be truth. There are characters with murky motives who seem to keep changing sides, while there are characters who stay staunchly true to their beliefs, whether good or evil. And all these disparate story arcs and people are inextricably intertwined and entangled by their encounters with the Batman, who is back after an eight-year retirement to take down his greatest nemesis yet, Bane. The one villain who "broke the Bat."

Christopher Nolan presents a feast for the senses, with action sequences that make you gasp and a thumping Hans Zimmer score that gets your pulse racing, interspersed with scenes that range from heartbreaking to comical, romantic to desperate, and every emotion in between. Bruce Wayne's arc is very similar to his evolution in Batman Begins, but this is a much more grown-up Bruce, a Howard Hughes-style recluse who is no longer concerned with keeping up his playboy image. Tom Hardy is fantastic as Bane, the new villain who  frightens you with his very presence. I will admit that it is hard to understand his every word underneath that mask, but like every arch-villain he's just spouting the same old rhetoric. His true intimidation lies in his threatening physicality and a look in his eyes that emphatically tells you he is a force to be reckoned with.

The other newcomers to the Batman universe are Selina Kyle (aka Catwoman, played with sleek panache by Anne Hathaway), Miranda Tate (the always radiant Marion Cotillard) who serves on the board of Wayne Enterprises and is trying to further Bruce Wayne's philanthropic goals, and John Blake (the ever-dependable Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a thoroughly incorruptible cop in Gotham's police force who becomes Batman's ally. These characters fit right into the Gotham landscape and you feel like they've been there all along, just waiting on the sidelines until Batman noticed them.

The old stalwarts are still there - Alfred (Michael Caine in all his Cockney glory) is still dispensing fatherly solicitude and trying to get "Master Bruce" a love life, Lucius Fox (the twinkly-eyed Morgan Freeman) is still sequestering gadgets to pique Bruce's interest, while Commissioner Gordon (the brilliant Gary Oldman) is still Gotham's moral center and struggling with the secret that Batman is Gotham's true hero. This is a bewildering array of characters to keep track of, but don't try so hard and you'll quickly become immersed in the universe that Christopher Nolan has created for your pleasure.

A remarkable feature of this movie is its predictability. There are various tropes and situations that lull you into complacency, and by the time you're halfway through the movie, you feel like you know where this is all going.  But then the action picks up, the plot goes stir-crazy, and the reveals get progressively more astounding. The plot is incredibly dense and complex, with various threads that could serve as social commentaries on a number of issues, but like every great novel, everything comes together in one satisfyingly brilliant conclusion.

The last fifteen minutes of The Dark Knight Rises are simply astonishing as the rug is continually pulled out from under your feet. All I can say is that I left the theater reeling with delight but also with despair that this magnificent trilogy is at an end.

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