AEOS Review: The Dark Knight Rises

Not Avengers. Not The Hobbit. Not the first of The Hunger Games or the last of Twilight produced the most anticipated hype for movies in 2012. I still believe that The Dark Knight Rises was the most anticipated film of the year. You can even add in a Tom Hooper and Quentin Tarantino flick near Oscar movie season, and I still hold firm in casting Nolan’s ending Batman in that top spot.

And with so much hoopla surrounding a film, only the inevitable seems probable, right? In other words, it’s not really possible for a movie to fulfill the impossible expectations that we, as film viewers, critics, audience, or even your average, everyday film-goers, have placed upon the film and shoulders of one Christopher Nolan, right?

Code language aside, The Dark Knight Rises was faced with an uphill battle the moment The Dark Knight hit theaters back in 2008. With a Batman movie receiving that kind of critical acclaim and love from critics and audiences together, how could the now much-recognized director deliver on an even higher and better level? He still has all the same people in his pockets–his brother, Jonathan, as co-writer; his cast with Christian Bale and Michael Caine leading; his composer, Hans Zimmer; his executive producer, Michael Uslan–the list goes on of course. But can the same team of people create an even better film?

With the unexpected death of Heath Ledger, perhaps there were minor (or major) script changes following The Dark Knight. Regardless, following TDK‘s massive success came the decision to finish the series with a final film, thus creating another trilogy film set–and according to some (and me in that group)–the best film trilogy made yet. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

This Is Not a Summary

I met up with my film buddy, Fredo, from FilmYarn yesterday to record a podcast on the film. When he posts it, I’ll be sure to include a link here. Before recording, one idea we talked about was how oftentimes many film reviews are just pretty summaries of the film. Am I guilty of doing that? Oh yes. Multiple times, in fact. But in order to offer something I hope will be a little fresher, I’m working extra hard with this “review” in order to make it not just a film review reiterating plot points, but something a little different, and hopefully something that will boost some outside-of-the-box thoughts and discussion from you guys.

My Initial Reaction(s)

I forced myself to not write this review until I had seen the film at least twice. Often when I see a film a second time, I have a very different reaction. I’m happy to say that this was the case, even though I didn’t even allow 24 hours between my two viewings.

After I saw TDKR for the first time, I loved it. Thought it was great. But I couldn’t dispose of the nagging feeling in my head that TDK was better, superior, and overall the better film of the two. And that was frustrating, because this was the END! Never again will I get to see a new Nolan Batman film and compare. Regardless, I went back the following day and caught an afternoon viewing with a friend who had yet to see it. The result this time?

Still, I loved it. But my complaints had narrowed considerably. I liked it probably ten times better than the first viewing. Partly, because I caught quite a few more things the second time around, and was able to better relax while watching. Any movie that has a decent amount of depth and plot usually requires me to view it twice minimum in order to get out as much as possible about a film.

Comparison to Its Older Cousin, Spiderman 2

Although this may seem like an odd comparison, I felt like I kept seeing parts of Sam Raimi’s Spiderman 2 while watching. Spiderman 2, was, in fact my favorite of Raimi’s Spiderman trilogy, as well as the best-reviewed of the three. That point aside, consider the plot of Spiderman 2. In the opening scene, Peter Parker loses his job. Mary-Jane is with another guy. Peter gives up being Spiderman for a short time. The guy is picked apart and stripped down. It isn’t until he hits his lowest point that he regains speed, reclaims his title as Spiderman, fights the bad guys, and reunites with the girl.

In TDKR, in an effort to not spoil or give anything away (in this section), I’ll hold off on revealing too much. Essentially, however, the same idea takes place; any person who has viewed the trailer can piece that together. The idea is in the title–the action on Batman’s part, “rises”–implies that he must be low in order to rise. This idea moves me into the next thought I had . . . .

Metaphorical vs. Heavy-Handed

Fredo and I argued about whether TDKR treated its theme as a metaphor in a literal sense, or was it really just Christopher Nolan being heavy-handed in over-exaggerating the theme? I, for one, vote on the side of metaphorical. Picking up where I left off, Batman is in a low place, and therefore must rise. Several parts of the film adopted the idea of being low in order to rise. Various scenes were filmed underground. Bruce Wayne/Batman started off the film in a low place–weak mentally, physically, and emotionally. Even the time of day/weather played a role in literally rising.

Fredo saw this use of emphasizing the theme of rising as more like banging the audience over the head with a hammer constantly. It wasn’t just enough to have Batman rise to the occasion, to rise to the problems of Gotham and put his best foot forward; Nolan had to emphasize the idea of rising in multiple outlets and formats throughout the film. While I very much appreciated the purposefulness of it all, others, like Fredo, did not.

For those of you who saw the film, would you consider the film more metaphorical, or handled far too heavy? For those of you who have not seen it, please take this idea in mind and let me know what you think when you do see it!

It’s Such a Nolan Film

Anyone who has seen multiple Nolan films will agree that TDKR follows the same formula of his other films. Every scene, every piece of dialogue, every action, every tangible and intangible element has a purpose and point for being in its place at its time in the film. Everything is planned out. His films are literally puzzles, and each scene acts as a piece that must be placed at a specific time and place in the correct space.

The element of time, while is important for the film, doesn’t bear the necessity it does in his other films. In Memento, the time functioned in a more nonlinear structure. In Inception, time could be extended in various levels of dream stages, thus elongating itself in order for certain actions to take place. Nolan’s Batman films don’t quite restructure time like his others; however, time plays an essential role in certain actions needing to take place.

The film contained quite a few flashbacks in order to successfully tell the story. Nolan loves him some flashbacks. He makes great use of the device in The PrestigeInception, and Memento. The flashbacks tell a great story that reveals pertinent information in the film. 

Ensemble Cast from Heaven

In his review of the film, Richard Roeper called watching this cast work as “movie heaven.” Even with TDKR‘s flaws, the cast really pulled out all the stops. There wasn’t a weak force on screen. Anne Hathaway was a stand-out just for not screwing up the role. Viewers went into the film with the lowest expectations for her, and she turned around and surprised many of us, including me.

Complaints have been made regarding Tom Hardy’s Bane. I talk more about his motivations in the Closing Thoughts/Queries section, but speaking just on his performance, I’d have to say he was nothing short of excellent. Talking with that device over his face had to be pretty difficult to deal with. He was menacing and expressed himself through his eyes, and while he might not have “stolen” scenes, he certainly took center stage when he was on screen.

The scenes shared between Christian Bale and Michael Caine were some of the strongest. My one big frustration (SPOILER) was Alfred going MIA the entire second half of the film.

Full Circle . . . for the Fans

SPOILERS AHEAD! 

And now I can’t hold back from spoiling parts, because in order to appreciate the idea that TDKR fulfilled Nolan’s Batman in such a satisfying way, one has to point out those lovely gifts Nolan wrote into the film. Getting to see Liam Neeson in a few short scenes as Ra’s al Ghul was such a treat. To learn of his connection in TDKR with Miranda Tate as his daughter, his heir who desires to finish his legacy, really makes it feel like we’re watching a finished, fulfilled version of Batman Begins.

Cillian Murphy returning for a couple short scenes as a crazy version of himself (was he really being Scarecrow?) felt like Nolan just saying to the fans, “Here ya go, fans. Enjoy.” Even when the prisoners were released to run about and eventually engage in battle, I was again reminded of Batman Begins. I felt like TDKR had quite a few parts that mirrored Batman Begins.

Closing Thoughts/Queries

SPOILERS AHEAD!

  • What did you think of Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Robin? Do you think the idea of leaving the Batman legacy to Robin was a smart choice? I, for one, enjoyed the reveal at the end, even though there were little hints dropped throughout the film if you hadn’t already caught on that JGL fit the Robin profile exactly.
  • Did the ending feel like Inception to anyone else aside from me? Two different people afterwards asked me if that end scene was a dream. I’m not sure whether to laugh or consider the possibility! But really, I don’t believe it was a dream.
  • Can someone please fill me in on what exactly Bane’s intention was? He kills, kills, kills. He constructs these nearly flawless plans to destroy Gotham and its inhabitants. You can’t tell me he did this all for the love of a woman. While the fake-out at the end revealing Miranda Tate as the villain was a little surprising, it really makes Bane’s motivations fall apart at the seams.
  • Did anyone else wish that the Joker story would have been closed? Every villain in all three films–except the Joker–was brought up in some way. Ra’s al Ghul, Scarecrow, Two-Face/Harvey Dent, and of course the two in the film, Catwoman and Bane, all had a place.
  • So many films end with the hero sacrificing himself by destroying something bad in order to save a place. In Lord of the Rings, Frodo sacrificed himself to destroy the Ring to save Middle-Earth. In The Avengers, Iron Man sacrificed himself to destroy a missile to save New York City. In Captain America, the captain sacrificed himself. Even Jack Bauer in 24 was about to fly a plane down in order to save the world, or something like that. The Dark Knight Rises follows suite: Batman sacrifices himself to destroy a time bomb to save Gotham. Yet all the heroes live in the end. Would it have been a better ending for Batman to die?
  • We have to compare (of course), so did you dig The Dark Knight or The Dark Knight Rises more? Was either one a better film than the other? While in some aspects I consider The Dark Knight the better film, I couldn’t imagine Rises being any better than it was. It completed a trilogy. It brought the series full circle. It even had hints of humor that the previous two films lacked. It pulled out all the stops, was epic in almost every proportion possible.

I’ll really miss this series. I believe it’s the best film trilogy made yet. Although the goodbye is bittersweet, I can’t help but wonder, what is Christopher Nolan going to do next?

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2012: A Peak for Film Series?

The year 2012 holds possibly some of the greatest film conclusions and beginnings of series (and then a few more . . . ) that have not only your typical fanboy jumping with excitement, but your average theater attender as well. Now, I will not be including Scary Movie 5 or Men in Black 3 (sorry Anna Faris and Will Smith) in this post, but that doesn’t mean I’m heartless. If anything, I shouldn’t be including the Twilight movie, but I think it’s too anticipated for me to leave it out.

Let’s start with the epic conclusions:

1) The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises

Perhaps the most anticipated film of 2012, Christopher Nolan plans to wrap up his Batman trilogy in July of next summer. Already photos, videos, a teaser trailer, and various rumors have leaked from all the proper channels, just fueling the fire of what Nolan fans expect to be better than The Dark Knight, a film considered one of the most remarkable and best of this generation. He has the same crew and a few new faces. The big question is . . . will The Dark Knight Rises live up to the impossible expectations of viewers, or will it *just* miss the mark and be considered the film that couldn’t? Being a Nolan fan myself, I have high hopes, but I’m afraid all this pre-excitement feels dazzling for now, but will continue to build until there is no momentum left. Let’s hope the pressure doesn’t get to him and he delivers an even more epic film than the previous Dark Knight.

2) The Hobbit

If I were to get technical, The Hobbit would actually be a pre-sequel, opening a slot for it in the “beginning series,” but since Peter Jackson has already given everyone three fantastic Lord of the Rings films, The Hobbit actually places fourth in that line, making it the last. Tearing out a page from the X-Men series playbook, and following suite via J.R.R. Tolkein’s intended order for the series (he first wrote Lord of the Rings, and then later penned The Hobbit), Jackson expectedly unexpectedly is directing this epic beginning end film. He’s been posting production videos to his Facebook page, only egging on the film geeks that will watch anything LOTR they can click their mouses on.

3) The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part II (can this title be any longer?)

Stop with the Twilight!

Unfortunately for any Twilight fans reading this (are there any . . . ?), I don’t have much to say about this film because the only one in the series I ever saw was the first one, which was a big disappointment for me with all the uproar of how fantastic the series supposedly was. I agree – it’s just my opinion, but even a fan would have to admit that the overexposure of Bella, Edward, and Jacob marketing is driving even proud fans into dark corners to hide their embarrassment over liking the series. Perhaps Stephanie Meyers really had something special, but what could have been something worthwhile got destroyed when it went viral. The nation’s critics never gave any one of the films in the series an overall positive rating. And don’t even get me started with the Harry Potter comparisons (you should know where my allegiances lie, anyway!). Anyways, I know I should include some kind of information about this film, but the only knowledge I really have to offer is that this is the final film in the series. After mimicking Harry Potter‘s successful technique of dividing the final book of the series into two films, the second installment of Breaking Dawn will be hitting theaters mid-November next year. Personally, I look forward to the end of it so I can finally stop hearing about it (I can imagine Taylor Lautner has similar sentiments). I digress.

OK, let’s hit up the beginnings now:

1) The Avengers

If you saw Captain America and then waited through the end credits, you were probably one of the first to see the teaser for the upcoming Avengers flick, due to be released in May of next year. Since then, posters and a fuller trailer mainly focusing on Robert Downy Jr.’s humor, have been released online. This year we got to see Thor and Captain America, and last year we got to see the second installment of Iron Man. Now we get to see all three grace the screen with an additional Mark Ruffalo taking a swing at playing The Hulk (not that we’re going to miss Edward Norton . . . ), along with Jeremy Renner playing Hawkeye, Scarlett Johansson playing Black Widow (remember her from Iron Man?), and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury. This should be a pretty epic cast lead by none other than Mr. Joss Whedon, who has a big enough fanbase of his own to bring in viewers.

2) The Revamped (“Amazing”)  Spiderman

The Amazing Spiderman

This decision to already redesign Spiderman has divided fans . . . loyalists cling to Kirsten Dunst and Tobey Maguire while the newer, younger generation who worship Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield and were blown away by The Social Network are opening their minds to this new possibility. Especially since fanboys claimed the previous unfinished trilogy messed up the “true” story of Peter Parker’s love life (Spiderman wasn’t always in love with the slutty version of Mary-Jane Watson from the previous series?!), they believe Marc Webb, the ironically named director, will be able to make things right this time around.

3) The Hunger Games

I personally have a lot wearing on this first movie. I read the trilogy this summer and fell in love with Katniss, Peeta, and the world of Panem. But after the out-of-control marketing that spawned from the dreaded Twilight series, I feel a sense of nervousness that The Hunger Games might try to follow in Bella and Edward’s shoes. Between Winter’s Bone, the X-Men prequel, and a few other small roles, I believe in Jennifer Lawrence’s acting ability, but this new taste for over-marketing, tween obsession with fictional book trilogies turned film series has even me concerned for the overall appearance and direction that Ross might take the series. He’s made some gems in the past (Dave, Big), but I hope that in the end that the green isn’t the only reason this film series may become successful. Plus, Lawrence seems capable of taking a photo that doesn’t make her appear angry at the world or high or both simultaneously (Kristen Stewart, anyone?). So that’s a good start, right?

4) Superman: Man of Steel

Not much information has been floating around regarding this film, more than likely because of all the epic film conclusions/beginnings preceding it (just re-read this post if you’re confused). But the information we do have access to is that Jonathan Nolan, Christopher’s brother, will be directing, and that Henry Cavill and Amy Adams will be starring. I’m trying as hard as possible to not have some kind of vendetta against JNolan for casting Adams, a redhead, as Lois Lane (PLEASE DYE HER HAIR!?), but I’m finding it difficult. Since her role in The Fighter, Adams has proven that she can effectively play an edgy character. But that doesn’t mean she’s a great fit for Lois Lane. Personally, I find it difficult to imagine the Enchanted princess to properly fill the sassy character’s shoes without looking completely out of place, but any hope lies in that a Nolan is directing the film.

The Man. The Movies. The Memento.

There’s been a lot of hype recently (especially today) about how Christopher Nolan has been snubbed once again – this time, by that warped Academy that makes all the decisions concerning the Oscars. This time around, it’s the 83rd Oscars, and Nolan has been rejected his much-deserved honor of being a Best Director nominee.

So instead of harping on the constant snubbing from said Hollywood Foreign Press Association and American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, let’s remember why we love CNolan.  After all, being snubbed means you must be pretty darn good at what you’re doing in the first place.

Far more than a triple threat. Yes, we all know he’s a fantastic director. But he’s also a screenwriter. And a producer. And a cinematographer and an editor (Following, Doodlebug).

Has a handful of quality A-listing actors to fill his movies with (Michael Caine, Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, and Cillian Murphy to name a few).

Created the most popular, and by many, considered the best Batman series thus far.

Established connections with professionals within multiple film fields: Hans Zimmer, composer; Emma Thomas (his wife), producer; Lee Smith, film editor; Jonathan Nolan (his brother), screenwriter.

Takes complex ideas and adapts them for the average film-goer. (MementoThe Prestige, and Inception).

Nolan’s IMDB file and Wikipedia (for what it’s worth) contain a lot of this information, but more and more of it is becoming knowledge among even amateur movie-goers. It was Christopher Nolan’s name, not Leonardo DiCaprio’s that brought people into the theater to see Inception, his latest flick, this past summer.

Check out the textual part of a common Inception poster: 

The words “From the Director of The Dark Knight” stick out. And while Leo’s name is in bright lights as well, it was the obscure, ambiguous trailer and the idea that the director of The Dark Knight could create another film as high quality as The Dark Knight, that made the film compelling enough to go see. Judging by most critics’ and audience’s reviews, it was.

Nolan may not have the nod of the Academy, but he has fans. And their respect.