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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I’m Just a Boy Saying No Means No

Last night, I caught The Break Up on TBS and watched it because I hadn’t seen it before, and I knew Jenn Anniston and Vince Vaughn didn’t end up together in the end. Consensus? Annoying in parts, but altogether, a sense of reality in it that I appreciated. Then I started thinking through what other films didn’t end up with the couple getting together. The all-too-familiar (500) Days of SummerMy Best Friend’s Wedding. Up in the Air. A Google search later, I then recalled The Time Traveler’s Wife (separation by time travel), Titanic (death by a really big boat sinking), Nights in Rodanthe (separation by death – thanks once again, Nicholas Sparks), The Bourne Supremacy (separation by murder), or even Batman Begins or the first of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man (separation by a “higher calling” – I always laughed at the end when Spiderman refused Mary-Jane. I know, what’s wrong with me?).

And then I thought, hey, what if we could mess with the endings of those movies with the happily-ever-afters, and make them not happily-ever-after? Are there films that would be better off where the guy and girl didn’t get together? I think so. Here’s a list of movies with couples that I would not let them end up together, whether it’s just for kicks and giggles, or because I never would have put those two people together in the first place.

Eddie and Paige in The Prince and Me

Eddie (Luke Mably) and Paige (Julia Stiles) were never meant to be together. One was meant to run a country, the other was meant for higher education. There never should have been a second and third sequel to this film, with the main roles getting changed out each time. The idea was simple and sweet enough in the beginning, but having a future king of a country return to the states and let a girl know that he’ll wait “however long it takes,” just isn’t realistic, much less workable. Talk about pressure on the girl!

Aragorn and Arwen in The Return of the King

I wish that Aragorn (Viggo Mortenson) would have directed the words “I cannot give you what you seek” to Arwen (Liv Tyler) and not to Eowyn (Miranda Otto). I have yet to finish reading The Return of the King, but from a movie viewer perspective, I would have rather cheered on Aragorn kissing Eowyn in the end than Arwen. Both Eowyn and Aragorn have that whole fighting warrior thing down, and they definitely have an immediate chemistry when they meet.

Bryan and Annie in Father of the Bride

I’m on the dad’s side (Steve Martin) from the beginning. Although Annie (Kimberly Williams-Paisely) getting engaged to Bryan (George Newbern) and planning a crazy wedding makes for an interesting premise, in the end, I rather have seen Bryan be sent on his way than sadly watching George struggle to share a moment with Annie after the wedding. Any guy who starts putting his hand on a girl’s leg in front of her father the first time he meets him isn’t classy or smart.

Henry and Danielle in Ever After

This is more for comical reasons than any other. So Danielle’s (Drew Barrymore) a liar and Henry’s (Dougray Scott) a jerk. The two have flaws, but seemingly are perfect for each other. But what would have happened had Henry chosen Marguerite over Danielle? I could imagine the film ending with rain lightly tapping the glass slipper, the camera zooming out, and the step-mother (Anjelica Huston) laughing manically in the background. You have to admit you’re curious now, right?

William and Anna in Notting Hill

And now the title of this post becomes relevant. The titular line in Notting Hill is told by Anna Scott (Julia Roberts) to William (Hugh Grant): “I’m just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her.” What if William’s response was, “Well I’m just a boy, and no means no.” A little harsh, sure, but then again, to reject that line altogether–and spoken by the most famous movie star at the time–was a little harsh. I appreciated the idea of a normal person rejecting a movie star. It made sense. But then again, he showed a more human element of himself when he begged to have her back.

Jake and Melanie in Sweet Home Alabama

This choice may really make people mad. Frankly, I’m OK with the movie’s ending. I mean, if had to choose between Patrick Dempsey and Josh Lucas, I would struggle too. I get it, two people reconnected through the South and family and life. But what about poor Andrew (Patrick Dempsey)? He didn’t do anything wrong, yet he gets rejected in the end. Melanie (Reese Witherspoon) accepted his proposal! It’s like watching an episode of The Bachelorette, and Melanie changing her mind after the final rose.

OK, I’m fresh out of ideas. Your turn – who would you have liked to see break up, or never end up together? Or how about the reverse – was there ever a couple you wish would have gotten together in the end?  Sound off in the comments.