You Should Be As Afraid of Him As I Am

29 Jul

The Dark Knight Rises, Christopher Nolan’s thrilling final entry in his Batman trilogy, begins with a breathtakingly impressive and awfully scary sequence.

Shot in IMAX, it involves Bane, the bulked-up villain who wears an intimidating crab-like mask, taking a plane full of men hostage. “Now is not the time for fear,” Bane says as the plane attaches to another, tilts 90 degrees, and he injects one of the passengers with a needle that draws out his blood. “That comes later.”

Coulda fooled me.

The scene, which was previewed before IMAX screenings of Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol last December, was shot largely with stunt actors in the air and not with green-screen-assisted computer effects. And yes, with those heavier, bulkier IMAX cameras.

It’s nothing short of amazing.

But that’s to be expected, given the way Nolan has rebooted the Batman story, infused it with such craftsmanship, and made each new film of his trilogy bigger and better than the last.

The Dark Knight Rises, while it may not be a better film than The Dark Knight, is certainly the most ambitious one of the three. And that opening scene sets our expectations pretty high (no pun intended).

Eight years later

When The Dark Knight Rises begins, it’s eight years after the events of The Dark Knight. At the end of that film, Batman (Christian Bale) killed Harvey Dent, Gotham City’s supposed “white knight,” after Dent had turned into the psychotic Two-Face. In order to restore hope to the city, Batman and Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) hatched a plan where Batman would take responsibility for Dent’s evil deeds, and then disappear.

Now, as a result of what everyone credits to Dent, thousands of criminals have been locked up, and Gotham is in glorious peacetime. “Soon we’ll be chasing down overdue library books,” jokes a noble cop played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

But just under the surface (quite literally) there’s trouble — much of it stemming from a growing resentment of the rich, who seem to have only grown richer as a result of the city’s crime-free state.

Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), a cat burglar who acts like a flirtier, less even-minded Robin Hood, wants to take from those who have too much. And the aforementioned Bane (Tom Hardy), well, he has much larger intentions: He plans to position himself as a hero to the 99% so he can more easily take control from Gotham’s 1% and destroy the city.

“Evil is rising from where we buried it,” Gordon tells Batman/Bruce Wayne, who has basically been waiting for something bad to happen so he can feel needed again. Suffice it to say, Batman springs back into action.

But on which side of this battle does he fall? Batman defends the 99% but Wayne is perhaps the richest of the city’s 1%. Talk about a conflict.

A serious, serious movie

With its themes of financial and class warfare, and inspiration that comes more from the writings of Charles Dickens than from mere comic books, The Dark Knight Rises is no ordinary summer movie. Unlike, say, The Amazing Spider-Man or The Avengers, this one features bad guys who could actually exist, and stakes that are no less than life or death.

Yes, despite its costumes and gadgets and gizmos, The Dark Knight Rises is a serious, serious movie (sorry if you like your comic-book movies to be fun), and it is seriously big.

That Nolan shot nearly half of The Dark Knight Rises using IMAX cameras is a literal expression of his oversized ambitions here. But nearly everything about this movie — from Hans Zimmer’s epic score to the cast, which includes such recognizable actors as Daniel Sunjata and William Devane in bit parts — is huge. (And by the way, the scope and size of the film mandates that it must be seen on an IMAX screen; it’s totally worth it.)

Most of Nolan’s creative decisions work. For example, he’s reimagined the Catwoman character. Hathaway is playing someone wholly different than Michelle Pfeiffer did in Batman Returns, and while she certainly delivers her dialogue with a purr, Selina is never once referred to as “Catwoman.”

When Selina makes her first appearance, it takes Bruce Wayne (and us) by surprise. And those good surprises continue throughout the film. This is a very strong performance — so good that Hathaway is already being talked about for a spinoff movie. I’d definitely see that.

As for Hardy’s Bane, the character here is not the massive hulk that he is in the comic books, but he is certainly an intimidating physical presence. Speaking in sometimes sing-songy, lilting rhythms that are only emphasized and made scarier by his muffled (and sometimes unintelligible) voice, Bane is a force to be reckoned with.

And when Nolan recreates the image of Bane breaking Batman — one of the scariest things I’ve ever seen in any comic book — it’s devastating.

I could also add that the addition of Gordon-Levitt proves to be a valuable one, and both the sound and visual effects are great (particularly when the Bat plane flies and in the very cool scene at Heinz Field where the field crumbles as Hines Ward runs for a touchdown).

It’s all pretty cool.

Going out on a high note

That said, The Dark Knight Rises — which I’ve seen twice (first on a regular screen and then on an IMAX one) — may be 5–10 minutes too long (a fact I felt more the second time I saw the film than the first), the financial themes and dialogue can be a bit heavy-handed (particularly during the scene at Gotham’s stock exchange), Marion Cotillard doesn’t do her strongest work, and there are too many clues and overtures about how the film may end.

But no matter. When Marion Cotillard gives what may be the weakest performance of the film, you know things aren’t so bad.

This is an awesome movie, from that opening scene to the uplifting finale. When The Dark Knight Rises ends, and the sounds of Zimmer’s triumphant score start pumping from the speakers, you’re sure to be exhausted, elated, excited, and so far from disappointed. Talk about going out on a high note.

(By the way, you may be familiar with The Dark Knight, but do yourself a favor and catch up on Batman Begins before you head out to see The Dark Knight Rises. There are a number of critical references to things that happened in that first part of the trilogy.)

Once again, Christopher Nolan has taken comic book movies — and summer movies, in general — to a whole ’nother level. I’m sorry he’s done with these Batman films, but I can’t wait to see what he does next.

I’m giving The Dark Knight Rises an A–.

Have you seen The Dark Knight Rises? Did you like it as much as I did? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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15 Responses to “You Should Be As Afraid of Him As I Am”

  1. Dave Charest July 29, 2012 at 7:52 pm #

    So good. Much better the second time. I’m looking forward to seeing it again. 🙂

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