The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

I don’t even know how to go about starting this review.  Having just watched it, I feel both emotionally and mentally exhausted while at the same time thrilled and ecstatic over what I’ve just borne witness to.  The Christopher Nolan Batman Trilogy is one of the greatest accomplishments in cinema history, not just for a comic book movie, because as I stated in my Avengers review, the Nolan Batman movies are above just being classified as comic book movies.  Despite attempting to avoid any and all spoilers for The Dark Knight Rises, I had read a Cracked article last year that had mentally prepared me for anything Nolan might have in store for us.  At least I thought it had.

When we last left Batman (Christian Bale) at the end of The Dark Knight, he had told Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) to lay the blame for Harvey Dent’s death at the hands of Batman, thus giving Dent a martyr-like status in the eyes of the citizens of Gotham City.  Between Dark Knight and this film, eight years have passed and Gordon has used The Dent Act to clean up Gotham with his police forces, as Batman retired to his secret identity of Bruce Wayne rather than be hunted.  Wayne has become a recluse, appearing to only communicate with his butler Alfred (Michael Caine) in regards to affairs of the outside world.  When an attractive cat burglar named Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) makes off with a Wayne family heirloom, something is awakened in Bruce and he begins to come alive again.  All the while, a cerebral and brutal villain by the name of Bane (Tom Hardy) concocts a plan to bring the city of Gotham to its knees.  Then there’s also Officer John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a hotheaded young man who comes to the attention of both Wayne and Gordon.

That’s as vague as I can get without giving away any surprises in the plot, but also identifying the major players.  As with many Nolan films, he brings back a lot of familiar faces in his casting, and just take a look at all the tags if you want to see identifiable names jump out at you.  A couple of them are minor spoilers, but not really surprises at all.  While I’m writing this review, I’m taking time to read the Wiki entry for Dark Knight Rises and it says numerous times that Nolan was unsure about coming back for a third film.  Nolan might just be a great actor himself, because there are certain aspects of the story that would suggest just the opposite: that Nolan had been planning the entire Trilogy from the very first film.

There are few movie trilogies that I have given perfect marks to all of the installments.  The Toy Story Trilogy is the only one I can think of off the top of my head, and now even that is going to fall by the wayside since apparently Toy Story 4 has been announced to be in production.  The Batman Trilogy is exactly that.  Nolan won’t come back to make a fourth film, neither will Bale, neither will any of the principles.  Even the way Rises ends should not fill people with hope for that to happen.

Everything in Rises is excellent in my eyes.  From the casting, the acting, the set pieces, the direction, the writing (minus a couple little things that I won’t go into here, and may just be inconsequential in future re-watchings), the action, all breathtakingly great.  During the opening sequence I was legitimately catching my breath, wondering if my nerves could handle the end of this storied franchise.  The sheer menace that Bane brings with him is astonishingly well-executed, and Hardy doesn’t let the mask control his acting.  Hathaway is probably the best Catwoman/Selina Kyle ever, because she’s not used as just a vehicle for puns.  Bale and his familiar cast mates deliver exactly what they did in the first two films, sheer awesomeness.

Better film critics than me will write more detailed reviews than I did, because mine just seems to be what ultimately can only be construed as nothing more than a Thank You note to Christopher Nolan and the team he put together for these three films.

5 / 5

The Dark Knight (2008)

With The Dark Knight Rises releasing in less than two months, I figured the best way to get more hits would be to actually have a Dark Knight review up, and my old one went into far greater detail than a new one of mine would, so here it is:

The Dark Knight begins around six months after the events in Batman Begins, with Batman (Christian Bale) finally taking care of most of the criminal trash from Begins.  There’s a new District Attorney in town by the name of Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), and he’s being proclaimed as Gotham City’s white knight, bound and determined to clean up the police force and the streets.  The newest terror enveloping the city comes in the form of a killer clown, a rampaging murderous criminal that pisses off the established mafia as much as he terrifies the citizenry.  The Joker (Heath Ledger) has been waging a humanistic war on the morality of Batman’s vigilantism, while further plunging the city into a desperate state of decay.  Or I could just describe it as “Batman.  The Joker.  Two-Face.  It’s not Batman Forever.” and that should be enough to give even the most jaded fanboy a shiver of anticipation.

What director Christopher Nolan crafts in two and a half hours is, in a word, breathtaking.  He gives us amazing action sequences and thoughtful meditations on what makes a hero a hero.  Some of those meditations might actually be too thoughtful for the megaplex crowd, since most comic book blockbusters aren’t really known for being too cerebral.  As well, it’s not the most colourful of movies, and while I appreciate the dark look and tones of the film, it makes for some confusing and occasionally muddled fight scenes (thankfully viewing it on Blu-Ray cleans it all up).

Christian Bale continues to be able to deliver two separate and believable performances as both Batman and his secret identity, millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne.  Maggie Gyllenhaal takes over the part of Rachel Dawes that Katie Holmes previously portrayed, and well, it’s essentially a damsel-in-distress role, what with Rachel becoming the girlfriend of Harvey Dent and the transformation of Dent into Two-Face looming over the whole relationship.  I really hope no one is spoiled by the fact that Harvey Dent actually turns into Two-Face, and oh by the way, Aaron Eckhart deserves some high praise as well for the grey areas he put into his portrayal of Dent / Two-Face.  He’s transformed but he doesn’t suddenly become insane, just righteously pissed off.

Michael Caine as Alfred and Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox are two supporting players you never have to worry about and they performed admirably well, hitting all the right notes for their father figure character types.  Speaking of father figures, Gary Oldman is even more perfect as Jim Gordon than he was in Begins, and I don’t think enough things are being said about his performance since most of the audience only wants to see the freak show.

If you’re wondering whether or not the advance billing for Heath Ledger’s performance lives up to the product on the screen, well no matter how amazing you thought it may be, it will most likely surpass those levels.  Ledger’s fearless portrayal of the Clown Prince of Crime is one of the most nerve-twitching, eye-catching, depraved and darkly hilarious acting displays in recent memory.  The previous year had Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men, and even Chigurh would be a little off-put by Ledger’s Joker.  There is little doubt in my mind that come next March, Heath Ledger will be awarded a posthumous Oscar for his part in The Dark Knight (and of course he was).

I’ve tried not to get myself all excited for movies these days, as too many disappointments have dampened many of my old fanboy tendencies.  The Dark Knight was the one exception, and I have to say that it lived up to the hype.  As an old school comic book fan and as a movie czar, I can appreciate it on both levels.  Christopher Nolan could spend the rest of his career making Batman movies and I doubt that I’d ever be disappointed by them.

5 / 5

Justice League: Doom (2012)

Weird that I’m posting this on this date, as a year ago today, writer and comic book creator (well character creator, he didn’t invent comic books~) Dwayne McDuffie died due to complications from his heart surgery.  What is most celebrated about McDuffie is probably something he didn’t want to be the thing that distinguished him from others, namely that he was black.  I never knew the man, never read his comics, hell I haven’t read anything comics-related since The Blackest Night DC Comics storyline a couple years back.  Anyways, he seemed like a decent enough dude, and he finished writing this DC Comics animated feature I guess shortly before he died.

If I remember my post-Crisis, pre-52-relaunch DC Comics history correctly, there was a storyline that took place with Batman and the rest of the Justice League of America wherein the rest of the JLA was super-pissed at Bats for spying on them or something.  I don’t know all the details, Wikipedia that shit if it interests you.  Apparently this feature is loosely based off that arc, and how thanks to someone snooping in the Batcave, they stole Batman’s contingency plans to deal with an out of control JLA and altered them in a villainous manner.

Because it’s a straight-to-DVD/Blu-Ray home release, there’s not the level of detail that’s in most theatrical features.  But this movie isn’t targeted at mainstream audiences, it’s for those that like DC features and bam, they’ve got this one.  The top notch Kevin Conroy returns as Batman, Nathan Fillion is back for more Green Lantern goodness, and there’s a lot of other famous in the voice actor industry familiar names populating the cast in their usual DC Animated Universe parts.

It’s an enjoyable enough movie, though it felt a bit rushed.  You won’t like it if you have no interest in superheroes or the like, and the animation isn’t enough to recommend the film solely for.  Sentence structure failing.  It wasn’t as bad as Emerald Knights was, but it’s no Batman: Year One either.

3 / 5

Batman: Year One (2011)

Here is another in the DC Comics Animation Universe, which has contributed some great and some not-so-great straight-to-DVD animated features based on their comics.  I think the last Batman animated movie was the very uneven Batman: Gotham Knights, which had numerous characters telling their own tales of interactions with The Dark Knight.  It featured differing animation styles for each story and the effect was unique, but also jarring.  Thankfully, Batman: Year One goes with telling one tale, and it’s an almost perfect adaptation of the Frank Miller storyline depicting Batman’s first year on the job.

The animation style is just straight up gorgeous, dark, full of deep shadows and it is on a level higher than most of these animated movies that get shuttled out into movieplexes each week.  This is one movie that I will eventually purchase because I could see myself enjoying it over and over again.  It’s not just a Batman tale though, as even though it tells the origin of how Bruce Wayne / Batman (Ben McKenzie) came to be, it’s also the first year that Jim Gordon (Bryan Cranston) is in Gotham.  Also, Selina Kyle (Eliza Dushku) ditches prostitution and becomes Catwoman.  There’s a lot going on in this movie, and it is nearly seamless storytelling.  Joel Schmuacher could learn something from this movie.

It took me awhile to realise that yes, it was Walter White, Bryan Cranston from “Breaking Bad” as Jim Gordon and that is as perfect casting of Gordon as Gary Oldman is in the Christopher Nolan Batman movies.  Dushku is also perfect as Catwoman, and there are almost uniformly excellent vocal casting decisions throughout the movie.  My only quibble is that Ben McKenzie – Ryan from “The O.C.” – is Bruce Wayne / Batman.  I understand that yes, it is Batman’s first year on the job, etc. but McKenzie just doesn’t embody the menace of The Bat.

Other than that little detail, it’s flawless and if you’re a Batman fan, check it out.

4.5 / 5