Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises...Slowly and Not High Enough

The anticipation I, along with millions of others, felt before the opening of Batman: The Dark Knight Rises was muted by the tragedy in Colorado last Friday.  The media blitz following the massacre, the arguments about costumes in theaters, violent movies and their influence, or the lack of morality in our culture have little or nothing to do with the merits of the film. This third installment of what some call the Batman Trilogy or Saga aims to be the ultimate word on the Batman legend. It is and it isn't. Christopher Nolan has directed three excellent films, Memento, Inception, and The Dark Knight. But  The Dark Knight Rises is not their equal.

This newest installment begins eight years after the defeat of the Joker, the death of D.A. Harvey Dent, and the death of his Bruce Wayne's love Rachel Dawes. After all this and his crippling fights with the Joker and Dent, Bruce Wayne (hope that wasn't a spoiler), retreats to his mansion and severe depression. It takes a series of strange and chaotic events to pull Bruce back to the Bat Cave. Most of that pull comes from two glamorous beauties, Selina Kyle (also, a jewel thief, aka Catwoman) played by a sinewy, amoral Anne Hathaway, who almost steals the film, and Miranda Tate, a multimillionaire who eventually runs Wayne Enterprises, played by the beautiful Marion Cottilard. Add to that mix the completely insane Bane (not to be confused with Bain Capital) and his army of thugs who quickly blow up much of New Yo...oops, Gotham, trap the police force in the tunnels beneath the city, and set up a nuclear time bomb.

Now this sounds like too many plots for one action movie, and it is. The film is much too long (2 hours and 50 minutes) as well. But it has its strengths, especially in its casting. Cottilard, Cillian Murphy and the intensely vital Joseph Gordon-Levitt were all in Inception. And from the previous Batman films we have Michael Caine, Cillian Murphy, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, and even Liam Neeson in a somewhat amorphous form. Joseph Gordon-Levitt has established himself as one of the strongest young actors on the screen today. He was winsome and heart-breaking in 500 Days of Summer, angry and funny as a cancer patient in 50/50, and an athletic action star in Inception. Here he plays an idealistic policeman who joins forces with Batman. He gives a heartfelt performance in a film lacking much heart. And Anne Hathaway gives Selena Kyle a sleek, sexy, powerful kick as she kick boxes and double-crosses everyone, especially Batman.

As I have indicated, The Dark Knight Rises doesn't have humor. Its portentousness quashes any chance of comic relief. This reminds us of Tim Burton's revival of the Batman story. Batman and Batman Returns were both typically quirky Burton products, filled with brilliant set design, arresting and garish costumes and make-up, and over the top performances. In other words, entertainment was the goal, not an epic saga. With Jack Nicholson's Joker and references to classic films like The Wizard of Oz and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Batman (1989) was an instant camp classic. Its follow-up in 1992 Batman Returns continued with more great Danny Elfman music and uniquely bizarre turns by Danny DeVito as The Penquin and a sexy, vinyl-clad Michelle Pfeiffer as Cat Woman. The next two films in the series lost Tim Burton and were sadly lacking any lasting impact. Just ask George Clooney.

Perhaps Batman, like most super heroes, should be geared towards entertainment, not profundity.

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