Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises (Christopher Nolan)

Pain.

Being one of the most hyped films of the year, "The Dark Knight Rises" is one of those motion pictures that are very easy to venerate yet just as easy to bash. It's prone to criticism and fevered hate because, well, it's an easy target. There's also that little "The Avengers" vs. "The Dark Knight Rises" thing going on in the internet so the pressure for this film to deliver is quite great especially compared to the former's unexpected critical success. 

But after watching "The Dark Knight Rises" after more than a year of utter anticipation, it's very fair to say that this film has immensely delivered both in scope and emotional magnitude. It has also solidified Nolan as the best blockbuster filmmaker and his vision of Batman as the most definitive ever. Oh, and did I mention that this film completely blows "The Avengers" into the deep waters? Oh, well, enough with the comparison. 

Like the previous installments, "The Dark Knight Rises" is successful not just as a superhero film but as a drama of human flaws and as a deeply penetrating tragedy of lies and loss. But this time, it's even more than just a Batman film. It's not even just a story of Batman's heroics. Instead, it's the story of Bruce Wayne and his ultimate struggle against fear and his ever-consuming savior complex. Judging from his performance, it's quite easy to see that Christian Bale is back in his groove as the narrative center (he took the backseat for Ledger's scene-stealing presence in "The Dark Knight"), and after this film and the trilogy in general, it's really quite hard to see any other Bruce Wayne other than him. 

Now, reckon how many people consider "The Dark Knight" as a Joker film and not as a Batman tale? I think "The Dark Knight Rises" is the answer. Never has Wayne's unconditional martyrdom as a crime-fighting man in a cape and cowl better highlighted and explored than in this film. If "The Dark Knight" is all about the rise and fall of the alliance between Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman), Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) and Batman (Christian Bale), "The Dark Knight Rises" is all about the inevitable rise of Batman long after his chosen path of self-incrimination (of Dent's murder). But with the brooding atmosphere that was frenetically sustained all throughout the film, we're not sure anymore if that rise will be all the way or will it entail a most fatal fall. And with Bane (Tom Hardy) in the villainous seat, the man we all know as the one who broke Batman's back in "Knightfall", it strongly suggests an inescapable destiny for the caped crusader. Can he save Gotham City from the terrorist clutches of Bane? Can he match Bane's brains and brawns? Or to be more exact, can he even survive it at all? 

These are the questions that Nolan (with his brother Jonathan and David S. Goyer) is more than happy to tease us with for the past year or so, and his answers embedded within this film are really more than satisfying. This is not just a superhero film anymore. It's something that walks the thin line between action and gut-wrenching drama and the result is just astounding. And although the film's first half or so is something that can be repaired a bit by better pacing and less clunky action, the film's second half has more than supplied the power that has seemingly been amiss in the early half. 

As with the performances, I believe that this is the best-acted film in the series. And although "The Dark Knight" is particularly special because of Ledger's performance (easily the best in the series), "The Dark Knight Rises" is the most emotionally draining of the three. Michael Caine's Alfred, for instance, with his controlled demeanor in the two previous installments, is a complete revelation in this film. He has both been Bruce's butler, friend and father; we saw how he has always been the calm spirit that constantly guides Bruce through confusion and psychological torment, and we saw how well-cultivated his relationship with Wayne really was in the previous films. But we have never seen their relationship as being on the line as in this one and we have never seen Alfred so emotionally fragile and elegiac ("I've buried enough members of the Wayne family"). Michael Caine certainly saved his best performance for last. 

Same goes for Gary Oldman's Gordon (my favorite character in the whole series) who, after hiding everything Dent has done and letting Batman take all the blame for the former's murderous deeds, is seemingly struck with guilt and an impulse to tell the whole truth to the city of Gotham. Even Morgan Freeman's Lucius Fox, the easygoing, technologically savvy CEO of Wayne Enterprises, is having a hard time wearing a smile here. But then again, with arguably the most iconic superhero to ever grace the screen finally reaching a cinematic conclusion of eschatological proportions, it really is hard to wear one. 

But aside from the regulars, there are also some new characters introduced: John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), an idealistic cop whose utter devotion to his work is quite reminiscent of a younger Jim Gordon, Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), the cunning burglar who we also know as the pun-filled Catwoman, and the mysterious Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), a woman who's more than interested to invest in Wayne Enterprises. And finally, there's Tom Hardy's Bane. 

We all know the burden of pressure and expectations of being a Batman villain ever since Heath Ledger took the bar sky high. But nonetheless, Hardy has still pulled off a Bane rendition that he can wholly call his own (with that peculiarly menacing accent) and can stand alone not in the shadows of Ledger's Joker but somewhere that is just as potent and convincing. 

"The Dark Knight Rises" is the final, tearful salvo of Christopher Nolan's Batman legend. And evident of the film's massively chaotic scale which, if I may say, has rendered the happenings in "Batman Begins" and "The Dark Knight" quite small in comparison, Nolan's trilogy wouldn't just go quietly into the night. It went with flying colors and with a bang. The whimper part is for us to handle. 

And with that, this trilogy is really something more. If a costumed superhero like Batman can make you shed a tear, then there's something really, really special going on. That, I think, is the case with "The Dark Knight Rises". The drama is just so multi-layered and so affecting that I couldn't care less about the special effects. This is not just a superhero film at its best. This is blockbuster filmmaking at the height of its promised power. Cheers to that.

FINAL RATING
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