THRILLVILLE: Will "the Thrill" Viharo's weird, wild world of Pulp Fiction, B Movies, & the Lounge Lizard Lifestyle.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Thrillville Reviews: The Dark Knight Rises

I really didn't think Christopher Nolan could top or even equal his moody, macabre, magnificent masterpiece, 2008's The Dark Knight, the middle installment of his righteously celebrated Batman trilogy (which began as you know with Batman Begins in 2005), wherein he seems to draw at least some narrative and aesthetic inspiration from the 1970s comics I grew up on, by the likes of writer Denny O'Neil and artist Neal Adams, as well as later revisionist comics by Frank Miller. Batman Begins was nearly perfect and The Dark Knight was practically flawless, and that's a tough standard to meet, especially when one is competing with one's self. These were relatively mature, no-nonsense neo-noir manifestations of Bob Kane's and Bill Finger's legendary creation, which was born in 1940 as the bastard offspring of popular pulp vigilantes like The Shadow, steeped in the merciless mystique of manhunting mythology, ruthless and relentless, a loner and social misfit that adheres to a strict moral code of honor, akin to Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe. I can relate.

Don't get me wrong. Unlike many purists and geeks, I also love the comedic and too often dissed 'n' dismissed 1960s television series starring Adam West. It was Pop Art of a high and rarified order, slyly and ingeniously working both as a sophisticated satire and as an innovative kiddie action show. It still does. Plus, despite the patronizing allegations of critical naysayers, it was a pretty authentic adaptation of the comics of its era, perhaps the most successful literal translation of comics-to-film so far, bar none. But Nolan's polar opposite approach, accurately and acutely reflecting the turbulent tone of the post-60s period on the printed page, succeeded with equal brilliance in realizing the "serious" interpretation of Batman, even more so than Tim Burton's Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992).  Burton's successor in that series, Joel Schumacher, didn't much try to mine the psychological depths of Batman's mental maze, rather attempting to echo the bright, colorful '60s camp version in a contemporary context, but not quite succeeding, though 1995's Batman Forever and 1997's Batman and Robin remain good, silly fun. 

The late, but immortalized, Heath Ledger
The two faces of Aaron Eckhart
Basically a reactionary reboot of the creatively flailing franchise, both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight have been forever etched in the collective cinematic consciousness, the latter's legacy largely due to Heath Ledger's smoothly psychotic, deftly nuanced turn as The Joker. However, many other elements, including Christian Bale's introspective performance as Bruce Wayne/Batman and the majestic score by Hans Zimmer, combined in sublime symmetry to elevate the often denigrated source material to the level of modern movie masterpieces, hardboiled crime films on a par with the best work of Michael Mann (Heat, Thief, Miami Vice), totally transcending the genre. They were "kids movies" for grownups, too. Ironically, just like the Adam West series, only with much more of an accent on the adult elements.

Tom Hardy is a brooding, brutal Bane
So how could Nolan follow his own groundbreaking act of cinematic genius? By following the same tried-and-true formula, tying together loose ends from the first two entries, upping the ante of the action sequences, and most crucially, selecting the newcomers to the cast with the same idiosyncratic but ultimately ideal eye for their inner as well as their outer qualities, which would flesh out familiar characteristics while also creating original identities that uniquely suit this particular alternate but recognizable world. 

Tom Hardy as Bane is once again a seemingly odd choice for the part of a malevolent, musclebound mercenary with a mighty mind to match his brutal brawn, but his dialogue delivery, muffled by serial killer-type headgear, is chillingly convincing, as is his intimidating physical presence, an angry anarchist that can actually augment his apocalyptic agenda, the politics of which seem intentionally ambiguous, leaving any "allegories" open to subjective interpretation. He comes off as a force of pure evil, until...well, you'll see. Basically, Nolan selected a complex character from the canon that had been given short shrift in previous films (like Two-Face, perfectly portrayed by Aaron Eckhart in The Dark Knight), and did him celluloid justice. Nolan made him more than just a villain; Bane is now a classic movie monster. I did sort of miss his lucha mask, though.

Anne Hathaway is purr-loined purr-fection

Still the sexiest
Likewise, contrary to some initial skepticism, Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle, also obliquely referred to as a professional, martial arts-trained thief dubbed by the media as "The Cat," totally owns this iconic role, which is actually conceived with great faithfulness to the decade-long history of the beloved femme fatale, even continuing with the tight black leather bodysuit, not formerly seen in the comics, but invented for and popularized by TV's Julie Newmar, then fitted for her fellow Catwomen Lee Meriwether, Eartha Kitt, and even Michelle Pfeiffer in Batman Returns. Following in a frustrating comic book movie tradition of not actually being known by her rightful character name (a la The Black Widow and Hawkeye in The Avengers), she is never directly called "Catwoman," but I love what ultimately happens with this otherwise reverent take on the character, particularly vis a vis her complicated and often controversial relationship with Batman (so a grown man dressed up like a bat can still be called "Batman" in this "realistic" universe?). Therefore, I'm letting that one "fault" slide. This time.  
Still the most beautiful
In returning roles, Gary Oldman as Commissioner Gordon, Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox and Michael Caine as Alfred are all typically indispensable. 

There are two major additions to the series that I can't really discuss too much without spoiling their hidden significance, but suffice to say Marion Cottilard is simply stunning (visually and thespian-wise) and Joseph Gordon-Leavitt brings unexpected edge and depth to not only his character but the saga as a whole. The over-arcing storyline was supremely satisfying, with a fiercely feline finale. This is both modern mythology and a moving portrait of individual triumph over tragedy, accompanied by some of the most powerful movie music of all time. Zimmer is to Nolan what Bernard Herrmann was to Alfred Hitchcock, Ennio Morricone was to Leone, or Angelo Badalamenti was to David Lynch: the perfect match of sound and image.
At the Alameda Theater for the midnight premiere of TDKR,  with a
large scale replica of Batman's new flying vehicle in the background
Ultimately, at least subjectively speaking, Batman is presented as an inspirational figure that refuses to quit against overwhelming odds. He's a true role model. Again, at least for me. In some ways, I can identify my own literary quest with his bold personal journey of retribution and redemption. 
And basically, that's my "review," because I really don't want to give anything else away. It's a nearly three hour thrill ride popping with style, spectacle, soul - and surprises. They did a remarkable job of keeping these secrets until opening day, and you won't certainly won't read any of them revealed here. Suffice to say, I loved this movie, as much as The Dark Knight, and even more than Batman Begins, though they all have their own special feel and agenda, even as they're three essential pieces of an epic puzzle. It's another masterpiece in my favorite trilogy of all time, even surpassed The Creature from the Black Lagoon and The Godfather in my humble estimation. (I'd rank it with George Romero's Dead trilogy, but that's no longer a trilogy, though in some ways, I wish it were.)

Like its immediate predecessor, The Dark Knight Rises is not only the best movies of the year, it's one of the greatest movies ever made. The End.