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Thursday, August 29, 2013

Fishing in the Discount Bin - The Dark Knight Rises

 Welcome back to Fishing in the Discount Bin, my weekly rant about whatever's in my DVD player this weekend.  We finally get to one of the most anticipated superhero films of 2012, the final in Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises.  This is dated in my notes at December 9, 2012. 

I remember many years ago, when Titanic first came out on VHS.  Many were wondering whether it would be a best-seller or not.  Said one critic, "It's so long.  With a short movie, you watch it when you've got an hour or two to kill.  But when movies get long, you have to set aside a whole afternoon to watch it."  Which is why I got The Dark Knight Rises back on Tuesday, but didn't get around to watching it until this Sunday.  It clocks in at 2 hours and 45 minutes.  But darn it, I had to finish off Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy.

As another pointed out when the movie came out, this is the first time that we've been able to see a filmmaker bring his envisioned superhero epic to it's proper end.  I mean, Bryan Singer got fired from X-Men before he could make #3...ditto for Sam Raimi and Spider-Man 4.  And quite honestly, I was confused about how they could end things.  Back when Batman Begins first came out, I read an interview with the film's co-writer David S. Goyer, who laid out the plan for the trilogy like this:

1)  Batman's origin
2)  Batman vs. Joker.  in the crossfire, Harvey Dent becomes Two Face.
3)  Batman vs. Two Face

So, of course, when I saw The Dark Knight and realized that #3 became the last half-hour of #2, I was wondering where they were going to go.

I was rather excited when I first heard that Bane was going to be the villain.  With the "grounded-in-reality" take on the Batman mythology that Nolan was going for, Bane made perfect sense.  I could see Nolan using Bane the same way they introduced him into Batman: The Animated Series:  a super-strong South American hitman brought in by Gotham's crime lords to end this Batman problem once and for all.  And #2 on my list was Catwoman, so also really glad that she found her way into the film.  We needed something with Catwoman to erase the memory of the God-awful Halle Berry movie. 

But, of course, there was one big strike against it:  it was the third film in a trilogy.  The third film always tends to be the weakest.  I think it goes back to an interview I read with George Lucas describing the Star Wars trilogy.  It boils down to the fact that, in a trilogy, it's the basic three-act structure of a film, but each act is given its own film.

Film 1:  We meet our characters
Film 2:  The heroes are thrown into darkest despair
Film 3:  The heroes overcome their darkest despair and save the day

So, quite frankly, with a set-up like that, film 3 always lacks in dramatic tension.

But still...The Dark Knight was so awesome.  The third one was going to be nothing but good, right?

So it's 8 years after The Dark Knight.  Because of the cover-up that Batman and Commisioner Gordon orchestrated, Harvey Dent became a martyr in the fight against organized crime, and thanks to "The Dent Act," a tough-on-crime legislation, organized crime is virtually non-existent in Gotham City.  With Batman no longer needed, and Bruce Wayne's beloved Rachael Dawes dead, Bruce Wayne can't find his place in society and has become a recluse in Wayne Manor.

And this is problem #1 that many die-hard Batman fans had with the film.  Many felt that Batman hung it up because the pain of losing Rachael was too much.  "That's BS," said the fans.  "If anything, it would strengthen his resolve!"  The film's fans say that Batman didn't hang it up because of that, but because of the low-crime-rates, he just wasn't needed anymore.  Me?  I figured if they wanted to borrow story beats from the classic graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns, they had to have Batman out of commission for a while, so just pick whichever reason makes you sleep easy at night. 

But then one night, Bruce Wayne catches the maid snooping around.  And she's wearing some very familiar pearls...his mother's pearls.  A quick look shows that she's cracked the safe.  With a wink and smile, she disarms Bruce Wayne, jumps out the window, and disappears into the night.  Further investigation shows that she dusted the safe for prints, and the true prize was stealing Bruce Wayne's fingerprints.  This piqued his curiosity enough, and for the first time in years, he descends into the Batcave, fires up the Bat-computer, and deduces that the woman was world-renowned cat burglar Selena Kyle. 

Selena tries to fence the goods, but it ends in a shoot-out.  Commisioner Gordon follows the mobsters into the sewers, and stumbles upon the infamous terrorist Bane in an underground lair.  Even though he's gravely wounded, Gordon manages to slip away.  With no one of the police force believing Gordon's tale, a young beat cop by the name of John Blake heads up to Wayne Manor.  For you see, Blake did the detective work and deduced that Bruce Wayne is Batman.  Blake lays out the Bane situation and begs Batman to come back.  And quicker than you can say Batman Returns, Bruce Wayne is off to get some new toys from his old friend Lucious Fox. 

Bane makes his presence known in Gotham by staging a large-scale siege of the stock exchange.  And Batman figures this is as good a time as any to make his return.  Batman chases down Bane's thugs in a merry chase (as Alfred describes it), fights the police once again (remember, as part of the cover-up from the last movie, Batman is still wanted for the murder of Harvey Dent), and winds up teaming up with Catwoman to battle some of Bane's thugs on a rooftop.  Despite being a thief, Batman sees some good in Catwoman, viewing her as a victim of bad choices just trying to make a fresh start, and enlists her help in tracking down Bane.  And their scene ends in a bit that got a big laugh in the theatre.

So, Batman and Catwoman are on the rooftop talking.  A police helicopter tracking down the two of them flies by.  Distracted, Batman turns to look at the helicopter.  He turns back to resume his conversation, only to find that while he wasn't looking, she disappeared into the night.  Batman mutters to himself, "So that's what that feels like." 

Batman returns to the cave, and Alfred is horrified.  Alfred had hoped that Bruce was finished with this.  Alfred makes the argument that many a fanboy has made online:  that Bruce Wayne can do more good for the city as Bruce Wayne, sharing his wealth and resources with the police department.  Wayne rebuffs this, saying he's too paranoid that his "wonderful toys" would fall into the wrong hands.  Besides, with Rachael gone, there's nothing left for Bruce Wayne.  Alfred confesses that, during the events of Batman Begins, he always secretly hoped Bruce Wayne would never return to Gotham, as there was nothing left...not even Rachael, as Alfred confesses to destroying the letter that Rachael wrote choosing Harvey Dent over Bruce Wayne.  (See last movie.)  Bruce calls Alfred a fucking asshole for abusing Rachael's memory in a poor attempt to get him to quit, and Alfred says "Fuck you, I quit," and isn't seen again until the end of the movie. 

The next morning, we see the end results of Bane's plot.  Bane is in league with a few members of the board of Wayne Enterprises attempting a hostile takeover.  Using the stolen fingerprints, and his siege of the stock exchange, Bane gambled away the Wayne fortune in the stock market.  Bruce Wayne is now broke.  In order to prevent Wayne Enterprises from falling into the wrong hands, Fox and Wayne enlist the help of Miranda Tate, a young member of the board.  Her big thing was the development of a cold fusion reactor in the name of clean energy, and she wants to know why Wayne killed the project.  In order to gain her trust, Wayne shows that he built the reactor and it works fine, but a few weeks before he was going to unveil it to the world, a physicist printed a paper detailing how such a thing could be turned into a nuclear bomb.  So Wayne buried the project, again, so it wouldn't fall into the wrong hands.  With Tate now on board, she's elected the new board chair after Wayne's ousting, and the Wayne legacy is preserved.  And Wayne and Tate celebrate by boinking.

But, Wayne has to go to work.  He suits up as Batman, and meets up with Catwoman to take down Bane.  But, it turns out, Catwoman was blackmailed by Bane into luring Batman into a trap, and Batman and Bane duke it out.  Sadly, Batman gets his ass handed to him, as a guilt-ridden Catwoman watches from the sidelines. 

Wayne awakens in the middle Eastern prison that birthed Bane.  Bane says he's not going to kill Batman, because he seems to want it.  Instead, he's going to lock up Bruce Wayne in this prison, and force him to watch his master plan unfold on television.  Wayne, crippled because his back was broken in the fight against Bane, is forced to comply. 

We head back to Gotham City, and Bane puts his plan into motion.  With  his hired help on the Wayne Enterprises board, Bane gets his hand on the fusion reactor and turns it into a bomb.  During his giant battle with Batman, Bane broke into the Wayne Enterprises applied sciences division, and makes off with most of Batman's arsenal.  Wanting to get Bane once and for all, Commisioner Gordon sends the entire police force into the sewers to flush out Bane.  During a football game, Bane makes his move.  He sets off a shit-ton of explosives, destroying all of the bridges into Gotham City, taking out most of the city's leaders, and trapping the police force underground.  Bane announces that he did this to return Gotham City to the people.  He also reveals that the nuclear bomb is hidden somewhere in the city, and one random citizen has the trigger.  Should the Army try to retake the city, the entire city will be nuked. 

With no leaders and no police force, Gotham City quickly descends into mob rule, all under Bane's watchful eye.  The have-nots quickly declare war on the haves, and many a critic interpreted this entire mid-section as being a dark parody of the Occupy protests.  I'm kind of inclined to agree.  A kangaroo court is quickly established, with the 1% and other authority figures being put on trial for their crimes against the common man. 

And I think it's just awesome that the judge in the kangaroo court is the Scarecrow.  Thank you, Nolan, for putting my favourite Batman villain in your entire Batman trilogy. 

And with all this going on, a crippled Batman is on the other side of the world, trapped in a prison, helpless and watching everything on TV.  The only way out of this prison is climb up a very narrow shaft to the top.  As Batman begins his rehabilitation, he's told the tale of the only one who ever escaped the prison.  Once upon a time, a long time ago, a mercenary by the name of Ra's Al Ghul had a dalliance with the daughter of a local warlord.  Ghul was sentenced to this prison, but the woman chose to take his place, and Ra's Al Ghul was exiled.  But, the woman was pregnant.  A child was born in the prison, and it was the only life this child knew.  But, one in the prison felt this child would bring hope, and became the child's protector.  Thanks to the tutelage of this protector, the child found the strength and resolve to climb the shaft and escape the prison.  Batman surmises that this child must have been Bane, and Bane is the son of Ra's Al Ghul. 

After his rehabilitation and re-training, Batman is still unable to escape from the prison.  One of the prisoners observes that Batman doesn't fear death, and this is, in fact, a weakness.  The fear of death makes the will to survive that much stronger, thus making a person stronger.  With this new information, Batman once again attempts the climb to freedom, but this time without the safety rope that the prisoners use.  And he makes it.

Batman returns to Gotham City, and begins the plan to re-take the city.  He once again enlists the aid of Catwoman, because he's a sucker for a pretty face, I guess.  Or he uses the Force to sense the good in her.  I don't know.  With that done, he enlists the aid of Commisioner Gordon and John Blake to help get the imprisoned cops out of the sewers. 

And it begins.  The cops are freed from the sewers, they head to retake City Hall, and huge street fight breaks out between the cops and Bane's army.  In the middle of the chaos, Batman and Bane find each other and start their rematch.  This time around, Batman gains the upper hand, and as Batman pummels Bane, he demands that Bane hand over the trigger to the bomb, as there's no way the son of Ra's Al Guhl would trust it to just a random citizen.

And then comes the plot twist that folks like me saw coming from miles away, because it was deduced as soon as Marion Colitard signed on to play Miranda Tate.  Miranda steps from the shadows and stabs Batman, and says he's right, Ra's Al Guhl's child would not entrust the trigger to a random citizen.  She then completes the tale that Batman was told in the prison.  Bane is, in fact, the protector that is mentioned in the legend.  Miranda Tate is the child, and she reveals her true name...Talia, the daughter of Ra's Al Guhl.

I've got to agree with Kevin Smith.  How geeky has Hollywood become that such an obscure character as Talia is the main villain in a Batman film. 

Talia goes off to make sure the bomb detonates and Gotham is destroyed.  As Bane is about to deliver the deathblow to Batman, Catwoman comes in and saves Batman.  Batman and Catwoman race off to stop Talia and defuse the bomb, but in the battle, Talia is killed, and with only 5 minutes left, there's no time to defuse the bomb.  So, Batman figures it's time to make the ultimate sacrifice.  Batman straps the nuclear bomb to his flying vehicle, the Bat, and heads off to the horizon on full speed. 

That's right.  The filmmakers do what the entire residency of Arkham Asylum could never do.  They kill off Batman.

In the aftermath, Batman is once again remembered as a hero for Gotham City.  Bruce Wayne's death is chalked up to one of the many that died when the city degenerated into chaos.  A tombstone is erected on the grounds of Wayne Manor next to the graves of Thomas and Martha Wayne.  The only ones who attend the funeral are Alfred, John Blake, and Commisioner Gordon.  (Batman told Gordon his true identity before he rode off into the sunset on a nuclear bomb.) 

Bruce Wayne's will is read.  All of Wayne's assets are to be sold off to cover his debts, and whatever's left over goes to Alfred.  Wayne Manor is to be left untouched, and donated to the city, where it will be converted into a halfway house for the orphans who've outgrown the foster care system.  And John Blake is given a mysterious duffel bag.  Oh, and in order to claim his duffel bag, Blake has to give his true and legal first name...Robin.

While those closest to Wayne pick up the pieces, a few discoveries are made.  The autopilot on the Bat, though to be defective, is actually fine.  While on vacation in Italy, Alfred discovers that Bruce followed his advice:  he actually faked his death, and is starting a new life in Europe...with Selena, also starting her new life.  And, following a GPS that was in that duffel bag, Blake takes his first steps into a very familiar cave....

Blake...Drake...seriously, why didn't they call John Blake Tim Drake?  They borrowed a lot of Drake's backstory for Blake, mainly the whole "deducing Bruce Wayne is Batman and urging him to come back" bit.  It would have been a bit nicer tip of the hat to the Robin character than just simply revealing that his real first name is Robin.  Seems like just a last minute bone they threw to the fans.

I'm still kind of upset that they added the bit with Alfred glimpsing Bruce at that cafe in Italy.  I wish they left it ambiguous.  I wish they did like Sully's last glimpse of Boo in Monsters, Inc.  Alfred should have seen Bruce, but not us, the audience.  But, I guess, after the spinning top thing in Inception, Nolan didn't want to do another ambiguous ending that would leave people debating. 

And that's how Christopher Nolan brought his Batman trilogy to an end.  The final Batman story is one of those tales that many comic book writers long to tell, and Nolan got to tell it in film.  I know lots of people were left cold by this film.  They think that Batman does some very un-Batman things, like taking 8 years off and eventually faking his death and giving up.  But you have to understand that, when adapting things for the big screen, changes are doubtlessly made.  You have to treat everything as its own thing, and not be beholden to the source.  Especially with something like a comic book character that has been around for 70+ years and has gone through many iterations.  This is just the latest iteration. 

That being said, at 2 hours and 45 minutes, you really do feel its length.  They really do work hard, though, to bring everything to a satisfying end.  There's tons of subplots.  There's more to Blake's story that I didn't get into.  There's more to Tate/Talia's story that I didn't get in to.  Gordon has this wuss of a subordinate played by Matthew Modine that gets a whole subplot.  There's so much going on. 

There's more with Catwoman that I didn't get into.  For it's worth, Anne Hathaway made a mighty fine Catwoman.  Probably the most faithful Catwoman, as we see she uses every ounce of her feminine charms to manipulate the situation to her advantage.  There's a couple of scenes where we see her switch from femme fatale to damsel in distress and back again all in the blink of an eye in order to work her way through a crowd. 

When all's said and done, I still think that The Dark Knight is the best of the Nolan Batman trilogy, or "The Dark Knight Trilogy," as they're coming to call it.  But The Dark Knight Rises is #2.  It does Bane justice, it does Catwoman justice, but it does suffer the same problem I've seen with these superhero film trilogies.  When it comes to the third one, the attitude tends to be, "Fuck it, let's do all the cool stuff the fans want to see."  That's why they start to feel so overstuffed, and why they wind up being 2 hours and 45 minutes long. 

But it's good.  I'll be revisiting this some day, and doing another entry.  For the longest time, I've wanted to do every Batman movie all in a row, so that'll necessitate a re-watch. 

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