The Batman franchise had fallen on hard times and along came director Christopher Nolan to revive it. He rode in on his white horse and rescued the whole thing. Batman became cool once again. Once again Batman was the dark avenging angel of the superhero family. The schlock of the previous four films was dropped and the caped crusader was reborn.
Young, dashing millionaire Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale – The Fighter, The Dark Knight) disgusted with its excesses leaves Western society and is taken under the wing of a mysterious instructor named Ducard (Liam Neeson – Taken, Michael Collins). He is trained to become a ninja in the League of Shadows. Once he has completed his training Wayne returns to his native Gotham City in order to release it from the stranglehold of the criminals who have paralyzed it.
Bale’s Batman is intense and dark – just the way we like this superhero. He and Nolan get it and the story is just as dark. Here we get the interesting origins of Batman and the people around him.
The Dark Knight:
There was much Oscar buzz created by this film due to the tragic death of Heath Ledger, who stars as The Joker in the film. Many of us grow tired of hearing about early Oscar buzz and dismiss it as the product of boredom by critics due to the usual lack of quality films by this time every year. I am here to tell you that the buzz is not misplaced. And it should not just be about Heath Ledger’s tour de force performance; it is the entire film that is great. Action films can have substance to them as proven by brilliant director/screenwriter Christopher Nolan.
Christopher Nolan (Memento, Batman Begins) has been credited with rescuing the Batman film series and injecting new life into it. That is only partially correct. He has injected new life into it, but by taking out all of the light from it. If you thought that “Batman Returns” was a dark and serious look at the caped crusader then you ain’t seen nothing yet. For the entire 2 and a half hours of the film you will have this uneasy feeling about you. Not sure of what is about to happen, but sure that it will not be light and cheery.
Nolan has brought back the true origins of this the darkest of the superheroes. Batman was always an unwilling and tortured hero. He did what he did because he felt there was no one else and did it because he wanted revenge for the murders of his parents. Unlike Tim Burton’s dark Batman this has no comic book quality to it. It is just dark.
The film examines morality, heroism, the battle against modern day terrorism, and does so uncompromisingly. It is a character study of the close link between the hero and the villain. Others have looked at this bond, but very few have done it this well. Both are tortured and both need the other to exist. Both Batman and Joker work alone as they follow a strict code, which few others could. In the end everyone involved has lost his or her sense of humanity. It is fascinating and heady stuff. Pretty cool that an ‘action’ film could accomplish this type of depth.
The story is about the beginnings of the Batman vs. The Joker ongoing battle. Batman/Bruce Banner (Christian Bale – The Machinist, September Dawn) wants to get out of the superhero business so he can be with his love, lawyer Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal – Mona Lisa Smile, Secretary). He sees a light at the end of the tunnel and that light is named Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart – Thanks For Smoking, Erin Brockovitch). Dent is the new District Attourney, who is dating Rachel, and he is out to eliminate crime in Gotham City. Dent, however, has his hands full when a new villain, The Joker (Heath Ledger – Brokeback Mountain, The Patriot), brings complete chaos to the city. Batman sees Dent as the true hero and that he is no longer needed. Batman wants out and The Joker wants to keep him in the battle. Who will win out in the end?
I guess we do have to talk about Heath Ledger’s performance, but I do so with a heavy heart as this film indicates that he had just begun to show us the depth of his talent. The talent is huge. He transforms himself completely for the role and brings elements to the iconic character that no one else has. The streaky makeup is just the beginning as he uses an odd gait, a weird voice, a creepy laugh of a man who has lost his grip on his sanity, and every moment he is on screen is riveting. This is an actor who has truly lost himself in the character he is portraying. The film may be about Batman, but The Joker steals it away from him as Heath Ledger is that good. A posthumous Oscar nomination would not be a surprise.
“Batman Begins” was arguably the best superhero film so far in the 21st century, well, Christopher Nolan has just knocked himself out of first place with “The Dark Knight”.
The Dark Knight Rises:
There has been a dark pall cast over this highly anticipated third film of the Batman series due to one well-armed lunatic. It has not affected the box office for the film as over its first weekend The Dark Knight Rises pulled in over $161 million. But due to the tragedy in a theatre in Colorado every time someone thinks of the film they will invariably think of the shooting. Pity!
Of course the fact that I was in the United States over the weekend that The Dark Knight Rises and the tragedy happened did not stop me from going to a screening of the film. It was packed to the brim and once again like apparently in Colorado there were young children brought to the screening. I knew this because I could hear one little girl yelling out “I wanna go home”. Now I am not a parent myself so I loathe to judge those that are, but really, what are you thinking bringing a child to a film like this? It is too dark, long and violent for kids.
Plenty of money went into the budget (reportedly $250 million) for Christopher Nolan’s (Inception, Memento) last kick at the Batman can. Big stars were cast in it like Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Tom Hardy, Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Anne Hathaway. Much was expected due to the high quality of the first two instalments. I myself was dying to see it. Well, I should know by now that most films you go into with such high expectations cannot possibly live up to them.
A basic resumé of the story of the film is that it is eight years after the end of the previous one. A physically and psychologically damaged Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale – American Psycho, The Fighter) has retreated into his mansion and assumed under the guise of Batman the guilt (wrongly) for the death of the beloved Harvey Dent. The citizens of Gotham, who he defended from all types of villains, have now turned on him and hate Batman. One of the few who still believe in him is Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Kung Fu Panda 2). Gordon knows the truth of Dent’s evil ways and his becoming Two Face. No matter as no one is ready to listen to him.
Gotham doesn’t really need Batman anyways as it has become a peaceful place. Young Officer Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt – (500) Days of Summer, 50/50) grumbles about the lack of work for the police force. No one misses Batman. That is until a new baddie comes to town.
Bane (Tom Hardy – This Means War, Warrior) is a really bad guy. Sporting some kind of breathing apparatus/mask he mows down everyone in his path. His goal is to destroy Gotham by using a nuclear reactor which he has got his hands on through nefarious means. Gotham is in jeopardy once again. It looks like Batman is going to have to put on his cowl and codpiece one more time.
I know everyone is loving this film, but I am not one of them and I will tell you why. First of all, the film is waaaaay too long. It is not simply the 2 hours and 44 minute running time, it is the fact that Nolan takes too much time getting his story going. It sort of limps off the starting blocks and then never really has a chance to catch up. When nothing had really happened by the one hour mark it had lost me. The fact that it took so long to get going and then inexplicably, after wasting a lot of time, decided not to give a main character like Selina (Anne Hathaway – The Devil Wears Prada, Get Smart) any sort of back story (Why is she a thief? Is there a reason for her behaviour and hatred of the rich?) Geez, after making an almost three hour film what would another couple of minutes been?
As a result of the lack of back story for Selina (who is never really alluded to as the Catwoman in the film) I never really got into Hathaway’s character. On top of that I was not as impressed by her performance like others have been. I found her a little too over the top in the delivery of her sarcastic lines for my liking. She’s no Michelle Pfieffer, that’s for sure.
Another weakness was the bad guy. Now, I am not even going to compare Tom Hardy’s performance against that of Heath Ledger’s because that is just not fair. I will say that Bane is poorly conceived of and that contraption on his face makes him hard to understand, which is not Hardy’s fault.
Finally, the whole terrorism and response to corruption theme that has run through all three films was really weakly done here. The message to the population seems to be that even though there is corruption amidst the politicians, rich and leaders of society it is best not to side with those who are asking you to revolt against them as they are even more corrupt and pretty much sociopaths. The Nolan brothers (Christopher’s brother Jonathan helped him write the script for the film) lean heavily on the Occupy side, but their message becomes a little bit muddle, if you ask me. Are we to stand up against corruption or not? It seems like the message is that it is not a good idea. I don’t like the whole Conservative gloss applied over it.
With all this jibber jabber and political slant to it, the film seems to have forgotten what it is all about. Batman is supposed to be an action film and there is precious little to be found here. Other than a couple of battles between Bane and Batman and one really original midair hijacking everything else is of the intellectual or emotional sort. Blah!
Now all these criticisms may seem like small potatoes to you, but if you add them all up it equals a film that is not up to the skill level of a director like Christopher Nolan. It is a rather awkward ending to what was gearing up to be one of the best action/superhero series in the history of film. On the basis of the first two it still ranks right up there though the overall mark is brought down by The Dark Knight Rises.
-The Fire Rises: The Creation and Impact of The Dark Knight Trilogy
-Christopher Nolan and Richard Donner: A Conversation
-The Complete IMAX Sequences From The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises