Friday, July 27, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises: A Second Look (SPOILERS)

WARNING: This is Not a Post for anyone who has NOT seen The Dark Knight Rises yet.  There are spoilers big and small here.

No matter how much I fell in love with the first viewing of The Dark Knight back in 2008, I did not have this burning desire to see it again soon.  I would eventually own it, and watch it then.  I felt I had a firm grasp on the subjects, themes, and the execution of the film, and understood how great it was.  The Dark Knight had the advantage of being the second film in a trilogy, where there is no burden of opening or closing a story.  So it was simple in its approach and benefited from a straight narrative.  The Dark Knight Rises had the tallest order, trying to wrap up this epic trilogy in fitting style.  Not to mention it had to follow up the best film in the Batman franchise past and present.  And so it is possible to not absorb this epic, broad final chapter the first time around.  I would argue it is impossible to get a good grip on Christopher Nolan's final trip through Gotham City.

It must be seen twice.  I had to see it again.

While I am not here to give it a different grade from my initial B+, I am certain there is brilliance at work here.  There are still issues along the way that hold back the film, but in this second look those issues felt smaller, less significant.  Seeing it a second time allows for larger aspects to wash over you, however, so you can pay attention to the intricacies and energy spent on the plot and the development of so many characters.  I was also less taken aback by the void of Batman himself in a great deal of the action.  He has maybe forty minutes of screen time in a film which spans nearly three hours.  But this is a film about Bruce Wayne more than it is Batman when all is said and done.  This is about his redemption as a person, his ability to conjure up Gotham's hero in the face of so much sadness and despair, and his opportunity to face another fear to try and save his city.  Seeing this as a film about Bruce Wayne first enriched the final product to me.

While the scene in the prison, inter cut with Bane's siege of Gotham could have still been trimmed, I found myself swept up in the thrilling adrenaline of Bruce's climb from the tunnel just as much as Gotham falling under Marshal Law.  The structure of the film felt very odd to me, almost swaying to and fro between highs and lows; though it never felt crowded.  The second time, the pacing evened out and certain gears and machinations of the plot fell in place. Namely, the introduction of Marion Cotillard's Miranda - later revealed to be Talia Al Ghul - played out as one of the more rushed relationships in the film the first time around.  This time everything about her character feels slowed down and much more developed than it did.  I get her relationship with Bruce now, one even hinted towards in the early scenes between Wayne and Fox (Morgan Freeman).  They become business partners, they even seem to understand each other in a short amount of time, so it feels less forced when she eventually sleeps with Bruce.

Anne Hathaway and Tom Hardy both represent their characters to perfection, which was never really up for debate by most people.  Same goes for Gary Oldman - who will always be Commissioner Gordon in my book - and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Detective Blake.  The supporting players are all given more screen time here, and the one who stands out above all is Michael Caine, who brings blindsiding emotion and dramatic power to his role as Alfred.  Caine's performance is stunning in limited screen time.  his sobbing in the end, standing in front of the Wayne tombstones, is the most wrenching moment in the trilogy, more so even than Rachel's death.

I was also more engrossed with the texture of The Dark Knight Rises, always a thinking man's epic adventure, darker and more threatening than anything of its kind.  Bane is a clear terrorist in the film, and some of the actions are downright disturbing.  Hanging the special agents dead from the bridge sticks out as a truly disturbing moment.  Bane raises the stakes here.  Some say they were disappointed that he was a pawn in the end, only I don't see him that way.  He loves Talia and wishes to protect her; he is not being used he is a partner in the scheme.  The battles between Bane and Batman are thrilling int heir simplicity, the way they square up against each other twice.  All throughout, the score by Hans Zimmer is loaded with indicators of the action, sweeping bits of sadness and despair, and pulse-pounding moments of thrilling energy.  Without Zimmer's score, the scope of Batman in these films is lost. 

The end may be a step too quick, with the reveal of Robin, the sighting of Wayne with Selina, and the tidy tie up.  But Batman couldn't really die.  This is not about the courage of one's convictions when it comes to Nolan's decision to save Bruce in the end.  This is about a film completing in the best way possible, with that last moment of exhilaration.  It also manages to close the chapter of Bruce and Alfred; there is no really way they could have split on bad terms and never reconciled.  As I said early on, I wouldn't change my grading of The Dark Knight Rises, but I do appreciate it on a much higher level than I did a week ago.  If you get anything from this, see it again if you have the chance.  This is a picture begging to have another look by virtually everyone.  I am certain it will only get better for most the second time around.