Friday, July 20, 2012

Review: "The Dark Knight Rises" (IMAX)

After seeing a midnight screening, one of my friends said something in regards to "The Dark Knight Rises" that served both as a solid assessment of the movie and something that really shouldn't factor in to your decision to see the movie at all.

"If 'The Dark Knight' didn't get nominated for an Oscar [for Best Picture] then this one definitely isn't getting nominated," he said.

That's true. As a film, "The Dark Knight Rises" doesn't stack up with "The Dark Knight", which transcended the "superhero" genre to become something greater. Even with the greater themes it plays with, the third installment in this trilogy feels more like a straightforward comic book/superhero movie than either of the previous two, and I thoroughly enjoyed that.

Though Christopher Nolan has never directly adapted a Batman comic story for any of these movies, he's always leaned heavily on his source material for inspiration. "Batman Begins" was influenced by "Year One" and "The Man Who Falls." For "The Dark Knight", Nolan drew from "The Long Halloween" and "The Killing Joke" for both plot and tone.

This installment combines elements from "Knightfall" -- the comic book story in which Bane is introduced and "breaks the Bat" -- and "No Man's Land", in which Gotham is cut off from the rest of the world. While still not a direct adaptation, I felt like this movie used more specific story elements from the comics than either of the previous two. The movie also owes a lot of its tone -- and the specific detail of Batman returning after a long absence -- to "The Dark Knight Returns", and I think anyone whose read those three arcs will find more things they like about the movie than those who haven't.

The movie starts slowly, in part because it has to introduce a slew of new characters while re-introducing others and explaining how things have changed in the eight-year gap between movies. Christian Bale doesn't appear in costume as Batman until more than half-an-hour into the movie, and it feels longer than that. Even as things start to move into place, the plot still feels a bit disjointed over the first hour or so of the movie.

Part of that is because of the source material. "Knightfall" was a year-long comic event that spawned a two-year follow up and spanned multiple books. "No Man's Land" was also a year long and covered even more books. There's a TON of material there, and trying to mash it all up was an incredible challenge for Nolan and crew to take on.

All that said, the movie more than makes up for its slow start with an incredible back half. It turns around shortly after the key moment from "Knightfall" (if you've read the book, you know what I'm talking about... and, hell, the trailers basically give it away anyway) and from that moment on I was totally engrossed in the movie. The climax is more outsized and action-packed than either of the previous two movies. It's not quite "The Avengers" New York scene, but it's on that level in terms of pure adrenaline.

Once again, Nolan and company have completely nailed their casting from top to bottom. Obviously a lot of the key roles are returning from the previous two movies, but the newcomers all shine. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is great as John Blake, a role that ends up carrying the movie for large stretches. Anne Hathaway was an incredible Selina Kyle, and almost completely washes away the memory of the disaster that was Halle Berry. Tom Hardy was a perfect Bane, a match for Bale's Batman/Bruce Wayne in both mind and body. The only casting that I thought didn't work was Hines Ward as a speedy kick returner for the Gotham Rogues football team. Totally unbelievable (and I'm only half-joking).

I left the theater at about 3 a.m. feeling like "The Dark Knight Rises" might not have been as good a film as "The Dark Knight" but it could end up being a far more re-watchable movie*. Time will tell if that's the case, but I know it won't be long before I see the movie again. A lot of the enjoyment I took from "The Dark Knight Rises" came from the last 30 minutes or so, and details I can't get in to without badly spoiling things for you.

Speaking of spoiling things, one of the few real problems I had with the movie -- that is to say, not nit-picky stuff that falls into comic book nerdery -- is far too big of a spoiler for me to get in to here. If you want, get in touch with me on Twitter, and we can discuss it.

Lastly, if at all possible, see the movie in IMAX. More than 70 minutes of it is in native IMAX format, and it looks brilliant. It's worth the extra money.

*I watched "The Dark Knight" five times in theaters, then multiple times when it came out on Blu-ray. Then I went almost two years without watching it again. It's so dark that I have to be in precisely the right mood to watch it. It's not exactly a movie that leaves you feeling upbeat.

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