Thoughts on THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (No Spoilers)

Walking out of Reign of Fire in 2002, two years before casting for Batman Begins took place, I announced that Christian Bale should be Batman. When he was actually cast, I was naturally pleased, and have loved his performance as Bruce Wayne from the first frame.

Bale captures the surface of the character, the handsome, athletic leading man who can wear the costume well (and has a square enough jaw that he doesn’t need a prosthetic chin to look right in the mask, as Michael Keaton did). But he also masterfully portrays the complexity, and torment, of Bruce Wayne, and over the course of the films we see him struggle in very human ways with the life he has chosen. It’s not as simple as being tragic or sad or brooding, or dynamic and intense and implacable. Bale’s Batman is real.

In The Dark Knight Rises, Bale shows us something truly surprising for a big screen superhero movie: he shows us not only Bruce Wayne’s tragedy and pain, but his frailty. His Batman is a force of nature, but he is also a man who is scarred and beaten by his experiences and by his age. And that makes his battles, and his triumphs and defeats, resonate all the more.

A few days before the film opened, observing a lot of negative comments online about Anne Hathaway playing Catwoman, I posted this status:

Seeing quite a bit of Anne Hathaway hate. I predict Hathaway as Catwoman is going to drink your milkshakes, drink them up, and bring all the boys to the yard.

Now that I’ve seen the movie, I’m happy to report I was right. Anne Hathaway rocks the role.

If you’re wedded to the idea of Catwoman being a campy mewling prototype for a million drag queen performances, or a spasming psychotic mime in vinyl, you may not appreciate her. But if you want a Catwoman who is a complex woman with a smartly rendered character arc, is sexy without that being the point of her existence, and who can convincingly kick serious ass, then you ought to be very happy.

One of the few things I’d say is wrong with the movie is not enough Selina Kyle. But what there is is awesome.

Her costume is tight and sexy without seeming like bondage gear, coming across as a highly practical suit for someone in Selina’s trade designed for someone who enjoys her sensuality. The functionality of the cat-ears, which are actually her high-tech goggles and flip down over her eyes, is a bit of design genius.

They even made the high heels work. In a post a while back, I expressed surprise that they’d gone with the heels, which aren’t exactly practical, and I’d guessed they might be breakaway. They’re not, but damned if they didn’t justify them immediately and make me glad she had ’em on.

And watching her ride the batpod is one of the coolest, most fun things I’ve seen in a movie in a while.

I was surprised when Christopher Nolan chose Bane as the big villain for this film. Outside of the initial story arc that introduced him in the comics, he’s always been sort of a boring character. Inside the initial story arc that introduced him in the comics, he was also sort of a boring character.

The only time I ever saw Bane used in a way I found entertaining and clever was on Batman: The Animated Series. The absolute low point in the history of the character was of course his depiction in one of those detestable Joel Schumacher movies.

But Christopher Nolan does it again. Bane is terrific in this movie, a smart antagonist who is also ferocious and brutal and a very credible threat to Batman. Tom Hardy brings an oddly understated operatic flair to his performance and makes the character truly compelling.

The Dark Knight Rises is an epic, apocalyptic, smart and incredibly ambitious film, and a fucking awesome ending to one of the all-time great film series. While ultimately a bit less satisfying than its predecessor, The Dark Knight, it builds brilliantly on the themes, plotlines, and character arcs of the first two films, and it swings not just for the fences but for the next state. It’s not always successful at the things it’s trying for, but it usually is, and it’s trying so damn much that it leaves most big action flicks standing in its wake looking stupid and slow, and gives quite a few ostensibly more serious dramas a good run for their money.

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