Friday, February 23, 2018

by Tracy Ladd:

Writing a review for a film of this magnitude can be difficult.  Being the third film in a trilogy, the final piece of the ongoing story and having two fantastic films before it makes it hard to NOT have expectations going in.  With all of the clips, TV spots, photos, trailers, teasers and anything else the media has thrown around, we’ve been on Bat-overload for months now.  I’ve done my best to stay away from all of it, opting instead, for the self-imposed blackout.  I’m so glad I did because in doing so, it allowed the film to unfold for me in ways that it couldn’t have otherwise.

TDKR picks up eight years after the events of The Dark Knight with Gotham’s white knight, Harvey Dent, dead, and Batman (Christian Bale) taking the fall for his murder, with only Batman and Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) knowing the truth about Dent.  In the time between films, organized crime in Gotham has been obliterated, thanks to hard-line laws of the “Harvey Dent Act.”  The burden of concealing the lie about Dent has taken its toll on both Gordon and Bruce Wayne, with the latter also battling the physical ailments brought on by his alter ego.  Compounded with the emotional toll of losing Rachel Dawes in the previous film, Batman has become non-existent and Bruce has become a recluse.

The colorful entrance of thief Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) breaks the monotony of what has become Bruce’s everyday life and brings him out of his self-constructed shell.  She also marks the beginning of Bruce’s greatest challenge yet: Bane (Tom Hardy), a criminal and terrorist the likes of which Gotham, nor Bruce have ever faced.  Bane’s elaborate plan to lay siege to the streets of Gotham promises to destroy the fabric of peace and security that Gotham has been basking in.  Bane also poses a serious threat to Batman himself.

Knowing he doesn’t have a choice, Bruce dons the cowl and cape again, a little worse for wear, and calls on Gordon, as well as Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) and some new faces to help him battle for the people of Gotham once again.  Also on hand is rookie cop John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), eco-crusader turned Wayne Industries board member Amanda Tate (Marion Cotillard) and deputy commissioner Foley (Matthew Modine).

I’m going to say upfront that I absolutely love the Bat-world that Christopher Nolan has created.  I remember seeing Batman Begins in the theater and having that feeling that you get when, as a film-lover, you see something unexpected.  After the atrocity that was the Joel Schumacher era of Batman films, the character deserved a much-needed mulligan.  Christopher Nolan gave him that and with it comes the greatest of super-hero trilogies.  You can’t say that about the original Superman films, or the X-Men films or the Spiderman films can you?  There’s always one stinker in the bunch.  Nolan’s Batman trilogy doesn’t have a stinker.  All three are solid films that tell a full-bodied story with each one being as high quality as the next.

Many will say that The Dark Knight remains the best of the trilogy, but my personal favorite is Batman Begins.  As much as I loved The Dark Knight, I just don’t think anything can replace that first outing for me.  The Dark Knight Rises, for me, is just as good as The Dark Knight was.  With the major players returning to reprise their roles, and along with the newest faces, Nolan gives the audience a fitting, albeit rather long, end to his Batman saga.  Christian Bale has always been, in my opinion the best of both worlds with this role.  In TDKR, he’s able to flex a little more dramatic muscle since the majority of the role is as Bruce instead of Batman.  He’s weathered and weary, but determination comes back and all of this is translated in his performance.

The first reactions to Bane weren’t great, mainly because you couldn’t understand a damned word he said.  The audio has been cleaned up, but the voice is so over-processed that it sounds disembodied.  Couple that with the fact that you can’t see Tom Hardy’s mouth move and you’ve got a villain who may not seem so scary.  Hardy however, has such a burning intensity that Bane’s terrifying presence shines through in his eyes, his size and his brutality.  I’m a Hardy advocate and have felt that he’s a great actor and he shows it here.

When I first heard they were bringing back Catwoman AGAIN, I just rolled my eyes.  The character has been done and Michelle Pfeiffer did such a great job, but then Halle Berry had to go ruin it.  I just didn’t think it was necessary.  However, Anne Hathaway was perfect.  She filled the character with wit, charm, menace and mischief while also showing levels of selfishness and selflessness.  The fact that the film never once makes reference to “Catwoman” was a bonus, as was the subtle nod to her originator’s costume.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is great in everything he’s in and this is included.  Blake serves as the film’s moral compass and allows JGL to really shine.  He’s solid and doesn’t wither when the weight of the film transfers to his character for a spell.  Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine are all present, but in this final installment, they take a bit of a back seat, which considering the scope and focus of the film, isn’t surprising.

This one clocks in at a whopping two hours and forty-five minute, which makes it the longest film in the trilogy so be prepared to sit for a solid three hours if you count previews.  This is not a film where you want to have to get up half way through to hit the can.  The first part of the film relies mainly on getting the viewer up to speed in terms of story.  The middle part is focused on background players as they step forward and the final third of the film is what everyone has been waiting for: the big battle.

Visually this film has Nolan written all over it, and since I’m a fan of his work, I don’t see it as a problem.  Especially that patented shot of Batman perched on top of a building.  Those are some of my favorite shots.  Sure there are some holes in the plot, but the script overall is great.  I had a discussion with my dad and he mentioned how he thinks Nolan’s take is too dark and gritty.  I actually prefer this iteration over the silliness of other versions.  I feel the same about the Bond movies too.  I like the grit and exploring the darker side is much more interesting, so these films resonate with me on a level the others didn’t.

As far as action goes, this is another area where this film doesn’t disappoint.  There are a few scenes that are quite brutal and actually made me cringe a little bit, but I think that had more to do with the fact that I saw this film sitting in a D-Box seat, which just intensified the experience.  I love action sequences that take the sound of the action out of the film and overlay the scene with the score.  There is one scene here that does the exact opposite.  In one particular scene, there was absolutely no score at all.  The resulting effect was jolting to say the least.  I won’t give away the scene, just keep your ears open for it.  You can’t miss it.

The end of this film marks the end of a stellar trilogy and knowing that Nolan’s take on Batman is complete, I’m left feeling a bit sad.  I loved the world he created and the characters that inhabited it.  I would hate to see someone else try to take the reins and build on his world, but I wouldn’t be surprised if someone tried.  Like I said previously, Batman Begins remains my favorite.  After the film finished, I felt that I may have liked this one more that The Dark Knight but after reflecting on i,t I may say that this one is tied for second with TDK.  TDKR is worthy of a second theater viewing and from what I hear, is best viewed on a 70mm IMAX screen.  If I had one close, I’d be there in a heartbeat, ticket prices be damned.

If you’re a fan of the previous films, this is a must see.  The Batman purists may take issue with some aspects of the film, most probably with Bane, but as a non-purist, I was very pleased with how it all wrapped up, warts and all.

DarkMedia contributor Tracy Ladd has been writing about film since her days on the her high school newspaper. Even though she took a decade or two off to explore other things, she’s back to doing what she loves. She also bakes, can knit a pretty nifty scarf and makes lightsaber sounds with her knitting needles. Or chopsticks. Especially with the lightsaber chopsticks.

You can find her on Facebook, on Twitter @ReelGoddess, and on her website The Reel Goddess.

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