Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

After the movie ended, I sat there until the last credit rolled waiting for the Easter egg peek at the next villain: it never came. It was then that I remembered that this was supposed to be the last part of a trilogy, so of course there are no spoilers to reveal for the next installment.

I realized then that it will seem hard to get excited about another Batman that does not have Christoper Nolan at the helm. It's not Christian Bale that I will miss. It's the look, the feel. Nolan's Gotham. Nolan's angst. Will anyone else be able to deliver anything that -- not satisfying -- but filling again?

At the end of this 2:45 hour epic, I realized that I'd spent the first 90+ minutes just waiting for all the puzzle pieces to come together. It wasn't that I didn't know where they all already. I just sat there waiting for them to move into position and suddenly, knowing created as much anticipation as not knowing.

We know from the start that Cat Woman and Batman will end up as allies. It's fun to watch that bond form. We may not know from the start that Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is Robin, but it gradually becomes quite clear. His dimunitive height is a clue. The fact that he is an orphan is another. The crowning revelation is not his first name, but when Batman tells Blake that if he's going to rescue people, he should wear a mask, not to protect himself, but those he loves. Blake's determination is just one of the reasons that I don't want this series to end. I want to follow him into superheroism, if not by Batman's side then on adventures of his own.

Finally, once Alfred leaves, we know that he will return and that was really the movie's high point for me. Maybe it's because this movie frequently relies on events that took place in the first two, building up our investment in the relationships. Maybe it's because Michael Caine is 79, has provided us with 50 years of wonder and I don't know how many times I'll see him act again or maybe just because it's hard to say goodbye, even when it's a happy parting, but I cried so much over Caine's last scene you would have thought I was at a showing of Terms of Endearment.

This movie is being reviewed everywhere and there's nothing I can add to everyone's impressions. I just want to write these notes for myself so that if I should rewatch the series at some point in the future I can remember what seemed significant to me today, in contrast to what sticks out to me then, when I've moved to another stage in my life and may perceive things differently.

First I'd like to address the complaint that Batman is not seen enough in the movie. Since I'm not a fan of action flicks, the more time the hero spends out of the costume is, for me, the better. I like to know what motivates him to put it on and what it covers rather than see how its aerodynamic qualities help him soar. I'm not there for the "Kapow" but if I was, it can hardly be said that this movie doesn't deliver on that punch. No matter how many minutes Batman spends on screen, there are plenty of fights and bat gadgets to ogle and the movie is certainly more about him than Catwoman, Bane or John Blake, so I don't get the airtime gripe.

On to the story: when we meet Anne Hathaway's Cat Woman she is a server at a party hosted at the Wayne estate. I know who she will come to be, but don't realize that she has already attained her villaint. After his last battle with Two-Faced in which he was left disabled, branded a murderer in the eyes of the public and lost his beloved Rachel he has become a recluse. He no longer manages his company or fortune and doesn't even attend events held in his name. Since the timid maid (Selina Kyle, aka Cat Woman) seems to be part of a catering group and is not a member of Wayne's staff, I'm not sure why Alfred tells her to take a tray up to Wayne's room. How does he know this strange woman is not a security risk? It seems like lax butlering to me. When she enters Bruce's cavernous, seemingly empty suite, I can't believe she starts poking around. How can she be sure she's not alone? In fact, since she was told that Wayne never leaves his room, she should be sure that she's not alone. Thus, her nosiness seems like great folly to me and I'm shaking my head.

Little did I realize that Selina could not care less if she is caught. She's not a burgeoning criminal, but already a skilled burglar and adept athlete, who easily escapes anyone who apprehends her even, or especially, Bruce Wayne. He comes upon her after she has already broken into his family safe and stolen his mother's pearls. They spar verbally. Since his legs are shattered and he only walks with the support of a cane, he's not much of a match for her physically. She easily escapes, the Wayne pearls encircling her neck.

After she's gone Wayne researches her identity with awe, rather than frustration over the theft, even when he tells Alfred that Selina also stole his fingerprints and he's not sure what nefarious use to which he might put them.

The fascination with Selina brings Wayne out of the shell, not to mention the house, he's been in for 4 years. Pretty soon he's out gathering information and Batman gadgets again. This to Alfred's chagrin. When Wayne finds there's a terrorist, Bane, building an invincible underground army, he warns Wayne that he's not powerful enough to fight him. Yes, he can recover his physical strength, but he does not have the mental will to live. Wayne has only known loss. He's come to expect it. It's become a self-fulfilling prophecy. He thinks that he must fight to the death, but Alfred thinks he should walk away. He doesn't remain tied to Gotham out of loyalty. He does it because he has a death wish and Alfred is tired of watching Wayne's die. This one will have to do it without him.

In one of those Good Will Hunting moments Alfred says that before Wayne returned 8 years ago he'd hoped he'd stay away. When he vacationed in Florence, he always daydreamed about sitting at a cafe and seeing Bruce at another table with a wife and maybe two kids. There Bruce would be basking in sunshine and happiness, things that Gotham can't offer. He'd see Bruce across the cafe and their eyes would lock, but they wouldn't even speak. Alfred would just know that Bruce was happy and leave. Well, I knew what happened when Chuckie painted a similar scenario for Will Hunting, but I didn't quite know where Alfred's statement would lead. I only knew that when Alfred and Bruce argued and then parted, their separation couldn't last.

Of course, the way that Alfred turns Bruce against him harkens back to The Dark Knight. He informs him that Bruce's love, Rachel, left a note saying she chose Harvey Dent (the Two-Faced villain) over Bruce and that Alfred burned it, to spare Bruce's feelings. He tells Bruce this now so that he won't use Rachel's memory as an excuse to stop living. Bruce thinks/hopes Alfred is only lying to manipulate Bruce into doing what he wants. He bids him a final goodbye and, the next day, Bruce wakes up in his mansion all alone. Later he finds he doesn't even have a key to enter the place. He's never needed one before. There was always someone to open the door.

Meanwhile, Bane is beginning to wreak havoc in the city and we meet Blake, a young uniformed cop determined to halt the evil uprising. Unfortunately, his boss, Foley(Matthew Modine) is more concerned with nailing Batman than fighting actual criminals. Sure, Batman was falsely accused of murder, but that was 4 years ago. What has he done to Foley lately? Bane has just entered the Stock Exchange, shot hundreds of people and stolen enough electronic information to clean out everyone's bank account, but when Blake tries to go after him Foley asks, "what's more important, catching a robber or catching Batman?" Huh? At that point, Bane was not a mere robber. He was a mass murderer. In fact, he still had hostages taken from the stock exchange with him. Foley's disinterest has classic seeds. The traditional law enforcement agencies always distrust the Superhero. They feel threatened by him, no doubt jealous of the worship bestowed upon him by the citizenry. The hero not only has to fight evil, but to combat the skepticism of good people. This is common, but it doesn't usually reach the extremes that Foley takes to ignore vicious crimes in his mad chase of the Masked One. At one point, I think he needs to be destroyed as much as Bane does.

As for Bane, he's rather mortal and pedestrian for a comic book villain, a body builder in a gas mask. Aside from his eloquent speeches, he smacks more of reality than imagination. I would have expected it would take someone more otherworldy to bring the creation that is Nolan's Gotham to its knees. However, as an allegory, perhaps the more concrete the evil is, the less likely the story can be dismissed as only fiction.

As Batman races to stop Bane's rampage, in the wake of the Stock Exchange rubble, an older policeman hears his bike approaching before Batman is even in view and he remembers the good old days. He turns to his young partner and says, "You're in for a show, tonight." The youngster helpfully shoots in Bane's direction, while Batman is trailing him. Batman gives him an impassive look and, chagrined, the rookie quickly backs off. 'Oops. Sorry.'

Batman tries to rally the troops against Bane and, basically, chooses Cat Woman as his second in command. For some reason, he thinks she's good at heart. I'm not sure why. All he knows is that she grew up poor. I suppose he feels she's still the needy girl, hungry, rather than greedy. She nurtures this belief by expressing her disdain of the wealthy and privileged, assuring him that she only takes from those who can afford it. Whatever her personal problems, he seems to place his trust in her before they've even come close to being resolved. He tells her to take him to Bane. She does, leading him right into Bane's trap.

With tears falling, she watches from outside a cage as Bane beats Batman to what looks like the death and breaks his back in two, pulls off his mask and tosses it aside, like so much rubbish. Selina then tries to leave Gotham before Bane comes after her. I don't understand Alfred, Selina and all of these people talking as if leaving Gotham will bring safety and protection. Alfred wasn't a recluse for 4 years himself. He kept up with undergound gossip. Like Selina, he knew that Bane's plans spread well beyond a city of $12 million people. He is threatening nuclear disaster that will destroy the world. So, I'm not understanding this "get out of town" mentality. Still, Selina makes a run for the airport, where she's detained by Blake. Bane has Batman. Is he dead, Blake asks. Selina's broken whisper is sincerely moving, "I don't know."

So, back at the ranch Bane has thrown Batman into a pit. The pit faces up to the sky, but no one can climb out of it. So, your despair is always tinged with hope that you can somehow make it up to the sun. The hope makes the misery even sharper. Many men have tried to get out, but only one has succeeded. I'm not sure how they all failed since the walls of the pit are lined with a series of protruding stones that look a lot like those rock climbing walls you see at the wall. With footholds that wide, even I could climb out of the pit. If they're going to pretend like it was such an impossible feat to get out, at least make the walls leading up slick and smooth, not the most easily scalable pit on the planet.

The other prisoners, broken old men, who have all tried to leave many times, rising up to the opening of the pit on a rope, only to come crashing down, battered on the jagged rock walls during descent, tell Bruce about the story of the only prisoner who ever got out. It was a child. The mother was thrown down there pregnant. That's where the baby was born and never knew any other life. Maybe that's why he alone got out. When he trapped Bruce, Bruce tried cutting the electricity to gain an advantage. Bane told him that he, Bane, was born in darkness. He didn't see light until he became a man. As the Batman, Wayne made himself accustomed to the darkness, but that's all Bane ever knew. Darkness was never a detriment for him. It's the light that he finds blinding.

Bruce now understands that Bane must have been the child in the pit. One prisoner says that when a plague hit the prisoners decades ago, acting as a doctor he tried to save Bane, but in doing so, he injured him badly and only having the mask over his face lessens the pain. I'm not sure how a gas mask (as opposed to a nice cushy bandage) helps deaden pain. I'm also not sure what treatment you can give a plague victim that would basically destroy their face. So, as far as an "origin story" goes, I think Bane's is pretty stupid. But whatever.

Anyway, the old men tell Bruce he will never make it because he's not afraid to die. If you have nothing to live for, you won't fight hard enough. Bruce says he's not afraid to die, but he's not going to die there. So, he tries to get up on the rope twice and fails. But then the men tell him that he should go the way the child did, without a rope. Duh? Why didn't they share that bit of info with him to begin with? Seems like passive/aggressive concealment to me. First of all, I've seen staircases more difficult to navigate than that wall, but that's a design problem I shouldn't hold against the plot. While the men might assume it's easier to ascend with a rope than without, since the only one to escape had no rope, why wouldn't any of them give that a try? Once Wayne gets a clue, he skeddadles pretty fast. It's all pretty hokey to me. But the higher he goes, the louder the cheers from the men below get, men who will never escape themselves, spurring him upward. They chant in a foreign voice, but their words mean "Rise! Rise! Rise!" As Wayne reaches the top with that chorus below, I get chills. I can't imagine a more thrilling trail to the movie's title. When Batman makes it out, my thoughts stay with the men who never will. But Bruce doesn't look back at them. He's headed towards Gotham.

Batman and Catwoman hook up. Bane has taken over the city, released all of the prisoners and launched a reign of terror, where the innocent citizens are overrun by the criminals. Batwoman enlists Selina's aid again -- even after the stunt she pulled the last time. She can't believe. How does she know that she doesn't like Gotham this way. Maybe she revels in the anarchy. Whether she does or not, Batman tells her that Bane has a nuclear reactor that's going to go off in a few hours, so it's going to be the end of everything, good and bad, unless she helps him. She concedes and hops into his bat plane. "My mother always told me not to get in the car with strangers," she intones. "This isn't a car," he replies.

Blake is on the ground trying to help the citizens, chief among them the boys from the orphanage that he grew up in. For whatever reason (given that a nuclear bomb is about to explode), he wants to get them on the bridge out of Manhattan, um, Gotham. But the police have been told not to let anyone exit. Blake tells them that the plans have changed. He's one of them. They can trust him. They need to have faith. They say that if keeps coming forward they will shoot him and if he persists further, they will blow up the bridge. Blake tests them. If he was hoping that they would stand down rather than injure a fellow cop, he was wrong. They shoot at him (his vest protects him) and then they blow up the bridge. He is livid, calling them SOBs. The priest caring for the boys is resigned. What would getting off the island would have done? The bomb would still have killed them all, the Father said. What's the difference? The difference is hope. Now, the boys have none, Blake tells him.

And that's a nice tie. Bane wanted to give Batman and the other prisoners hope of escaping to make their agony greater when they couldn't. Bane told Batman that he'd crush every last hope that he had, "Then, you have my permission to die."

Blake, on the other hand, thinks hope is the only thing that makes even certain death bearable. Blake sees no way out, but across town the Gotham police commissioner is about to face an icy death when someone throws a firecracker at his feet. He smiles and gets a phone call. A familiar voice on the other end tells him to light it. When he dies, a string of flame travels across the ice, runs up a building and lights up Gotham's bat signal, a symbol of hope that has long been dark. An incredulous Blake sees it miles away and knows he, the orphans, the world, all still have a chance. Is it believable that Batman would take the time to build a trail to the bat signal during that chaos? Yes, if it was the one thing that was needed to give desperate, frightened people the resolve needed to keep fighting.

In another location, Batman is cornered by Bane, but it turns out that his girlfriend, philanthropist Miranda Tate is the real villain. She was actually the baby born in the pit who managed to escape it. Bane was only a fellow prisoner who helped her. Her father (villain Henri Ducard from Batman Begins) hated Bane because his face was disfigured, but Bane's only crime was showing her love. Bane, a gloating brute up to this point, listens as she recounts her history, tears falling from his eyes. It was because her father left her mother that the pregnant was thrown into the pit where Miranda was born. So, she had always grown up hating the man . . . until Batman killed him. Then, she plotted her revenge in her father's name. She used the very weapon that Bruce Wayne's inventor, Lucius, (Morgan Freeman) built to defend the city to destroy it, by turning it into a nuclear reactor. What's even more ironic is that Bruce himself sold the weapon to her. After Bane's stock market electronic thefts left Bruce broke on paper, he thought that Miranda Tate was the only one left with enough money to preserve his defense projects. He was so grateful for her purchase that they ended up in bed together earlier (which was rather a hasty development for a man fresh out of seclusion and surprising, since I had expected Cat Woman to be his only love interest). Now, he realizes she was the enemy. Bane was just her servant.

She tells Bane she's off to launch the reactor, but warns him not to kill Batman. She wants him to live long enough to see the fire. Once she trots off Bane, wipes away his tears and is like, "You know you're going to die now, don't you? You'll just have to imagine the fire." Hilarious way to end the sentimental mood Miranda's words had created. Breathing payback Batman tells Bane he's going to see his plot demolished first, "Then, you have my permission to die." They battle and Bane is winning when Catwoman bursts in and just blows Bane away with an airy aside to Batman, "You know your position against guns? I'm not sure I feel as strongly about it as you do."

This movie doesn't have the humor that the other two possessed, but there are 4 or 5 moments that evoke deep laughs.

They get to the nuclear reactor and, seconds before it's about to go off, Batman hooks it up to the bat plane and flies it out to the ocean, so that it will detonate under water, hurting no one. His plan works, but an atomic plume goes off over the water, totally engulfing Batman's plane.

He's buried at the Wayne mansion which his will has bequeathed to the orphanage, to house parentless boys forever. An inconsolable Alfred tends the gravesite, blaming himself for having failed Bruce just when he needed him most.

Batman may be gone, but this time the police commissioner makes sure that Gotham will always remember him for the hero he was. A statute is erected in his honor. Blake thinks it small recompense for the price Batman made to save the lives of many who were ungrateful to Batman. He takes off his police badge and, undoubtedly, remembering his stand off with the cops on the bridge, tosses it aside, disillusioned.

He leaves the city with only a back pack. When a woman checks his identification she tells him he should use his first name because she likes it: Robin. We think he is leaving the city, but we find him walking instead towards underground waterfalls. Robin has found the bat cave.

Alfred is at a European side walk cafe. A lone diner, reading the newspaper and sipping coffee. He glances up briefly and something catches his eye. It's Bruce Wayne seated a few tables away, facing Alfred. A pony-tailed woman sits opposite him. When she tosses her head, we see Selina Kyle's profile. Bruce nods at Alfred, slightly lifts his coffee cup in tribute. Alfred tilts his head in answer. Folds his paper. Rises and walks away. He says nothing, so that catch in his throat that I hear as he leaves is only really there in my heart.

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