Friday, July 27, 2012

The end of a mighty trilogy... for now

SPOILER ALERT: It's only every once in a while when a franchise like Christopher Nolan's "Batman" gets this kind of goodwill behind it.  These days, maybe every once every couple of years.  The last clearest example would have to be the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  2003 was an especially interesting year, given all the films seemingly piggybacking on LOTR's use of giant crowds.  Matrix 2 and 3, Terminator 3, Looney Tunes: Back in Action ( I the only one?  I thought so) and Cold Mountain are just a few of the epics that seemed to be building up to Return of the King's release.  The Dark Knight Rises, for all intents and purposes, is all alone this summer.  After seeing the movie, I guess what I'm trying to say is... I'm a tad underwhelmed.  But my ears are still ringing after seeing it in IMAX.
But here's the one spoiler I want to give away: in all the publicity, we get that shot of a cityscape, where the buildings outline the shape of the Batman symbol, and another one where the Bat symbol is on fire.  At the beginning of the movie, the symbol is formed out of cracking ice!  GENIUS!!!!!  And I'm being completely serious.  If only similar attention to detail was paid to the rest of... ah, skip it.
Needless to say, my picky viewing companion was much more critical... or maybe not.  In a way, I kinda wish I didn't watch Batman Begins before going into this one.  I saw Liam Neeson wearing a mask and Boom!  It explained a lot of Bane.  In further comparing the Batman trilogy with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, I glibly think of The Two Towers, the middle installment of LOTR, as the weak one.  The Batman trilogy is the opposite, as its bookends are the weak ones.  I don't know why, but the Joker one is the best, maybe because we don't even see the bat cave in that one.  There seems to be The Curse of the Bat Cave at work.
I think I'm finally dulled to the effects of ultra-layered movies such as this, starting with The Sixth Sense.  I probably won't be watching The Dark Knight Rises again until it comes out on video, mostly because I'm broke and running out of time.  It would mostly be for the villain, ultimately.  Something about Bane doesn't quite work.  I read an article reminding us that Bane made his last appearance in Batman & Robin.  If I recall correctly, he was basically Poison Ivy's boytoy.  Arguably, he's got a larger role here.  Maybe he sounds too much like Sean Connery.  Sorry, SPOILER ALERT.
As the master of psychological horror, director Christopher Nolan somehow doesn't quite make it.  For example, I think Ebert's giving him too much credit.  Sure, the movie's downbeat, but not as much as everything else in the culture these days.  Somehow, even the big face-off with Alfred didn't seem genuine.  There also seem to be an homage to the falling clothes in Schindler's List specifically, and an ode to WWII Warsaw ghettos in general... but in America?  Well, I guess we're close, but it still doesn't work yet for me.
Batman is defeated early in the pic by Bane and is exiled to a far-off prison that Bane apparently started off life in.  The inmates are friendly enough, even though at times they start chanting like the chorus in The Shining as Shelley Duvall exasperatedly runs from room to room, finding horror after horror.  Bruce Wayne has two close inmates: the prison doctor (thank God), and the doctor's translator, which is as close to the Token Brit as we're going to get.  Bruce Wayne's injuries are so severe, they seem to rival Sing's before his rebirth in Hustle and Flow... I mean, Kung Fu Hustle.  Put another way, Batman is dealt such a beating, topped off with an injury similar to the one Steven Seagal dealt out in Marked for Death, and in that movie that Jean Claude Van Damme made with Ogre... Bloodsport, I believe it was.  In other words, credulity is stretched where it shouldn't be.  On top of the physical healing, Bruce has to find his motivation to escape the prison; when Patrick Stump's "This City" started playing, it kind of ruined the mood for me... oh, wait, it was just in my mind.  Well, I hear it a lot at the gym, at least once a day it seems.
That being said, the scenes of action are about as good as it gets.  Michael Bay, you could learn a thing or two from this.  It's not enough just to have cool-looking lens flares anymore.  The exploding bridges looked pretty good, as did the Bat (Plane).  The Bat Cycle deserves its own movie, I dare say.
I would like to point out a couple tiny scenes that stuck out.  First, a section of bridge is blown up by Gotham police, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt starts yelling.  I guess that stuck out because it seemed like a genuine moment.  Second, in the big final fist fight with Bane, Bane at one point starts WAILING on Batman's abdomen!  Dude!  Where'd THAT come from?  Even Bane loses his cool sometimes.  The way Bane is finally put down doesn't happen soon enough.
Not to mention that there's a slight homage to the family tree revelation in The Empire Strikes Back.  I'm a little more forgiving than my viewing buddy, but I can see the comparison.  I dare not spoil anymore than that.  As for Catwoman, well, I think I understand why people complained about her outfit.  She just suddenly gets an outfit in the middle of the movie without explaining where she got it.  Spoiler alert.
I've never heard anyone advance a theory yet, but it seems like once a director or producer gets their own prominently-displayed vanity logo, things start to go downhill.  Not everyone knows what to do when they get final cut.  But whatever lessons Nolan learned from 2008's The Dark Knight, stick with those lessons.  That one also had some problems, but it's still the best Batman of the trilogy.  It's been taken down since, but the IMDb had plans for another Batman reboot.  Just because Spider Man's doing it doesn't mean it's a good idea.

-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan

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