Well, shit. I had been staying offline working on this review for a couple hours before I had to check a detail on IMDb and found out about the massacre in Colorado last night. Fucking horrible, man. Be safe everybody.
We had a fucked up tragedy in Seattle a few months ago, and even though that was on a smaller scale you see how many people it affects. For those of us blessed enough to be unscathed it still has a psychological effect, it forces you to think about yourself and your loved ones having to go through that. Because I walk by the place where it happened, I know people who went there all the time, I’ve dealt with mentally ill people that could’ve been that guy. Or in this case I love movies too, I went to a midnight showing too, alot of my friends did, alot of you guys did. It’s just as bad as all the other things we read about on the news but it seems more personal.
But I’ve also seen how the community has come together, has celebrated the lives and the art of the people who died, are continuing to hold benefit shows and fundraisers for the families and for the little cafe where it happened. You see that people really do care about their neighbors. And I hope we will also try to learn from these horrible things and figure out how to improve the system to identify the root causes and fix things, get sick people help or whatever needs to be done long before it comes to this.
Warner Brothers is pulling advertising for the weekend, canceled a premiere in France and all TV appearances for the stars, because it seems tacky to promote a movie during this. But instead this sick asshole gets to pretend he’s a super villain, he gets to be on TV, the whole world has to pay attention to him. He gets to stand in for the big summer event movie.
Is it wrong to let one psychopath intentionally take away this source of joy, this thing we’ve been looking forward to so long, that we we want to discuss and (possibly) celebrate? Or is it superficial to still want to do that in the face of this sickening loss of human life? I don’t think Batman movies are the most important thing in the world but shit, I want to talk about Batman movies!
I don’t know what the right thing to do is. Maybe it’s too depressing to think about right now, but when you’re ready for my review of the new Batman movie here it is.
THIS IS AN ALL SPOILERS, I’M-ASSUMING-YOU’VE-ALREADY-SEEN-IT REVIEW. If there’s anybody out there still deciding whether to see it or not this is not gonna help, don’t read it.
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I rewatched the other two Batmans a couple days ago. They hold up well. In the first one there are alot of speeches explaining what people are trying to do. “If I make myself a symbol,” blah blah blah blah. And I still feel like the more special effectsy and shot-on-a-stagey last part with the rioting and the monorail and all that gets a little away from the earlier more-grounded-in-reality-than-you-expect-in-a-super-hero-movie parts, the detailed answer to Jack Nicholson Joker’s famous query, “Where does he get those wonderful toys?” But it’s a fun movie with topnotch performances and chemistry between Batman, Alfred and Lucius.
Part 2 takes it up three or four notches and is in my opinion the best non BLADE, non BARBARELLA comic book movie of all time. Yes, even better than POPEYE. It’s even more of an ensemble with the central relationships being between Batman, Gordon and Dent and I love that it’s basically an exaggerated police procedural about how they take down organized crime and this great villain. And yes, other things happen, and I think the long and unwieldy structure really works, and the different episodes all tie in to the themes of what Batman is trying to accomplish and how far he should be willing to go to do it. Yes, including the part with the ferries. I love that part. It’s crucial to the whole.
After such a triumph I, like everyone else, was immediately yearning for the next installment. And I thought shit, I don’t see Nolan fumbling the next one, but how often is there a part 3 that isn’t considered a huge letdown by most people? Will it be not as good? Even if it’s great is a backlash inevitable?
I don’t know, I haven’t read anybody’s reviews yet, and it might be too soon to tell. In my opinion THE DARK KNIGHT RISES is clearly more flawed than THE DARK KNIGHT REGULAR, but it’s such a crazy, wildly ambitious epic that I couldn’t be too mad at it. It asks you to accept more absurd leaps than the other ones, it sidelines favorite characters an awful lot, it bites off more than it can chew at times, but it also has some of the great Batman vehicle action we’ve come to love, some excellent new characters, probly the most effectively “oh shit, how are they gonna get out of this?” villain master plan of all time, and some serious drama surrounding how badly Bruce Wayne can be defeated and how he can overcome that physically and ultimately achieve what he wants emotionally. It’s a not-as-good-part-3 I guess, but not for lack of trying.
Crazy leaps it asks us to accept: that Batman can figure out how to fly that fuckin thing! And I guess once we’re okay with that we can’t complain about Selina knowing how to handle the tumbler-cycle. That an already withered Bruce Wayne can recover from a serious back injury in 5 months without proper medical attention and be back in the cowl and defeat Bane. These types of things aren’t that big a deal to me but they do stand out a little in this series since it’s made a point of trying to make this type of shit explainable and plausible.
(To be fair he does more flying the Bat and less jumping around after the back injury. And there was that time that Jackie Chan hurt himself doing that stunt and then healed and immediately did it again.)
Sidelining favorite characters: Gordon, co-hero of part 2, spends the first section of the movie in a hospital bed (I won’t say Laurie-in-HALLOWEEN-2 style, since he does stay in the game a little via walkie talkie). Alfred leaves part way in and is not seen again until it’s basically over.
(His crying at Bruce Wayne’s grave would’ve got me if it wasn’t the tip off of how this was all gonna come together. First it was hey, they can’t end like this, Alfred hasn’t come back. Then it was they can’t end like this, with Alfred thinking he was a failure. Which made me realize ah, the thing about the cafe. Chris Nolan, you hustlin sonofabitch. You and your “prestiges.”
One thing I love about that ending is that as a detective I’m not allowed to believe in coincidence, so I know that Bruce and Selina planned to be at that cafe. I believe that it would be important to Bruce to give Alfred that closure, so he would keep tabs on him and set that up to happen.)
Anyway, back to my point about the sidelining. The biggest one, of course, is Batman. I always read the end of DARK KNIGHT to mean that he was still gonna be Batman, but he was gonna allow people to think he was up to no good. He was still gonna be patrolling and everything, but the cops would be after him while he did it. As Gordon said, “We have to chase him.” Well, if I’m reading this one correctly I guess he just went home and hung up the cowl, became a recluse and grew a goatee. But his plan worked, and pre-Two-Face-Harvey-Dent’s inspiration helped clean up the city of organized crime (partly through harsh new sentencing laws denying parole) and now the crime rates are low and they don’t really need a Batman. But he’s still not happy ’cause the lady he wanted to spend his post-Batman life with is dead. Right?
These couple years I’ve been waiting for a big opening with an outlaw Batman, instead he’s retired and limping around on a cane for the first part. Then he triumphantly returns as Batman (and gets chased by more cops than I ever could’ve imagined – thank you Chris Nolan!) but he’s dramatically “broken” and then lays in a hole for a long middle section of the movie. Meanwhile this new character who’s just a regular cop played by HALLOWEEN H20’s Joseph G. Levitt, goes around and does alot of the heroic shit. Showing how a person with Bruce’s tragic background but not his wealth can pull off some shit too.
All of these choices are weird but they also work better than I would think. It seems like Gordon doesn’t get to do as much as in the last one, but maybe that’s because he got to do so damn much in the last one. And I did miss Alfred, but I’m not sure I’d want to see the old man have to run around avoiding gunfire in wartorn Bane-Gotham, so I can see why they spared him that.
As for Bruce Wayne, I think this brings us back to BATMAN BEGINS and how that movie was more about the man than the costume. We get some of his amazing bat-tivities (is that from the comics or did I make that up?) like in part 2 but we also get to see him triumphing over injury and also achieving his dream of BATMAN ENDS. Or at least BATMAN LEAVES. We get to see Bruce Wayne the man pummeled inside and out more than we ever thought we would and see how he deals with that. And that’s drama. So it works, even minus cape.
I mentioned that I think it bites off more than it can chew at times, and that also brings us back to BEGINS. That one has an exciting climax where a big section of Gotham is in chaos, and you just have to accept that Rachel and this little boy and Batman and Scarecrow keep running into each other, you know? It’s this massive thing happening but it seems to mainly involve this small group of characters. RISES takes that to an extreme, where the entire city is taken hostage in this international incident involving a nuclear bomb, a heavily armed guerilla army and U.S. Special Forces, but our newly promoted police detective who knows Bruce seems to be able to lead the resistance, and Gordon and Lucius manage to not get shot. (If Talia has some reason to keep them alive then I guess that last part is explained.)
People were making a big deal out of the 164 minute run time, but in my opinion it should be longer. What’s most missing from this section is a depiction of what’s going on with the ordinary citizens, how they get by during this, what exactly they’re doing. But of course that’s alot to tackle, and this takes place over several months, and meanwhile it’s also tying into the League of Shadows shit from part 1 and the death of Harvey Dent from part 2 and plus there’s all this stuff we have to piece together about how Bruce had to abandon this game-changing energy program and we’re learning about who this Bane guy is and we’re meeting Selina Kyle…
Remember how DARK KNIGHT put Michael Jai White, Eric Roberts, Rutger Hauer and Tiny Lister back on the big screen? Other than Noel G. from RECOIL and WRONG TURN AT TAHOE in a bit part, this is sorely lacking in DTV stars. That is unless you count Anne Hathaway from HAVOC, who plays Selina. She’s obviously a good lookin gal and likable, but I wasn’t sure she was gonna be womanly enough for this role. I was wrong, she’s great. She pulls off the sarcastic flirtatiousness, the slinky moves, the complete disdain for the people she’s talking to, the love for being underestimated by men and making them pay for it.
Again, Nolan has established a universe where you question even regular comic book shit, so it seemed a little weird at first that Batman would fight alongside her (not ’cause she stole his mom’s necklace, but because he wouldn’t want her to get her head blown off). But it’s nice to see him find a gal who shares his interests (even if it’s the other gal he gets to fuck in this movie). They make a cute couple. And it seems like everybody knows Bruce Wayne is Batman in this one, he doesn’t have to be as careful about it anymore, he might as well hang out with some girls.
Selina’s cool, she has a chip on her shoulder and is good at stealing but she likes to help people. I was sure she was gonna turn out to be Catwoman, but I guess not. Yeah, I don’t know if this one’s gonna work out, Batman, but it’s worth a try. This girl’s crazy but so are you. She’s gonna be way more fun than Rachel anyway. Rest in peace. No disrespect.
I like Bane too. It’s kind of a shame that an actor as great as Tom Hardy has his mouth covered for the entire movie, and people might assume he’s just some muscleman dubbed over by somebody else, like Darth Vader. Honestly he keeps reminding me of Vinnie Jones in X-MEN PART 3. But he’s a great villain because he’s such a fuckin nightmare for Batman: the same training, but in way better shape, so he crushes him physically. (That fight, and the fights in general, are staged a little more clearly than in the other two movies, though we’re still not talking HAYWIRE or something great like that.) But at the same time he has a brilliant mind, so his master plan (or Talia’s?) utterly destroys Bruce Wayne. These sequels have been about escalation, so after the police vs. organized crime epic of part 2 we’re now bringing in the CIA, the military, and a villain with zealous followers proud to die for the cause.
(I see it as realistic and not necessarily inconsistent that the League of Shadows ideology has changed since part 1. No way Talia’s old man would’ve let all those prisoners out. He wanted to execute people like that. But she’s not her father, is she?)
I love that I went into this movie knowing very little about the story, and that this wasn’t at all what I expected. I did not think there would be a point in this movie where Alfred had quit, Bruce had lost all of his money, his back had been broken and he’d been locked in a prison somewhere on the other side of the world, the Wayne Enterprises vehicles and weapons would be in the hands of the enemy and they’d have the entire city contained and under martial law with most of the police force trapped in the sewers for months. I mean, that was never the cliffhanger on the Adam West show. The worst that happened on there was Robin got eaten by a giant clam.
So even with all these negatives I’ve been listing I really enjoyed this movie. Because it has established this Batman reality and then had Bane fuck it up so bad it feels like the most epic comic book movie ever. It can’t be, because we just had one with a super-team fighting an alien invasion, but the stakes just feel higher here. This has multiple scenes with hundreds of extras, no digital crowds that I could spot. It has destruction and action on a massive scale that looks real. Stuff that doesn’t come across like another CGI spectacle as much as a moment to make me gulp and think oh shit, I hope that doesn’t ever really happen. And of course there’s that opening plane sequence we already saw before GHOST PROTOCOL, where as far as I can tell they had real stuntmen hanging in the sky while they dropped a hollowed out plane for real. You might want to strap on your jaw for some of this stuff.
In the 1989 Batman movie (which I still like) the Joker attacks an art museum and a parade. Bane pulls off a kidnapping/death faking/plane crash, an armed robbery of the Gotham stock exchange involving computer transfers during a high speed motorcycle chase, the destruction of a football stadium and all the bridges surrounding Gotham, and all that stuff is in the first half of the movie.
And there are some good twists. When you saw it, did people cheer for the Talia reveal, even though she was stabbing Batman at the time? I guess comic book lore trumps character identification. There’s some good twists and turns, sometimes I saw them coming, but they fit well into the story.
There are great Batman moments: the older cop seeing him and telling the younger cop he’s in for a show tonight, shock-and-awing the police by being cornered in a dark alley and then coming out in The Bat, the lighting of the bat-symbol, Batman punching off part of Bane’s mouth-mask. And holy shit, that part where Bane crushed the bat-mask! And that had to’ve been the later batch that weren’t brittle like the original batch that weren’t up to spec!
Yeah, there’s some super hero shit. But mostly this is a movie about Bruce Wayne, his dream, what he’s up against. And he goes through so much that it seems to justify putting a happy ending on what’s supposed to be an ongoing story.
This is one of those movies I saw last night and then I couldn’t sleep that well because so much of it was rattling through my brain. It’s not entirely digested, and I’m sure later today I’ll think of 100 things I forgot to mention in the review. And I haven’t even gotten a chance to sit and think about what it’s trying to say about Al Quaeda after the death of bin Laden, the threat of nuclear terrorism and what we should do about parts of the world run by warlords. But these are my initial findings: messy, unwieldy, ballsy, hugely ambitious, no DARK KNIGHT, but pretty fuckin good.
I’m sure in a couple years they’ll start over with a more normal version of Batman and I’ll give it a shot, but right now it’s hard to imagine a version that doesn’t seem underwhelming after all that was unexpectedly attempted and achieved in this series. Chris Nolan, you reached for the stars, and it’s impossible to actually grab the stars, but you got a pretty good grip on one of them for a minute there. Thanks bud.
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VERN’S ETIQUETTE CORNER: Hey guys, even though this is the all spoiler review, please be careful about major spoilers at the front of your comments so nobody gets anything ruined by accidentally glancing at the “recent comments”.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.