End of the Road – “Batman Begins” (2005) / “The Dark Knight” (2008) / “The Dark Knight Rises” (2012)

After the box-office failure of Joel Schumacher’s goddamned-awful “Batman & Robin” in 1997, the Batman film franchise remained in a state of purgatory. Will the franchise retain its heavenly glory, or will it remain in satirical hell? For the next six years, Warner Bros. schemed and plotted to make a brand-new Batman film: one that stuck to the comic-book roots of the Caped Crusader and strayed away from the self-parody, toyetic approach and overall campiness that made “Batman & Robin” so unbearable to watch. Meanwhile, a British-born director named Christopher Nolan, who was known back in the early 2000s for his mind-fuck masterpiece “Memento” and the impressive psychological drama “Insomnia”, pitched an idea to Warner Bros. of a possible Batman reboot. Together with David S. Goyer, writer of 1998’s “Blade” and eventual director of “Blade Trinity” (a painfully disappointing end to a trilogy dedicated to an African-American half-human/half-vampire bad-ass), Nolan set to work on the arduous task of reviving the film franchise of the Caped Crusader.

 

In 2005, “Batman Begins” was released to a public who had learned to cope with the catastrophe that was “Batman & Robin”. It was a critical and commercial success, and Christopher Nolan became a household name. According to MTV’s Shawn Adler, “Batman Begins” was the literal beginning of a popular Hollywood trend of darker genre films, like “Casino Royale”, “Star Trek” and “Sherlock Holmes”.  With the monumental success of 2008’s “The Dark Knight” and 2012’s “The Dark Knight Rises”, the Batman film franchise had reached a level of greatness never imagined.  However, the success of Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy also came with its share of heartache. Heath Ledger, who delivered an astounding performance as the Joker in “The Dark Knight”, passed away six months before the film’s release due to a toxic combination of prescription drugs. On Friday July 20th 2012, the world was shocked by the mass shooting which occurred in a Colorado movie theater during the midnight premiere of “The Dark Knight Rises”. The suspect, James Holmes, dressed in tactical clothing and armed with tear gas grenades and multiple weapons, killed 12 patrons and injured 58 others. Minutes later, Holmes surrendered willingly to police minutes later. Sources claimed that he called himself the Joker.

 

Like everyone else, I was heavily disturbed by the mass shooting (so disturbed that I chose to delay my review from that Friday). But then I began to ponder this situation from a filmmaker’s point of view. For years, movies have been blamed for society’s ills. Gangster movies are blamed for inciting lawlessness; action movies are blamed for developing violent tendencies in individuals; horror movies supposedly promote Satanism. Now, with this mass shooting, people are pointing their fingers at “The Dark Knight”. James, with his red-dyed hair, homicidal tendencies and disregard for anything and anyone,  has clearly emulated Heath Ledger’s Joker. Though he is mentally unstable, it can be argued that he was (in some way) influenced (somehow) by the previous Batman film. Does that mean that “The Dark Knight” is a bad influence? Definitely not. Though the Joker character was focused solely on anarchy, and the film itself showed how society can easily fall apart in the face of anarchy, it never encouraged the viewer to kill anyone. Even worse, some people are blaming “The Dark Knight Rises” itself. Last week, I even heard a pastor on radio condemn the film (which was released in Trinidad one day after this broadcast), calling it “dark and occult” He even called the midnight screening of the film in the Colorado theater a “satanic affair”. Seriously, how dumb can you get?!

 

My point is, movies are indeed influential (both positively and negatively), but it all depends on you, the viewer. If  “Superman” teaches me to use my skills and abilities to make the world a better place, then that’s what I gathered from the film. If it teaches you that anybody can fly, and you decide to jump out the window of a tall building, then that’s what you gathered from it.  But I’m not here to preach. And I’m not here to talk about Superman. I’m here to talk about the Dark Knight trilogy.

 

“BATMAN BEGINS” (2005)

Unlike the Batman films of Joel Schumacher, Tim Burton, and even what’s-his-face who directed the first Batman movie in the 1960s, “Batman Begins” was the first to go deep into the mind of the man behind the mask, Bruce Wayne (played by Christian Bale). His fear of bats (which he used to strike fear into the hearts of criminals as the Batman), his understanding of the criminal mindset,  even his training in martial arts and ninjitsu (which shows why Batman uses shadows to sneak up on his foes) among other things, are finally showcased in this film. But more importantly, we get to understand Bruce’s motivation to become the Caped Crusader. He feels guilty for the murder of his parents years ago, and seeks to rid his hometown of Gotham City from the scourge of crime. He achieves this with the fatherly advice and support of his butler Alfred Pennyworth (played BRILLIANTLY by Michael Caine) and the technological expertise of Lucius Fox (Morgan “The voice of God” Freeman). The villain in this film is Ra’s al Ghul (Liam “I played God… oops, I mean, Zeus” Neeson), leader of the clandestine League of Shadows, whose sole purpose is to rid Gotham City (by any means necessary) of the crime suffocating it. Their plan is to use a hallucinogenic drug created by Dr. Jonathan Crane (Cillian Murphy), a psychiatrist who uses the persona “Scarecrow” – complete with scary-ass mask and dosage of the same drug – to scare his patients/victims) to cause mass hysteria in Gotham City. Bruce’s love interest of sorts is assistant D.A. Rachel Dawes (played by Katie “formerly Mrs. Tom Cruise” Holmes) who tries to knock some sense – even slapping him a couple of times in a brief, unintentionally hilarious scene – into a younger, thick-headed Bruce Wayne. Under Christopher Nolan’s careful direction, “Batman Begins” delivers first-rate performances (and a second-rate performance from Katie Holmes – she does try her best though) and a deep, well-written story of one man’s quest to confront his fears and face his destiny. And of course, the action sequences are riveting, the musical score by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard is powerful, and the new Batmobile (a.k.a. the Tumbler) is REALLY FREAKIN’ AWESOME! Don’t expect to see any neon lights and spinners on that pimped-out ride! Long story short, “Batman Begins” is a GREAT movie. Unless you truly hate superhero movies, this is one that you definitely need to see. 4  1/2 out of 5 stars.

 

“THE DARK KNIGHT” (2008)

…. or as I call it, “Mount Everest”. Why? This film literally raised the proverbial “bar” past the tip of Mount Everest …. fuck it, the bar itself is hovering over Earth as we speak. No other movie ever transcended the capabilities of a superhero film at that time than “The Dark Knight”.  From the opening scene of an absurdly elaborate bank robbery orchestrated by Joker (played masterfully by the late Heath Ledger) to the subsequent apprehension of Scarecrow (yeah, that guy again!) by Batman amidst a group of gun-toting Batman copycats, the themes of symbolism and influence are brought to light within the film’s first ten minutes. Joker is much more than a petty thief. He is an individual that doesn’t give a fuck about riches or power. According to Alfred, “some people just wanna watch the world burn”. And that’s Joker’s M.O. – to cause chaos in Gotham City. And my God, does he cause chaos. But thanks to Heath Ledger’s superb performance, and quotable dialogue (“Why so serious?!” quickly comes to mind), you can’t help but watch in wonder and amazement at, and even laugh along with, this guy. Calling him one of the greatest villains in superhero films is an understatement. One of the greatest in film history? HELL YES! And what about the Caped Cruasder? Well, Batman has become so influential in the fight against injustice that many consider him to be above the law. When a string of violent acts occur throughout Gotham City, Batman becomes the scapegoat. But the film truly reaches an emotional high when Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), new district attorney and boyfriend of Rachel Dawes (played by Maggie “I can act better than Katie Holmes anyday” Gyllenhaal). Eventually, things go from bad to worse when he ends up in the middle of the crossfire between Batman and the Joker. With “The Dark Knight”, the scope is bigger, the tension mounts at a feverish rate, and the stakes are indeed higher. Almost everyone, from Lucius Fox to even Lieutenant Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) are caught in a web of chaos and danger spun by the maniacally-intelligent Joker. And the end result is both memorable and tragic. This movie is, by far, the most emotional and powerful of all the Batman films, and one that’ll remain in your subconscious for years to come. One of my all-time favourite films,  “The Dark Knight” is one that you should definitely see before you die! Seriously, I mean it!  5 out of 5 stars.

 

“THE DARK KNIGHT RISES” (2012)

And now, we have the long-awaited conclusion to the Dark Knight trilogy. Without revealing too much of its multi-layered plot, eight years have passed since the events of “The Dark Knight”. Gotham City is in a state of peace, Batman has disappeared from the public eye, and Bruce Wayne, now losing control of his company, Wayne Enterprises, has become a recluse. Things get complicated when Bane (played by Tom “I’m the new Darth Vader, bitches!” Hardy), a terrorist who wears, and speaks through, a custom-made gas mask, makes his presence known in Gotham City. He is aware that the city’s state of peace is built on a lie (what that lie is, I won’t reveal). And just like the League of Shadows in the first film (hint), Bane seeks to cleanse Gotham City of those who supported this lie (i.e. the authorities). And being the megalomaniac that he is, he plans to rule Gotham City with an iron fist….and an army of criminals….and an assortment of Tumblers stalking the streets. Bruce Wayne, of course, must take action – despite the warnings of a greatly concerned Alfred Pennyworth. Throw in an idealistic police officer named John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and an attractive cat burglar named Selina Kyle (a.k.a. Catwoman) (Anne Hathaway) into the mix, and you have a film in which the stakes are even higher than before, lives will be changed forever and the legend of the Caped Crusader will finally come to a close.

 

With a running time of close to 3 hours, “The Dark Knight Rises” is always engaging, always intriguing and never boring to say the least. The main performances in this film are top-class. Joseph Gordon-Levitt delivers a strong performance as John Blake and Anne Hathaway far exceeds the level of Selina Kyle/Catwoman established by Michelle Pfeiffer in 1992’s “Batman Returns”. And yes, Tom Hardy was fucking BRILLIANT as Bane. Sure he’s no Heath Ledger, but his character is not trying to be Joker. While Joker dreamed of seeing Gotham City burn to ashes, Bane literally started the fires. With his army of ruthless criminals, he blows up a football field (in a sequence worth seeing on the big screen), a number of buildings and even two bridges leading out of Gotham City. While he does come across as a tad bit over-dramatic and full of himself, Bane gets the job done – and it is truly a sight to behold. Interestingly, more emphasis is placed on the character of Bruce Wayne than on his persona of Batman. In a sense, this is a return to the main element of “Batman Begins” – the journey of Bruce Wayne into the Caped Crusader. In this case, Bruce must become Batman begins, and even when he falls by the hand – or should I say fists (in a WWE-ish fistfight that really isn’t as brutal as you may think) of Bane, he is forced to rise again. Hence – “The Dark Knight Rises”. And speaking of “rise”, the Moroccan Arabic chant “Deshi Basara! (Basara!)” used during the film’s score means “he rises”. And speaking of score, Hans Zimmer’s musical score is PHENOMENAL!  His music adds an epic sense of grandeur and emotion to every scene it’s used in. And in the second half of the film, where music is used to a greater extent, and the “Deshi Basara” chant is used in certain instances, you WILL be on the edge of your seat, with your heart racing and your nails bitten. FYI, biting your nails is a rather unhealthy habit – according to Dr. Oz.

 

While the scope of “The Dark Knight Rises” is wider than “The Dark Knight”, the film itself is nearly as great, but not better than, its predecessor. The story, while excellently written, is a bit flawed, and there are a couple of plot points and twists that don’t really work as good as they were intended to. Fortunately, these flaws are minor within the context of the entire film. With previous superhero film trilogies, the third film always falls short. Look at “X-Men”, “Spider-Man” and even the “Blade” trilogy that I mentioned earlier. But with “The Dark Knight Rises”, a film trilogy that literally reinvented the superhero genre has finally been established. And yes, this trilogy ends on a high and satisfying note.In short, “The Dark Knight Rises” is one of the best movies of 2012, and the best film I’ve seen so far this year. I’m dead serious. It’s THAT GREAT! If you plan on seeing “The Dark Knight Rises” – and you should…like, ASAP – you really need to see the first two films to truly get that sense of completion that the final film delivers.

 

And on a closing note, as the road to “The Dark Knight Rises” has finally come to an end, I must acknowledge Christopher Nolan’s successful efforts in taking the legendary character of Batman and making him into more than just a comic book character. He made him into a true legend. Thank you, Mr. Nolan.  “Deshi Basara”.   4  1/2 out of 5 stars.

 

– Matthew

5 thoughts on “End of the Road – “Batman Begins” (2005) / “The Dark Knight” (2008) / “The Dark Knight Rises” (2012)

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