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Friday, January 11, 2013

Review: The Dark Knight Saga

Ah, Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy. A thrilling trio of films which I spent 7.5 hours on New Years Day watching with my dear buddy Caleb. True, I got a substantial headache out of the experience, but fortunately, time heals all wounds. In the meantime, I had seen two amazing films, and one okay but flawed film. By this, I mean that Batman Begins and The Dark Knight were both spectacular, but The Dark Knight Rises fell short of the glory of my expectations.

I'd better start with first things first. Batman Begins details the origin of Batman as no other motion pictures has ever done before. It takes cues from Batman: Year One and some other Batman comic book stories, as do the others films in the Dark Knight Saga. In this film, we see the journey of Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) in becoming Batman, as he gets his training, gathers his equipment, and returns to Gotham City to start wreaking havoc on the criminal underworld. With help from his faithful butler Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine) and Wayne Enterprises employee Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), he becomes the Caped Crusader.  Meanwhile, Jonathan "the Scarecrow" Crane (Cillian Murphy) and his mysterious employer are plotting something sinister.

In the second film, The Dark Knight, Batman has organized crime on the run, and he looks forward to handing the reigns of Gotham's hero over to up and coming District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhardt), and settling into a relationship with his longtime sweetheart Rachel Dawes (played by Katie Holmes in Batman Begins, now played my Maggie Gyllenhaal). Unfortunately, a new menace in the Joker comes into play, and he engages in an all out war against the order that Batman represents. Will he make it through the conflict with his moral compass intact? This film takes cues from Batman: The Long Halloween and Batman: Dark Victory, among other stories.

In the third and final film, [sarcasm]cleverly[/sarcasm] named The Dark Knight Rises, Bruce Wayne is living as a recluse in Wayne Manor after the fallout from The Dark Knight, but has to spring back into action as Batman when Bane (Tom Hardy) arrives on the scene, intent on completing Ra's al Ghul's mission to destroy Gotham City. Teaming up with Selina Kyle (never referred to as Catwoman at all), played by Anne Hathaway, and cop John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) Batman has more to deal with than ever before! This film takes inspiration from Batman: Knightfall, Batman: No Man's Land and The Dark Knight Returns.

I'll be honest; The Dark Knight Saga isn't a perfect adaptation. A lot of the characters are just that- characters. They're nothing but the personal creations of David S. Goyer and the Nolan brothers with names from the comic books slapped on them. Carmine Falcone and Sal Maroni in particular suffer from this, as does Bane, being little more than caricatures. Nevertheless, these films are still quite good. What the films get wrong about the characters are almost negligible compared to what it gets right. Bale and Cain do a better job at being Batman and Alfred than any of their predecessors (there's also a great dynamic between the two), as does Heath Ledger as the Joker, not to mention Gary Oldman as Commissioner Jim Gordon and Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle. What we have here is an all star cast for the entire movie series, a cadre of A-list actors.

In addition to all that, the film's action scenes are pretty sweet, with Bale and the others doing wonderfully in them. The first film in particular, I believe, has the best action set pieces. All I can say about the warehouse scene was that whoever designed the predator levels of Batman: Arkham Asylum and Batman: Arkham City must have loved it. The films also have their share of political commentary, the first on how far is too far when it comes to justice, the second more of the same, with allusions to the Patriot Act, and the third demonstrates the logical results of socialism and relativism. I'll also give the third film props for showing just what a bad idea the Batman's solution at the end of The Dark Knight was.

Unfortunately, there are some flaws to these films, particularly the third. There are a myriad of plot holes scattered throughout the films, such as why Ra's al Ghul wanted to destroy Gotham if he was the one who caused it to become the wretched hive he sees it as in the first place, or the ridiculous cell phone Bat-sonar and Bat-bullet-reconstructer in the second film, or Commissioner Gordon holding onto that speech for several days after he had brought it to not read it. The first film also has the over the top climax, which is only saved through the execution. The Dark Knight The third film is a bit rushed, if only because it has so many stories to tell and too many characters to give them all a decent arc.The pacing is also all over the map, with months of movie time passing within minutes. There are also certain adaptation choices that I disagreed with, such as GPD being emblazoned on the side of the Gotham City PD police cars, as opposed to GCPD. It should be City of Gotham City, not City of Gotham. Oklahoma City is referred to as City of Oklahoma City. And would it have killed Nolan to make Catwoman Selina Kyle's friend Holly Robinson instead of Jen? And John Daggett? It's supposed to be Roland Daggett, Nolan.

But despite the flaws of this series, it is still better than anything that's ever been done before, with the possible exception of the 1966 Batman film (more on that in a later post). I'd recommend this film for all Batman fans within the age limits of the film. I'd also recommend these films to anyone who enjoy a good movie, period. I know that The Dark Knight got snubbed at the Oscars, and I don't think that The Dark Knight Rises deserves any Oscars, but I do concede that Heath Ledger's Oscar was indeed well deserved. I also know that Jeremy Jahns rated The Dark Knight Rises as the #1 film of 2012, but I personally thought that The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was better. Nevertheless, I praise all the movies of this trilogy for raising the bar for superhero movies and giving us the film that made the genre a serious contender.

RATING (Batman Begins): 9/10
RATING (The Dark Knight): 9.5/10
RATING (The Dark Knight Rises): 8/10

RATING (Whole series): 9/10

Image courtesy of tvtropes.org