Monday, December 19, 2011

THE DARK KNIGHT RISES: Why It Might Rock, and Why It Might Not ...!

- This weekend, like many of you, I finally saw the trailer for THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, and, like many of you, I promptly needed a change of pants. The trailer is amazing, no question - the sheer anticipation for the movie, mixed with the ridiculous amounts of geek-out-worthy gravitas that Christopher Nolan and co. bring to to table - make for an absolutely jaw-dropping, chill-inducing first look at next year's most anticipated movie.

And already, the fanboys and fangirls are out in full force analyzing the trailer, the prologue (playing only in select theaters prior to Mission Impossible in IMAX), and the movie in general. One thing about Nolan is - he is a man who takes risks and who does things his way. Both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight raised eyebrows with unusual aesthetics, curious casting, and stylistic choices that didn't always press the right fanboy buttons upon first glance. I think with Nolan, his movies come at you with such force, with such dramatic intensity, that it ultimately becomes pretty easy to forget about any flaws and just get swept away in the awesomeness. I mean, with The Dark Knight, I could list out dozens of individual moments, plot points, or acting choices that I wasn't a huge fan of. But I still consider the movie to be a tour de force - an amazing cinematic achievement - because on the whole it's just that badass of a film.

And yet ... take away the once-in-a-lifetime performance from Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight, and you wonder if some of those nagging flaws might begin to overpower the movie's strengths. And therein lies the source of trepidation going into RISES ... what if it's not great?

I know, I know, it seems impossible. But once upon a time, it seemed impossible that Spiderman 3 could be anything but awesome. And the thing is, to me The Dark Knight is sort of like a great sports team that wins the championship. Even though they were great and succeeded, everyone's already picking them apart, finding their flaws, and wondering about their chances for next season.

So let me break it down this way: here are 5 reasons why THE DARK KNIGHT RISES might kick ass, and 5 reasons why, well, maybe not so much.


1.) Christopher Nolan

- Nolan is the #1 commodity that this franchise has. In his relatively short career, he's yet to direct a bad movie. He has an uncanny ability to take crazy-ass source material and give it weight, heft, grittiness, and a sense of real-world authenticity. He doesn't know how to make a non-epic movie, and his movies, to the last, always manage to possess a thematic depth that goes above and beyond what we typically see in big Hollywood blockbusters. Part of what made Batman Begins and The Dark Knight work so well were the layers of psychological depth and social commentary that Nolan infused them with. Nolan's also got something to prove here - that he can go 3-for-3 and avoid the problems of other big action franchises. Rest assured, Nolan wants to go out with a bang.

2.) Tom Hardy

- Very, very quickly, Tom Hardy has become a rising star in Hollywood, and it's to the point now where the thought of him facing off against Christian Bale in an epic war of hero vs. villain is enough to make film fans excited. Between his roles in Inception, Warrior, and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, I am now fully onboard the Hardy bandwagon. In Warrior in particular, we got a glimpse of what Hardy-as-Bane might be like. In that film, the actor played an ultra-intense, ultra-violent fighter who overpowered opponents with sheer, unchecked brutality. Sound familiar? Hardy as Bane could very well be a villain for the ages.

3.) An Epic Conclusion

- Expanding on a point I made above, Nolan, Bale, and others have all very strongly, likely definitively, stated that this will be their last Batman flick. Now, never say never, I suppose, but in all likelihood this is the last entry in this particular iteration of Batman. With that in mind, we might get something we rarely see in superhero movies, or in the comics for that matter - closure. Batman by necessity has always starred in open-ended adventures. The villains are always captured, only to escape again. Batman is injured, but never killed. And Gotham remains as plagued by crime as ever. Little changes in the world of Batman. But what if that wasn't the case? What if Nolan's third film does change things up in a big way? Knowing that this is his last run with Batman, maybe Nolan rids Gotham of crime, or maybe he makes it into a true hell on earth. Maybe Batman is killed, replaced, retired, or maimed? Maybe, as in the comics, Bane breaks the Bat, but this time, the damage is permanent. The fact that this is likely a conclusion to this particular Batman story leaves open some exciting and unpredictable story possibilities.

4.) Surprises

- I said this movie could be unpredictable, and it's true. We still know remarkably little about the actual plot of the film, or how the various characters fit together. We don't yet know Bane's backstory - is it the same as in the comics, or altered? How about Selina Kyle / Catwoman? Will we see something similar to Frank Miller's Year One, or something totally new? Most intriguing are the story elements we still know absolutely nothing about. There's all sorts of rumors - Talia Al Ghul, for one - but it will be fascinating to see how the movie plays out. Will there be unexpected links to Batman Begins and The Dark Knight Rises? Will villains other than Bane and Catwoman cameo? Those are the obvious questions, but then there are the more subtle surprises that pop up in these films, because Nolan tends to tell his stories in such unconventional ways. I mean, I was shocked and awed when I first saw the prologue to The Dark Knight. I thought I had some idea of what to expect, but never in a million years did I expect one of the film's most riveting sequences to not even involve Batman, instead pitting the ultra-badass William Fichtner against an army of The Joker's goons. My god.

5.) Batman vs. Bane

- One thing that excites me about this film is that it presents something we haven't really seen in a Batman movie to date - Batman vs. a villain who coud kick his ass in a fight. Sure, Ras Al Ghul and The Joker were physical threats to some degree, but Bane, presumably, is going to be a guy who forces Batman to show why he is the best at what he does. To date, we haven't really seen that. I want to see a Batman who, as in the comics, is a master martial-artist, a master strategist, and "the world's greatest detective." I am hoping that all of those elements come into play in The Dark Knight Rises, but at the least, we're more than likely in for one hell of a smackdown.


1.) Nolan, Women, and Catwoman

- If you had to point to one glaring weakness of Nolan's Bat-films so far, it would have to be their relatively weak female characters. Part of the problem was the casting - neither Katie Holmes nor Maggie Gyllenhaal really felt like they fit in the universe of Nolan's films, and neither had much if any chemistry with Christian Bale. But more so than the iffy casting, the inherent problem is that Batman has never been a character that works with a conventional love interest. He's a lone-wolf, and he's too driven and obsessed to hold down a normal relationship. That's why Catwoman has always been a fun foil for Batman in the comics - she represents everything that's messed-up about his love life, in that the one woman who really gets him and who gets his Bat-signals a-twitchin' is a semi-villainous, morally-challenged criminal. I pray that Nolan gets that, and doesn't turn Anne Hathaway's Selina Kyle into a more conventional love interest. Already, I'm a little concerned with the casting of Hathaway - she seems way too girl-next-door to play a kick-ass femme fatale. But even if Hathaway nails the part and is physically-convincing, it's still going to take a very skillful script to make Catwoman work as a character. Based on Nolan's track-record with female leads, I'm a little worried.

2.) The Costumes and The Voices

- Okay, some might consider this one relatively minor, but I'm a Batman nerd, so I pay attention to this stuff. But costume issues could be a very noticeable distraction from the story and action if they are egregious. If Anne Hathaway ends up looking like a biker with a bluetooth headset (as she did in the production stills), then it's going to be a lot harder for me to get behind her as Catwoman. Similarly, I'm a little concerned about Bane. Okay, in the comics he looked like a roided-up Mexican wrestler, but to my 12-year-old self he still looked super-badass. I'm a little worried that Bane now looks, well, off. And I'm also a little worried about the whole voice issue. Let's face it, Bale's Batman voice has always been a little silly, but I was able to get past it most of the time. But if he's squaring off against a similarly strangely-voiced Bane, it could just be too much. I'm really hoping that Nolan and Hardy know what they're doing in making Bane sound incomprehensibly raspy.

3.) The Arkham City Factor

- In the years since The Dark Knight, a number of new takes on Batman have surfaced in other mediums. There's Grant Morrison's comic book reimagining as Batman as a sci-fi superhero James Bond, Scott Snyder's uber-dark detective version, the goofy Brave & the Bold cartoon show, and, perhaps most prominently, the Arkham Asylum and Arkham City videogames. Those games - penned by Animated Series co-creator Paul Dini - feel like the 90's Animated Series on acid. Its reinterpretations of Batman and his villains feel classic-yet-warped, and the neon-lit, grim n' gritty aesthetic is uber-cool. Most interestingly, Arkham City places Batman firmly in a dark but fantastical comic book universe where anything goes, and it's in stark contrast to the more real-world vision of Nolan and co. And I have to say, a big part of me is sort of over Nolan's take, and wants to see a more stylized, neo-noir Batman that's more in the spirit of the comics. I'm very curious if The Dark Knight Rises may suffer a bit in comparison to the smash-hit games that have very quickly become the defining version of Batman for the masses.

4.) Choppy Editing

- It's another element of the first two Bat-flicks that people griped about, but that most were able to ultimately overlook. But it still holds true that a lot of Nolan's action and fight scenes suffered from editng issues. Nolan is great with individual images, and with creating an overall sense of epic intensity. But there's yet to be a truly standout fight scene in his Batman films. For some reason, Nolan tends to shoot most scenes in a very bold, classical manner, but his fight scenes suffer from shaky-cam overload. In a movie that promises Batman's most physical challenge yet, I'm really hoping that Nolan creates elegant, kickass fight scenes that pack emotion and drama into every hit.

5.) The Studio Pressure

- Nolan is one of the few directors that tends to have free reign to do what he wants, even in a mega-budget action film like The Dark Knight Rises. But still, with so much riding on this film, and with so much pressure to match the box-office success of The Dark Knight, you've got to figure that there were plenty of suits in Nolan's ear during pre-production and production on this one. And so you've got to wonder: to what extent will this film be purely Nolan's vision? Already, you've got to wonder a bit when you look at some of the casting. I mean, nothing against Anne Hathaway, but was she really Nolan's top choice to be Catwoman, or was it studio pressure to get a big-name female lead into the film? And we've all seen what happens in superhero films when multiple villains are shoehorned into the story - it very rarely is ideal. All I know is, we've seen plenty of big franchises derailed by misguided casting choices, studio interference, and a system in which sequels get made more because it makes sense financially than because all involved are passionate about it. And that goes both ways. For example, I'm sure that Warners and DC sense the positive fan response to what Marvel is doing with The Avengers and their interlocked movie continuity. And I'm sure they'd love to use The Dark Knight Rises as a platform to build up a true DC movie universe. But Nolan and Bale have both expressed a lack of interest in that sort of interconnectivity. So like I said, these things can go both ways. At the end of the day, you just hope that the best vision wins out and makes it up on screen. It's a minor miracle that Batman Begins and The Dark Knight turned out so great. Can lighting strike three times? We shall have to wait and see.

- So what do you think? Are you unconditionally excited for DKR? Do you have some trepidation? Are you already thinking about a new trilogy inspired by Arkham City, or Batman as an HBO series that could do a 12-part Knightfall arc straight from the comics? Or are you still cleaning up the mess you made after seeing the trailer?

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