Jim Reviews The Dark Knight Rises

I have never made any attempt to hide my absolute adoration of Christopher Nolan. From the first time I saw "Memento," I knew that I was seeing something special. This wasn't an ordinary filmmaker. This was a man with a unique vision, a unique narrative technique, and a solid visual aesthetic that no first time filmmaker should have.

He followed his amazing debut up with a string of diverse, original films (yes, I know "Insomnia" is a remake, but he makes it his own) that showed remarkable growth from one to the next. I firmly believe that he is the best filmmaker working today.

That being said, any opinion I give needs to be taken with a grain. Not that I am a fanboy who will not admit to any fault on his behalf, but rather because I am a fan who has studied and strived to understand his particular narrative style. I get him. Not to say that those who don't like his films don't "get" them. I can fully admit that some people will dislike the things I love. It's alright. I am secure enough in my appreciation of his work that a dissenting opinion has little affect on me. I know and love his style of storytelling and that informs my opinion of the stories he tells. It's no different than being a rabid fan of a band. If you are a U2 fan it is more likely that you will love their new album than someone who doesn't like them or doesn't have an opinion on them will.

Entertainment Weekly put it best, and I will paraphrase them here.

When you go to a Nolan movie you need to expect the following...

1) A very elaborate, flashback heavy structure that follows and flaunts convention.

2) A protagonist who is haunted by the loss of an idealized person. It could be parents or a love interest, but whoever was lost was this person's rudder and they are struggling to find their moorings without them.

3) There will be another love interest, and you aren't really certain if they can or can't be trusted.

4) The score will feel very big, even if it isn't.

5) He will have a mentor... but one he shouldn't trust.

6) The film will spend a lot of time wrestling with the delicate balance between order and chaos.

7) If Michael Caine is there, he will be there in place of the protagonist's parents, and he is the only one you can, or should, trust.

8) Nobody will ever worry about money. Not for a second. And we aren't talking about, let's go to an expensive restaurant... more like, let's fly around the world and then retire to our mansion. Even if the character is broke, money ain't no thing.

9) The hero and the villain will be two sides of the same coin.

10) The climax will fuck with you. It will be cathartic and completely upend the idea of catharsis at the same time.

Basically, all of the elements listed above are things that I love in a story. Nolan has cracked my narrative DNA and makes movies that are specifically coded to me.

So... that being said...

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Nolan's Batman films have become something almost mythic. "Batman Begins," did well enough in theaters, but nothing special. It found a strong following on video and that lead to a lot of interest in "The Dark Knight." Then Heath Ledger did two things that made it something more.

First, he gave an amazing performance that redefined one of the most iconic villains of all time.

Second, he died tragically and made what was an amazing performance something... different. His death made this performance a heartbreaking tribute to lost potential. Suddenly it wasn't just great, it was iconic. What could he have done had he lived?

Out of nowhere this went from a brilliant comic book movie to a movie that you HAD to see.

"The Dark Knight" became one of the highest grossing movies of all time. I do not think that the amount of money a movie makes is important at all. In fact, I find it to be possibly the least important thing about the movie. I am not making money off it, so I don't care how much it makes. But, when something becomes that big... the expectation for what comes next grows.

It is fair to say that the anticipation for "The Dark Knight Rises," could not possibly have been higher. This was to be THE END to the most successful comic franchise ever. How could you not be completely jazzed about it.

Going into it, I did something that has become my standard operating procedure for a Nolan film, I completely cut out any and all media connected to it. I didn't watch a single preview after the first theatrical. I didn't read a single article, watch a single interview, and I didn't discuss it with anyone. I went in as fresh and clean as humanly possible.

So, what were my feelings.

For starters I will say this... I haven't seen this movie before. Hell, that's true for most of all Nolan's movie. Most movies follow a conventional enough structure that, even if it's new, it is something you have seen before. Not this. This is something new and different.

I am reluctant to call it my favorite of the series because, as I said on the pubcast, I am still in the honeymoon period with it. My opinion is too heavily effected by the newness of it. You wait four years and build in your love for the filmmaker, then you make a conscious effort to preserve the purity of the movie going experience... that is going to increase your emotional response. If you don't like it... that moderate dislike turns into hate. If you like it... that like becomes blind, passionate love.

Let me say this upfront. I flat out loved this movie. I want to grow old and die with this movie. Were I to go with my instinctive reaction I would call this the best of the series. I might still do that, but at the moment I will refrain.

This movie is the absolute flip side of "The Dark Knight." It is starker, it is more brutal and bleak, and it has much less Batman in it. This was the perfect marriage of the themes and the ideas of the first two films, while being completely different from them.

To begin with the villain, because that is always the most important part of a superhero film, is AMAZING. I can't say for certain, as I said... honeymoon, but this is as close to being better than Ledger's Joker as you are going to get.

Bane exists in a strange middle ground where he is at polar opposite to The Joker and Batman at the same time.

The Joker was an agent of chaos, a dog chasing cars who wouldn't know what to do with one if he caught it. He exists to fuck up your world and all he wants in return is to watch it fall down. The world is an intricate display of dominoes, and he wants nothing more than to watch them all fall over. By injecting that chaos he hopes to make you embrace the worst in yourself. He could not be defeated because all he wanted was for Batman to break his one rule and kill him and prove that he was right all along.

Bane, on the other hand... Bane is an agent of extreme order. He has a precise and definite plan that will proceed in a pre-planned fashion until the very end. Not only does he have a plan, but he is smarter, stronger, and more fierce than you are. Anything you do to stop him... he has a contingency for it and it's already started when you begin coming at him. He knows what you want to hear and will get you to accept his order on his terms and have you thanking him for the opportunity to serve him.

I was unsure about the inclusion of Anne Hathaway as Catwoman, and in fairness she doesn't really play Catwoman. Yeah, she does, but it's minus the annoying affectations. She is a world class thief who has learned how to preserve herself at any cost.

What makes the movie work is that no character views themselves as bad. Everyone is the hero of their own story. That is not easy to do, and it challenges the audience. Nolan pulls it off brilliantly.

I don't know how to discuss this without giving too much away, but I will try.

This movie is about hope and the desire to live. This might sound strange, given the type of movie it is, but at its heart, "The Dark Knight" is an affirmation of the human spirit and the desire to rise above and be something more. It is about our need for each other and what happens when our fundamental trust, and our community bond is broken.

Everything in this movie has weight. The fights are brutal and you feel the force of the punches. The relationships between people are vital and hold what can be held together.

This is not the movie you are expecting. It is more serious, more intense, and more bleak film than you are expecting. But that is not a bad thing.



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