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Movie Curiosities: The Dark Knight Rises (2nd Take)

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As I type this, we're nearly two weeks out from the release of The Dark Knight Rises. How's the movie doing after so many years of anticipation? Well... it's doing okay. The film managed to hold onto the #1 box office slot for two weeks in a row, though that's hardly surprising, given the film's utter lack of competition so far. According to Box Office Mojo, the film has managed to gather over $295 million domestic to date. Impressive, to be sure, but The Dark Knight and The Avengers had both shattered the $300 million mark to pieces at this point in their respective runs. Worldwide, The Dark Knight Rises has already grossed well over half-a-billion dollars, despite the fact that it still hasn't premiered in some foreign markets. At this rate, it just might make all-a-billion dollars when everything is said and done. We'll see.

The bottom line is that the movie performed below expectations at the box office, but that isn't saying much when the expectations were so astronomically high. Additionally, it's worth remembering that the expectations were noted before the film unfairly became associated with a certain tragedy that we won't discuss here.

Anyway, two weeks after release (which is something like five years in Internet time, remember), I finally made good on a promise I made when I first saw the film. I went back and saw it again, this time on an IMAX screen. And it was exquisite. The camera work looked every bit as awesome as I thought it would at 70mm, and the IMAX sound system did the movie even more favors. Sure, it was ear-shattering (and coming from a drummer, that phrase means a lot), but that's exactly what this movie needed. Those booming explosions made for a wonderfully immersive experience on the streets of Gotham, and hearing Hans Zimmer's masterful score helped make the movie feel even more epic.

With that aside, the time has finally come to discuss the movie in greater detail, spoilers and all. If you haven't seen the film yet, I suggest you do so now. I highly recommend the IMAX treatment if you can get it, though you might want to bring some earplugs if you're sensitive about noise.

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One of the main reasons why I do these "second take" reviews is for the sake of corrections. I like to go back and take a closer look at a film's perceived flaws, provided the film is good enough to warrant such time and attention. In this case, I'd say Selina Kyle is as good a place as any to start.

I maintain that Anne Hathaway did a wonderful job with what she was given. Hathaway succeeded in delivering a tough and seductive Catwoman, exceeding all expectations in such a way that I'll be amazed if she doesn't get more cred for it. Between this and her role in the upcoming awards-bait Les Miserables adaptation, Hathaway is clearly pushing for more recognition as a solid actress and I sincerely hope it goes well for her.

With all of that said, the Bruce/Selina romance arc just flat doesn't work.

I kept looking for any spark of chemistry between Catwoman and Batman. I spent the entire running time searching for something that would justify Bruce and Selina running away to find their happily ever after together. And I couldn't see it. Their screen time together is so brief, their dialogue exchanges are so confrontational, and they distrust each other to such a degree that a romance between them doesn't make any sense.

The only way the relationship might work is given Selina Kyle's development arc from a cat burglar to an ally against Bane, but that doesn't make a lot of sense either. I can understand why she'd suddenly switch sides and work for Bruce -- he did have the "blank slate" program, after all -- but why did she go back instead of fleeing Gotham when she had the chance? Furthermore, she was clearly having second thoughts about Bane's uprising to begin with, though hell if I can figure out why.

I don't want to say that she was shoehorned in, since Selina did affect the plot in some very important ways. That said, it's obvious that Selina Kyle was a very low priority for the filmmakers. Nolan and company were much more interested in Batman, Bane, the Gotham police, and all the ways they affected Gotham, because that's where the story was. With so many events to show, so much exposition to tell, and so many themes to explore, Selina naturally got pushed further and further to the wayside. And that would be fine. But when Selina is the one who comes back out of nowhere to kill Bane, and when Selina's romantic connection with Bruce plays such a prominent part in the finale, her lack of development comes back to bite the film in a big way. It gives the impression that Selina's ending is undeserved, and it makes Bane's defeat even more anticlimactic.

On the subject of love interests, let's move on to Talia al Ghul. Watching the film a second time with knowledge of the reveal, I was quite honestly impressed with how she and Bane planned everything out. They engineered everything towards sapping Bruce's finances, arranging it all so that in the end, Bruce would either go to Tate (aka Talia) or he would go to Daggett (aka Bane's henchman). Either way, they had him in checkmate from the word go.

Side note: I sort of liked the stab wound that Talia gave to Batman. It was a neat callback to Fox's warning in The Dark Knight that Bruce's new armor would be more susceptible to stabbing weapons -- a warning that Bruce simply shrugged off at the time.

With all of that said, I still have a lot of problems with how the filmmakers executed that final twist. To start with, it begs the question of how Talia got to this point. Bruce Wayne wouldn't trust his fortune and his business to just anyone, after all. How could she build up such a huge fortune, establish a false life as a wealthy philanthropist, and make it all so convincing that Bruce, Fox, and the entire Wayne Enterprises board would trust her to such a degree? How did Talia become Miranda Tate?

The best answer I have is that Talia had been at this for quite some time. She must have spent years developing her cover and building her fortune, presumably with help from Ra's al Ghul. But then, where was she the last time Ra's al Ghul tried to destroy Gotham, when her money and connections might have been a huge help? Oh, right. She still hadn't forgiven Ra's for kicking Bane out of the League of Shadows. She didn't forgive Ra's for that until he died. And as soon as Ra's died, after years of holding that grudge, she was all too happy to finish her estranged daddy's work and burn Gotham to ashes.

Sorry, but does that smell like bullshit to anyone else?

Then there's the matter of Talia's origin story. We're told that this child is some uber-badass who managed to escape the Pit, doing what no one else has done before or since. It's hard to believe that a mere kid could succeed where so many grown men failed, but we can let it slide because we've met Bane. Only -- psych! -- we learn that the kid wasn't Bane at all, but Talia.

I'm not entirely happy with this development.

To be clear, suspending disbelief isn't the problem. So Ra's al Ghul's kid is that tough? Okay, fine, I'll buy it. The problem is how this origin is given to Bane, then taken away and given to Talia. It diminishes Bane as a character, though admittedly not by much. No matter how strong Bane might have been as a kid, no one could deny his status as a bona fide badass in the present day.

But let's look at the Talia side of the equation. We learn that Talia was so fearless and so physically adept at such a young age that this little girl could do what no grown man could accomplish. First of all, it's no wonder the story was changed in the intervening years: The truth would have been far too emasculating for any prisoner there to admit. Second and more importantly, it establishes Talia as a certified BAMF. Not even Bane could have escaped from the Pit like she did. And in spite of that, she doesn't fight with Batman. Ever.

Though we hear about Talia's strength and ferocity, we never get to see it in action. She stabs Batman (in the back, figuratively; in the side, literally), she speechifies for a bit, she drives off, she crashes, she dies, end of story. What a ripoff.

Next, there's the matter of Bane. His lack of a clear motivation was a particularly huge gripe in my previous write-up, and I was eager to see if there was anything I missed in the way of rationale. As it turns out, there was. He speaks of the Pit's exit, saying that the climb out represents a false hope. It's this hope that makes the Pit the world's most terrible prison, and he intends to share that false hope with the people of Gotham, to make their despair all the more palpable.

Uh... no. Not the same thing.

In the Pit, the exit is like the fruit of Tantalus. It's something that could easily be obtained and would instantly ease all the endless suffering, if only it wasn't always just barely out of reach. In Gotham, Bane outright lies about the city's destruction. He gives the poor and imprisoned (or "oppressed," as he calls them) the means to take down the wealthy and powerful, thereby giving them hope for a better life.

The difference is that Bane doesn't present the revolution as a way to stop the nuclear bomb. In fact, he outright lies about his plans for Gotham and the bomb. He tells everyone that Gotham will endure under the new order, and the bomb will only be used as a deterrent against anyone who would try to stop the uprising. In truth, the bomb will go off no matter which way the war goes. That isn't using hope as a false salvation, that's using hope as a distraction. By the time everyone realizes that the whole thing was a lie, the people of Gotham won't be saddened, they'll be cinders.

Moreover, none of this solves the central question of why Bane and Talia are doing this to begin with. Yes, Ra's talks about burning Gotham down because it's too corrupt and balance needs to be restored, but that doesn't count. I don't care about why Bruce's hallucination wants Gotham destroyed, I want to know why Ra's estranged daughter and his disgraced former pupil want Gotham destroyed. What do they have to gain from this? Why do they suddenly care so much about Ras' plans for Gotham?

Which reminds me: Ra's kicked Bane out of the League because Bane was a constant reminder of the wife Ra's lost in the Pit. That's some pretty weak sauce, in my opinion.

I did notice some other plot holes this time around. How did Bruce get from the Pit to Gotham so quickly? How could he move about Gotham without being detected? How could he recover from some injuries more quickly than others? These are all plot holes, but I can let them slide simply because he's Batman. Which is a funny thing, really. From the very first, Nolan's Batman films have been praised for their "grounded," "realistic," and "gritty" take on the Caped Crusader, but in the end, they're still superhero movies operating on comic book logic. Whoever takes on the next Batman reboot (and make no mistake, there will be a reboot sooner than later), I hope they aren't afraid to rely more on fun comic book logic without the pretense of realism. But I digress.

There are still a couple of plot problems I can't forgive. Among them is the leg brace that shows up out of nowhere, allows Bruce to walk without a cane again, seems to grant him super-strength, and never gets seen or mentioned again. There's also the matter of the pack that he leaves to Blake. Bruce didn't have the time to revise his will, but he did have the time to set a parcel aside that would guide Blake to the Batcave? Sorry, not buying it.

Speaking of which, I'd also like to address the scene in which Blake says that he knew about Batman's identity all along. In my first viewing, this made me want to cry "bullshit!" as loud as I could. But after some more thought, I'm kind of amazed no one connected the dots sooner. After all, Bruce spent the last two movies acting very suspicious in public, calling attention to himself in some very obnoxious and eccentric ways. In hindsight, it's obvious that he was always trying to hide something.

I really do hate to sound so negative about The Dark Knight Rises, because it's still quite good for all of its many faults. Much like Batman Begins and The Dark Knight before it, this is an imperfect yet well-constructed film that's a lot of fun to sit through. The cast is extraordinary, the effects and camerawork are gorgeous, the sound design is top-notch, and the score is phenomenal. In spite of the screenplay's failings, this is still an epic story writ large, with a wide variety of interesting themes that are presented in compelling ways.

It's not perfect, and it's not a masterpiece, but it never needed to be. It only ever needed to be a satisfying end to a trilogy and a fun time at the movies. On those grounds, I highly recommend it (particularly on IMAX).

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