BATMAN BEGINS [9/10]
The trilogy traces a beginning and end to the story of Bruce Wayne, a boy who saw the senseless murder of his parents Thomas and Martha Wayne. Comforted only by the wealthy family’s butler Alfred Pennyworth, Bruce grows up to become a confused and bitter young man. He suddenly exiles himself from Gotham City after never attaining personal justice on his parents’ killer. In this time, he learns from a mysterious warrior society on how to use fear to exact his own style of justice, which differed from their extremist views on mortality, and craft a symbol to strike fear and inspire the people. That symbol manifested into a bat. Bruce used his training and dismissed military-grade technology, along with lots of black paint, to become the Batman.
I remember “Begins” opening and nobody I knew wanted to see it. After the hyper-sexualized cartoon acid trip endured through “Batman & Robin,” with rubber nipples and enhanced crotches on everyone in a movie that made the Adam West era look like high art — I can see why. It featured an action hero being a terrible villain and a great actor (known now for being Oscar bait) as a sub par hero. Maybe today, he could play Bruce Wayne in a “Batman Beyond” or “The Dark Knight Returns” adaptation.
I had to see “Begins” on my own during a Saturday matinée. No one was in the theatre. I thought this was a very good adventure telling of Batman. I liked how director Christopher Nolan brought Batman, Alfred, Gordon, Fox, Scarecrow, and Ra’s Al Ghul into a Gotham City with an Arkham Asylum that you and I could name with and the concept of a caped vigilante became tangible.
Everything had a reason and a purpose, and it worked to ground a high concept while retaining a sense of adventure, which I am a personal fan of over the more crime drama aspects. The suit, the gadgets, the Batmobile (Tumbler) became real things that could (or already do) exist. This movie was the best origin telling of any superhero at its time. I would say 2002’s “Spider-Man” or 2008’s “Iron Man” are in the same league.
The only thing that didn’t spark my fire was the Rachel Dawes character…or maybe it was Katie Holmes. Not sure which, but I didn’t care for the character personally, though with that lemon, she at least gave us lemon juice. “Begins” was very enjoyable and I had high hopes for the upcoming sequel, especially after this happened. The beginning opened the doors for “The Dark Knight” and showed us a world without rules.
THE DARK KNIGHT [10/10]
Batman succeeded in cleaning up the streets of Gotham with the unofficial consent of seemingly Gotham’s last honest cop, Jim Gordon. After some time, presumably a year, they together they team up with district attorney Harvey Dent to finish up the cleaning — however their broad strokes pushed the mob into providing resources to a bank robber with a flair for theatricality adorned in clown make up “to scare people, you know — war paint,” with “no names, no alias… clothing custom… nothing in his pockets but knives and lint.” The clown’s intricate joke exposed fatal flaws within the established system of order; employing moral dilemmas laced with “a few bullets and some gasoline,” and the grand punchline literally drive the city to deterioration and tore its heroes apart. The only way to restore and support faith in order was to hold true to a terrible lie…
“Knight” took the ideas from the lighter toned Begins and transformed them into a hardcore and horrifying crime drama. The high concepts became real world allusions to terrorism and corruption. We learned that Gotham was not only a rough world but frightening to the point where we might as well have watched the news of live events. Everything about this first sequel improved upon the first film from its ideas in building on the theme of escalation to the action scenes being done much better including the infamous truck flipping.
In a 1:05 a.m. showing on the opening night, my theater erupted into cheers and applause followed by possibly the coolest motorcycle (the Batcycle aka Batpod) trick we have ever seen.
A drawback to this movie is actually one of its greatest strengths – Heath Ledger as The Joker. In 2008 it was a great performance. In 2012, it has become the stuff of legend and the standard for anyone daring to play the Clown Prince of Crime from that point on. I do not subscribe to the thought that his performance saved the movie–TDK stands alone as a great film with a transcendent performance. I do wish the movie was a little more about Batman instead of focusing on what the Joker would do next. Placing the villains of higher priority than Batman was a pitfall of the Tim Burton/Joel Schumacher films. Another gripe was, yes, Dawes because she seemed like such the hold out and not a team player, but I will admit, her last scene hit me in its audacity and a killer music score too.
“Begins” was a very Batman centric film but this time, we get more broad strokes of the man and the cowl…mostly the cowl. In the grand scheme of things, you can look at this as the middle of large saga after doing so much development the first go round. After nightfall, there has been sun RISE.
“Rises” picks up eight years since “Knight,” Batman is dormant and everything OK in Gotham until the sins of the past brings up old and new enemies… That’s as far as I can take you into the story without spoiling it. The trilogy told and completed the Batman’s story in a way like many graphic novels that use established characters within self-contained but related stories.
I definitely enjoyed the theme of escalation going beyond terrorism and entering no holds barred annihilation of Gotham, the spirit of its people and of Batman himself. If “Begins” is an adventure film, and “Knight” is a crime film, then “Rises” is an epic drama with high stakes and heavy prices. The story circles back to the first film’s actions and follows up on it in a way that “Knight” did not. Actually the second did not acknowledge the first one — not a bad thing because part three doesn’t touch on part two by name exactly but the consequences of living with a lie come through in a crushing way. It is amazing to see continuity acknowledged one way or another.
THE DARK KNIGHT RISES [8.5/10]
I loved that this became a Batman/Bruce Wayne story again with less focus on Bane or Catwoman. The number of characters begins to cross into literature numbers with so many moving parts that it can hard to keep up if you don’t pay attention. Batman. Alfred. Gordon. Blake. A butthead cop. Fox. Bane. Catwoman. Catwoman’s sidekick. A special forces guy. Some other special forces guys. The mayor. A scientist. The CIA. The League of Shadows minions. Prisoners. Regular citizens. Board members… Are you with me? They all have speaking parts too!
I did enjoy the villains, without the popular bias to Joker. Bane is like everything Batman would be had things gone very differently in “Begins” and I like how they even worked in the character’s origins on super strength and the mask. It was a small bit but one that rooted Batfans will appreciate because in the comics Bane acquires extra mojo by a chemical enabling him to, among other things, punch through rock. Tom Hardy, a short guy, sure humbles Batman like no one ever has to the point that it made me nervous and he gets intensity and emotion through just his actions behind that mask. He sort of reminds me of Darth Vader in a lot of ways. Anne Hathaway has created a new standard for a Catwoman that is not an S&M session gone wrong (yes I’m talking about Michelle Pfieffer’s cat turn). She is sexy yet an ass kicker and a million kinds of manipulative and you never know who’s side she supports.
Other characters I cannot get into because it will spoil the movie. But the old favorites such as Gordon and Alfred, and Fox are back and they do their thing–with Gordon once again being that crazy normal dude that saves the day somehow. He’s always been one of my favorites and Gary Oldman really made a standard for the part.
“Rises” with all the good it has going for it has a few flaws. I could not understand that how in almost three hours that the movie felt too short, like there are parts missing or time to let things sink in and process before the next event. “Knight” wrenched everything we had from its big scenes and “Begins” gave us time to breathe too. “Rises” felt like a series of big events and I still feel left out from something important, like maybe longer effects of Bane’s invasion on the city maybe among other little details. I wonder if an extended cut is on the way (I hope but will still buy this Blu-ray).
All in all, we have a superhero trilogy with three great to near-perfect films to create a just about perfect story from start to finish to prove a standard that every preceding Batman film will be judged against and then it affected movies as a whole – gritty, darker reboots of established franchises: (in no order) James Bond, Hulk, Ghost Rider, Tron, Spider-Man, and Superman, and maybe some others. Not sure.
We watched the consequences of being a hero and what it takes to inspire hope: blood, sweat, tears, and grit .. what it takes to keep up and restore that hope too, and the horrific effects of creating false hope, no matter the circumstances or good intentions behind it.
Bruce Wayne learned why we fall and how to pick ourselves back up and how to endure and we learned that a symbol can never be killed. Honestly, the director could have gotten away with calling this movie “Batman Forever” but that might be a bit much….
I may never get to personally thank everyone who was involved in bringing this vision of Batman to us, but Batman did say “you’ll never have to.”