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Entries in The Dark Knight (2)

Tuesday
Jul172012

The Dark Knight Rises

There are few people that would argue The Dark Knight is anything less than a fantastic film. Most tend to agree it’s one of, if not the best superhero movie ever made. There are even those who think it’s one of the best movies ever made, superhero or otherwise. That film raised the bar for superheroes so high that it’s likely to be a very long time before one reaches or surpasses it. That philosophy holds true for director Christopher Nolan’s follow-up, The Dark Knight Rises, but luckily, the film is only a disappointment in comparison. It may not reach the brilliance of The Dark Knight, but it’s still the best and most exciting movie of the summer. Dark, violent, terrifying and exciting, The Dark Knight Rises fires on all cylinders.

When we last saw Batman (aka Bruce Wayne, played by Christian Bale), he was running from the cops. He was taking the fall for the murder of Gotham’s district attorney, Harvey Dent, who the people of the city had put their faith in to clean up their streets. In Bruce’s mind, it was his duty to prove that true good couldn’t be corrupted, which meant making a martyr out of a madman. Now, Bruce has hung up his cape and mask because the city has turned against him, thinking him to be a violent sociopath who deceived their trust. However, a new villain is emerging. His name is Bane (Tom Hardy) and he’s out to destroy the city. He’s a bullish brute and it soon becomes clear that the police force won’t be able to stop him, which forces Batman out of retirement.

The Dark Knight Rises may be a misleading title for the film, seeing as how Batman does more falling (both literally and figuratively) than he does rising, but that’s why these films work. Nolan doesn’t treat his hero as a god. He treats him as he is: a human being. Bruce has demons to wrestle with, first isolated to the anger felt from losing his parents all those years ago, but now combined with the heartbreak of losing his only love, Rachel (played by both Katie Holmes and Maggie Gyllenhaal, respectively), at the end of The Dark Knight. He’s not cracking jokes like Andrew Garfield in The Amazing Spider-Man (despite the occasional witty moment). There’s too much at stake for such trivialities. His desire to fight stems not just from doing what’s right, but from the pain he’s feeling, his need to restore balance to a city gone mad, a city that took the life of everyone he ever loved. The Dark Knight Rises is a dark adult tale told by a masterful filmmaker who knows how to balance the necessary action with character development and relationships.

If anything, it’s the action that dragged down Nolan’s first film, Batman Begins, which was heavy-laden with too much shaky cam and too many cuts. Whether a product of the time, when the Bourne movies were finding so much popularity with the technique, or simply due to Nolan’s own inexperience with staging and filming fast paced action scenes, they were easily the film’s weakest aspect. But with The Dark Knight, Nolan refined his craft. The camera was smooth for much of the action, moving only to give us a better view of it, not to blur it. Nolan carries that maturity over into The Dark Knight Rises. While large in scope, including an absolutely incredible opening and appropriately epic finale, the action is never too much, never overloading your senses like many action movies these days. It’s presented in a way that feels organic, not forced for the sake of keeping action hungry audiences at bay, and Nolan’s steady hand approach ensures we get to savor every second of it.

But regardless of the film’s strengths, it’s impossible to watch The Dark Knight Rises and not compare Tom Hardy’s Bane to the late Heath Ledger’s Joker. When doing so, there is a clear winner. The Joker was a larger than life personality, one that gave the film a quirky feeling, kind of in the vein of a dark comedy, and the man behind the make-up gave one of the best performances ever put to film. Awarded posthumously at the Oscars that year, Heath Ledger created a terrifying monster, one that frightened, yet delighted at the same time. Bane, on the other hand, is too prophetic to be frightening. The majority of the fear instilled by him comes mainly from his size and brute strength rather than from anything psychological. He intimidates visually, but lacks the personality and off-the-wall insanity that made Heath Ledger’s cackling Joker so terrific.

Of course, Bane isn’t a bad character and Tom Hardy’s representation of him is just fine; they look worse only because Heath Ledger’s Joker was so amazing. The only true problem with the character comes from his voice, which is so modulated (thanks to the ever present mask covering his mouth) it’s sometimes hard to understand what he’s saying. Why such a problem was left unhandled—despite Nolan’s partial admittance to making select modifications after fan complaints from an early trailer—baffles the mind. A few other problems bring about the same reaction, like Bane’s nonsensical villainous plot that, for some reason, takes at least five months to unravel or why Batman would waste time lighting his logo on fire on a Gotham City bridge when he has mere hours before the city is destroyed. These moments don’t necessarily make sense, but they make the proceedings flashy and tense (and it’s impossible not to smile when that logo lights up).

The Dark Knight Rises is bogged down by a bit too much expository dialogue as well, but it more than makes up for it with a plethora of other brilliant little touches, like a sly reference to Killer Croc, another villain in the Batman universe. In an act of extreme skill, Nolan brings this story full circle, wrapping up his take on the character in as satisfying a way as one can imagine (though that very last shot, which I dare not spoil, should have been taken out). It works narratively, emotionally and on a visceral level—if the final 30 minutes don’t get your blood pumping, nothing will. It’s certainly not perfect and if comparing it to The Dark Knight, then it’s a disappointment, but if that’s the case, this is one of the best disappointments I’ve ever experienced.

The Dark Knight Rises receives 4.5/5

Friday
Jan152010

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

If you're a film lover, you were immediately saddened about the untimely passing of Heath Ledger. If you didn't care at first, you almost certainly did after watching The Dark Knight, if for no other reason than for the future of that franchise. He created one of the most terrifying villains to ever grace the screen with the Joker and it really is a shame to know that the next Batman movie will lack his presence. Worse still is that he would have undoubtedly dazzled us with many more movies for years to come. Hollywood is hurting without him. Although most will always think of him as the Joker, he was in the process of filming one more movie when he died, The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, a quirky little fantasy tale about love and immortality that, unfortunately, never fully comes together.

Christopher Plummer plays Dr. Parnassus, an old man who travels the country performing a stage show with his vertically challenged friend Percy, played by Verne Troyer, his daughter Valentina, played by Lily Cole, and a boy in love with her named Anton, played by Andrew Garfield. The 16th birthday of Valentina is fast approaching and Dr. Parnassus finds himself troubled because in a deal he made a thousand years ago with the Devil, he agreed to give up any newborn once they turned 16. In exchange, he earned immortality and the ability to guide the imaginations of others as they walk through the centerpiece of his show, a mystical mirror. Eventually, the Devil makes another offer to Dr. Parnassus. If he can capture five souls in two days, before Valentina's birthday, he can keep her. To do this, he must attract people into the mirror and he finds help in Tony, played mostly by Heath Ledger, a mysterious man with amnesia, who uses his allure to whisk people into the imagination world.

You may be wondering what I meant when I wrote that Tony was played mostly by Heath Ledger. You see, when Ledger passed away, he had already filmed all of the scenes that took place outside of the mirror in the real world. Filming in the fantasy world was yet to begin, so according to many interviews, including this one from Comic-Con, Terry Gilliam, the writer and director, rewrote an early scene to explain that when somebody ventures into the mirror, that person's face can change figure. Stepping in to complete the movie are notable actors Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell, who nobly donated all the money they made on the film to Ledger's daughter. Although it is saddening to see the switch in persons, knowing full well Ledger is not with us anymore, one can't help but admire the imagination it must have taken to overcome this difficulty, being able to finish the movie while still allowing it to make sense narratively.

However, as much as I hate to say it, that's about as imaginative as the film gets. I was more impressed by the way they solved this problem than with the actual product itself. For a movie about a fantasy world where imaginations come to life, Dr. Parnassus is strangely unimaginative. I found myself bored by the visuals which did little to represent the imaginations of the people in the mirror.

Being a fantasy film, that's a big deal. It's not so much about what happens outside of the mirror, but rather what happens inside of it. Even if it were flipped around, however, you could still color me unimpressed. The story was simply uninteresting. I never sensed a genuine threat from the Devil, I felt that the third act personality twist of a certain character was pulled out of thin air, and the whole thing seems muddled, rarely explaining certain aspects of the film that needed explanation.

Now, the performances are good and the actors do what they can to sustain the movie, but when your run time is over two hours long, you need a better script and better visuals. As it stands, Dr. Parnassus has neither. I can feel my stomach turning as I write this because Ledger's life should be honored and his final performance demands to be seen. It's a close call, one that sickens me to no end, but I'm going to have to recommend you skip The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus.

The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus receives 2.5/5