Monthly Archives: July 2012

The Dark Knight Rises (A Review)

Before We Begin:

Super Hero Season 2012 comes to a close in a very somber mood. While Christopher Nolan‘s The Dark Knight Rises is one decent film, its opening was marred by the Denver shootings during its midnight screening, effectively hurting the film’s sales, but more importantly, tragically changed the lives of the survivors and the victims’ relatives. So before we proceed with the review, let us offer a moment’s silence for the victims of the Aurora Shootings. May the Heavenly Father welcome them into His kingdom, and may His grace bring comfort to all those affected by this tragedy.

I wasn’t kidding when I say that The Dark Knight Rises effectively brings Super Hero Season 2012 to a close, despite it being a somber close. What we have here is something of an anomaly. While the film’s disappointment isn’t quite surprising considering that a third film in a trilogy usually is the disappointing one to say the least (yes, I’m looking at you Matrix Revolutions, X-Men 3, Spider-Man 3, The Godfather Part 3), this movie manages to dance around it’s underwhelming qualities and give us, thankfully, a satisfying conclusion to Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy. It’s definitely not the best superhero film I watched this year (controversial statement alert, I’d have to go with The Avengers), but thanks to a magnificent story and screenplay, some standout action sequences, stellar acting, and some of the best cinematography and musical score out there, The Dark Knight Rises is a pleasant and satisfying entry in Christopher Nolan’s filmography.

The Good (Possible Spoilers Alert!!!)

What I enjoyed most from this film is the core human story. I’ve mentioned time and time again that despite having a relatively mediocre filmmaking, a core human story would more than compensate for a film’s flaws. Taken is testament to that claim. Sure, it’s basically a Jason Bourne wannabe, with the gritty hand held cinematography and the brutal hand to hand combat, but what most enjoyed in the film, aside from the action sequences, is the story of a father rescuing his daughter from a bunch of Arab slave traders.

That said, The Dark Knight Rises is probably the most human of the three Nolanverse films. This is primarily a Bruce Wayne story. More specifically, it’s a conflict for his soul. Set eight years after the events of The Dark Knight, the film shows us a damaged Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), suffering from the injuries sustained from his showdown with the Joker and Harvery Dent, as well as grieving the loss of his beloved, Rachel Dawes. But with the emergence of the masked menace known as Bane, Bruce must take up his cape and cowl once more. But Bruce isn’t the same person he was eight years ago, and is literally no match for Bane. As Bane breaks Bruce (literally and figuratively), Bruce must finally come to terms with his doubts and his fears in order to defeat the evil consuming Gotham. He must trust in the once corrupt Gotham police force, his own misgivings, and Alfred (played by an ever fantastic Michael Caine) who’s main concern is for Bruce to finally move on with his life, away from the destructive force that this the Batman.

Yes, I purposely left out the significant plot details as the Bruce Wayne storyline is definitely the best human story I’ve seen this year. What we have here is a battle for the soul. While the Batman symbol was good for a while, just how long can this lifestyle remain healthy for Bruce? He lost the love of his life, resorted to a lie in order to prevent the Joker from completely winning, and is basically rotting away in his mausoleum mansion. Despite having donned the cape and cowl once more, it only led to more suffering, not only for him, but for the rest of Gotham. Thus the Rises in the title because this film is primarily about Bruce finally coming to terms with the tragedies of his life, and finding redemption for the Batman as Gotham City‘s protector.

Enough philosophizing. After all, this film is still a summer blockbuster. The one thing I have to say about this film is how absolutely gorgeous this film looks and sounds. Wally Pfister shows his naturalistic flair, thanks to the high quality IMAX images. The panoramic shots of Gotham City, the opening hijacking, and the epic third act showdown between the forces of good (Batman) and evil (Bane) all look stunning on IMAX. While, sadly, we are still far from a full-length 100 % IMAX film, The Dark Knight Rises is definitely the closest we can get. Additionally, while Nolan and Pfister’s shots aren’t as stylish as most filmmakers nowadays, it does evoke a certain Kubrick sense of a cold and calculated composition of shots. Forget about the flair, what we’re looking for is a superb image quality.

Additionally, Hans Zimmer‘s brutal score effectively accompanies the images on screen. While they may not be the best for a pure album experience, Zimmer’s score is definitely perfect for the film. While it still doesn’t match the thematic beauty of Danny Elfman’s score for the 1989 Batman, his score packs a whallop as it makes the events on screen feel even bigger than they already are.

Finally, while most of the cast did great, the standouts for the film would be Anne Hathaway and Tom Hardy. For those who still hate Anne Hathaway’s portrayal of Selina Kyle, you guys should definitely bleed out like the stuck-up pigs you are. Hathaway’s voice and facial antics make her a pretty believable Selina Kyle in the Nolanverse (most especially in the opening burglary sequence in Wayne Manor). As for Tom Hardy, while he cannot possibly top the ferocity and the visceral quality that the late Heath Ledger brought in as the Joker, his take on Bane is just still a pretty menacing take on the villain. And my goodness, those eyes: Tom Hardy made Bane even more menacing just with his eyes. In fact, Bane reminds me of a more terrifying Darth Vader than a Batman villain.

The Bad

I did say that this film is something of a disappointment, didn’t I? Let me point out that this film is definitely solid. The filmmaking is solid, the plot is solid, and the acting is solid. Just what is it that make this film such a disappointment? While I exactly cannot point it out explicitly, at best I would describe this film as less visceral than The Dark Knight.

What exactly does this mean? Remember when the Joker did his magic trick? Remember when Nolan and company flipped a full semi-truck in Chicago? Remember that moment when Gotham’s prisoners and law abiding citizens refused to blow each other up? Remember when Rachel died and Harvey became Two-Face? If you do, you’ll understand when I say that you won’t find those visceral thrills in this film.

In a way, I’m quite relieved that Nolan stuck to his vision for the film. He didn’t sell-out or anything (no trying to be more profound like in the second and third Matrix sequels), he just wanted to tell the story as best as he could by sticking to the theme. And that, I think, was the “downfall”. The film didn’t opt for the “cheap visceral thrills” that made The Dark Knight so unforgettably good. It was more of the spiritual redemption of Bruce Wayne. Take note that what I’m saying that it was the human story that sold this film, this “intellectual” quality of the film was probably not what most film-goers thought when they entered the cinema. Hell, I sure didn’t expect it to be the way it is: I was expecting something even more visceral than The Dark Knight. I guess what I’m really trying to say here is that The Dark Knight Rises isn’t what me and probably most other audiences expected.

The Verdict

I watched this film three times: first on IMAX, the second on a regular screen, and the third on a bigger IMAX  screen. If I absolutely hated this film, I would have stopped after my second viewing (like what I did for Prometheus). This just shows that despite it’s flaws, it’s still a very enjoyable film. Sure, it’s not Dark Knight, it’s impossible for Nolan and Co. to top themselves after The Dark Knight and Inception. Lightning sure wasn’t captured in the bottle, but the bottle did capture some of the energy, leaving that bottle glowing.

Oh, additionally, IMAX is the way to go for this movie. While the standard screen is still good, it’s definitely worth your money on IMAX just for the picture quality and the sound.

4 stars out of 5.

P.S. – The film neither ended with a bang nor a whimper. It was just an “okay” film. But to call a Christopher Nolan film to be “just okay” is definitely disappointing.

Realizations about “Cookie-Cutter” Films

The great videogame critic/professional troll Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw is one person who loves (a HUGE understatement) videogames immensely. He is one of those who believe that videogames are an exciting new medium for storytelling and that he believes that a good game is one that manages to combine gameplay and story-telling in a very effective way (notable examples being Silent Hill 2, Bastion, and Amnesia: The Dark Descent). He enjoys these games because of how they meld story and gameplay seamlessly, and how these games manages to tell their story without resorting to cheap expository dialogue (namely, how Final Fantasy XIII did it).

He loves the “art of videogames” so much that he slams most mainstream videogames (namely Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, Gears of War 3, Battlefield 3etc) not because they are bad games but because they represent something problematic in the videogame industry. These are games which my good friend, A.g. De Mesa (yes, visit his street-photography blog, he’s really good) calls “cookie-cutter” games. By “cookie-cutter”, it basically means that it is something formulaic. It is something which isn’t new or groundbreaking. It’s not necessarily a bad thing and yet it does what it does: entertain you for the short time you spend together.

Keywords here are “entertain” and “short time spent together”. It’s something specifically made to distract you for awhile before you go back to your lives. It isn’t something life-changing or profound; it just gets your attention for awhile. When it’s over, it’s over. You could either forget about it, or continue devouring it. Either way, it has done its job.

What does this have to do with movies? Simple. I saw Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter over the weekend. Now I have to tell you that I purposely lowered my expectations for this film as I knew that it was going to be a horrible movie. I went in to kill a few brain cells because you have to admit; the occasional brainless activity in the midst of intellectually rigorous work is not entirely a bad thing.

Why did I hate Vampire Hunter? I hated it because right then and there, I finally understood Yahtzee’s disdain for “cookie-cutter” games. Yes, it’s occasionally entertaining and all, but in the end it’s really something disposable. You’ll forget about it after you’re done with it. It’s like toilet paper; sure it’s useful but do you really reuse a soiled-up toilet paper?

Sure, Vampire Hunter’s action sequences are fun (if you can forgive the horrible CGI, that horse stampede sequence had something going for it). Gore fanatics will enjoy the violence. Vampire aficionados will like the treatment of vampires in this film. Alternate history fans will find the vampire aspect of the Civil War interesting. But in the end, Vampire Hunter’s nothing but that: interesting ideas mashed together in an incomprehensible mess of a film.

“Cookie-cutter” filmmaking  is filmmaking at its worst. It’s a filmmaker who’s on auto-pilot. He gets things done in the least amount of time and with the least amount of effort. He comes up with something “okay”; not excellent or mediocre, just “okay.” The cookie-cutter filmmaker makes generic and formulaic films which, though they may not be too bad, do not push the envelope for films.