Friday, November 30, 2012

Christopher Nolan Makes Superhero Films Respectable With The Dark Knight Trilogy!

The Good: Interesting characters, Great thematic development, Amazing acting, Generally good plot progression.
The Bad: Pacing, Predictability of the final act
The Basics: With Christopher Nolan’s interpretation of the Batman mythos with The Dark Knight Trilogy, viewers are treated to a sufficiently adult superhero story that nevertheless drags at times.

As one who does not go back and re-rate products and media, it is a rare thing for me to have an opportunity to make commentary on something that I might have rated unfairly the first time around. When considering individual films versus the entire series or boxed set of a movie, there is the opportunity to consider how the pieces fit together. Sometimes, the sum of the parts is greater, like with The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy (reviewed here!), but more often than not, the full video collection forces one to realize that the pieces might not fit together as well as fans hope. With The Dark Knight Trilogy, watching Christopher Nolan’s Batman films back to back to back, one realizes how much the final act truly suffers in comparison.

I am one of the rare critics who was not entirely bowled over by Batman Begins; I found it slower and more ponderous than clever and engaging. Rewatching it, the pacing does not bother me nearly as much, and while I respect the thematic development in the movie, his exploration of fear is not as well-developed as the themes in the other movies. On the other end of the Trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises seems disturbingly predictable, formulaic, and unsophisticated coming off the complexity and perfection of The Dark Knight. Viewed in order, in the eight hours of The Dark Knight Trilogy is, hands-down the best superhero film series yet made and it owes much of that to the writing and the able direction of Christopher Nolan, but it is not at all perfect.

Comprised of: Batman Begins (reviewed here!), The Dark Knight (reviewed here!), and The Dark Knight Rises (reviewed here!), The Dark Knight Trilogy assembles the three films and adds the value of two bonus discs.

In Batman Begins, Bruce Wayne returns from years of wandering the world to explore what gives criminals their power to Gotham City, a city his murdered parents were influential in cleaning up. There, he rejoins his father’s company and uses the research and development department to equip himself for a nighttime war on crime in Gotham City. As Batman, he begins to strike fear into the mob, while during the day posing as an irresponsible playboy. Bruce Wayne’s efforts clash with the machinations of Dr. Jonathan Crane, the psychologist at Arkham Asylum, where he experiments on the criminally insane and the League Of Shadows, which seeks to destroy Gotham City as a statement against the decadence of the world.

After years of fighting crime, The Dark Knight sees the potential to retire when Gotham City’s new district attorney, Harvey Dent, begins his own war on crime in the city by prosecuting the mobsters. Wayne’s romantic life is complicated by the fact that his childhood love is romantically involved with Harvey Dent and his vigilante actions are met with resolve of the psychopathic Joker. Meant to bring chaos to the attempts at order of Batman and Jim Gordon, the Joker strikes at the heart of the city by attacking Rachel Dawes and working to corrupt Harvey Dent.

Eight years later, with Batman having been vilified, a mysterious woman breaks into Wayne Manor to steal a copy of Bruce Wayne’s fingerprints. As Wayne Enterprises stock suffers, with the research and development department sitting on an incredible power source that could be perverted into a weapon, a thug named Bane makes an assault on the Gotham City stock exchange. Bane shatters Bruce Wayne and deports him while taking over Gotham City. Cut off from the rest of the world when Bane steals the reactor and destroys the bridges out of the city, Bane crushes the spirit of the city by exposing the deception of Jim Gordon and holds Gotham City hostage. Bruce Wayne must physically recover, return to Gotham City and resume his role as Batman to save the people who turned against him.

The Dark Knight Trilogy smartly develops themes in each film and those themes interact well with one another. From fear to the struggle between order and chaos to an exploration on the nature of consequences, The Dark Knight Trilogy strives to be more than just a repetitive saga of superhero films. By developing themes over the course of the three films, Christopher Nolan and his co-writers manage to shake up the familiar and often formulaic superhero stories.

Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Trilogy is an epic of ever-increasing sacrifice on the part of Bruce Wayne. Starting as the man who has everything, Bruce Wayne’s character arc is far less defined by his romantic entanglements, as it is by the steep curve of his level of sacrifice. Bruce Wayne gives up more and more in order to combat evil in Gotham City. While his mansion is rebuilt, Bruce Wayne’s adherence to rules and his singleminded ambition are challenged before he encounters an enemy who he might have to give up his life to defeat.

The Dark Knight Trilogy is supported by wonderful supporting characters. Bruce Wayne is not in his fight alone. Supported personally by the family butler, Alfred, supplied professionally by his father’s trusted aid Lucius Fox, and directed on the streets by the one uncorrupted cop, Jim Gordon (and later Blake), Bruce Wayne becomes a viable character who seems to have a reasonable investment in the city he is trying to save. Instead of simply being a superhero motivated by some sense of idealism, The Dark Knight Trilogy instead develops a character whose family ties and then his own friendships motivate him to fight organized crime.

Just as the characters in The Dark Knight Trilogy are compelling and developed enough to have complex motivations that make for a surprisingly sophisticated series of movies, the performers are all top-notch and playing at the top of their game. Consistently great are Christian Bale (Bruce Wayne), Michael Caine (Alfred), Morgan Freeman (Lucius Fox), and Gary Oldman (Jim Gordon), with wonderful supporting performances by Cillian Murphy (Dr. Crane), Liam Neeson, Aaron Eckhart (Harvey Dent), Heath Ledger (The Joker), Nestor Carbonell (the Mayor), Anne Hathaway (Selina Kyle), and Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Blake).

On DVD and Blu-Ray, The Dark Knight Trilogy includes the three films, with bonus discs for The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises, with enough behind-the-scenes content to please the fans.

Cinephiles enjoy The Dark Knight Trilogy and while the fans of superhero films reasonably go gaga over the set, discriminating film critics have to admit that the Trilogy is hardly perfect. It’s close, but the pacing and inevitable predictability of The Dark Knight Trilogy is off enough to make it just shy of absolute perfection.

For other live-action DC superhero works, please check out my reviews of:
Green Lantern
Jonah Hex
Superman Returns
Wonder Woman - Season 1


For other film reviews, check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing.

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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