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Reimagining “The Dark Knight Rises”

Batman - Dark Knight Rises

Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Trilogy” will always be highly regarded by both Batman fanatics and general audiences, so I think there’s been more than enough praise that it wouldn’t hurt the legacy of the trilogy if I gripe a bit more about the flaws in the third film. In my article, “Batman: The Christopher Nolan Years,” my biggest grievance was with the portrayal of Miranda Tate / Talia Al Ghul. I knew that Marion Cotillard was Talia before the movie even opened and I’m sure that I wasn’t the only one. Even you weren’t familiar with the character, you must have realized that she was shady like a villainous Bond Girl. Why does there have to be a twist? Why can’t the story be told in a straightforward manner? Talia should really have been exposed by Batman, since he is a detective, and it should have occurred in the first half of the film. “The Dark Knight Rises” could still have opened with the impressive airplane sequence, but reimagined.

Hypothetically, Bane could be transported from one maximum security prison to another and set free by the few remaining members of The League of Shadows, who are now following Talia’s lead. Talia was aware of Bane exploits because he was once a member of The League and ex-communicated for being too extreme, so that part of his backstory remains the same. The price of Bane’s freedom is him being sent to Gotham to cripple Batman and lead the Blackgate Penitentiary break. Bane is eager to accept this charge because he wants Batman’s cowl as a trophy like on the animated series. And how about a few popular members of the Rogues Gallery make an appearance during the prison break? I love The Scarecrow making a cameo as the judge. Of course, all of this is a distraction for Talia to smuggle a nuclear weapon into the city. The heck with the clean energy device. A movie doesn’t need to be so convoluted to be successful. In my own humble opinion, this screenplay was trying way too hard to be clever. And I still don’t know why Batman went out of his way to make people think he died in the nuclear blast or how he cleared the blast radius in under five seconds? Did “the bat” come equipped a teleportation devise? Another unnecessary twist. But, I digress. If the villain’s scheme had been streamlined, then the film could have focused more on the relationship between Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle.

As I said in my previous article, I really enjoyed Anne Hathaway’s performance, but since Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne was such a curmudgeon, I don’t think they’ll live happily ever after. She might get bored with him. That’s why I still prefer the Michael Keaton / Michelle Pfeiffer “destined to end tragically” romance in “Batman Returns.” That’s right, I’m complimenting “Batman Returns.” Take that, Kevin Smith. Since “The Dark Knight Rise,” we have seen the polarizing Mandarin twist in “Iron Man 3” and another swerve in “Star Trek Into Darkness” with Benedict Cumberbatch denying during promotions that was portraying Khan. What’s with these summer blockbusters? I keep expecting the M. Night Shyamalan doll from “Robot Chicken” to pop up and say “What a twist!”

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Batman: The Christopher Nolan Years

Batman Begins

“Batman Begins” (2005)
Directed by Christopher Nolan,
Starring Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne / Batman,
Liam Neeson as Henri Ducard / Ra’s al Ghul,
Michael Caine as Alfred Pennyworth,
Gary Oldman as Sgt. James Gordon,
Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes,
Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox,
& Cillian Murphy as Dr. Jonathan Crane / The Scarecrow

The Superman film franchise wallowed in limbo for nineteen years, but Batman fans only had to wait eight years for a reboot. Inspired in part by the concept behind Frank Miller’s acclaimed graphic novel, Batman: Year One, Warner Brothers finally produced a cinematic origin story for The Dark Knight. Christopher Nolan, the man behind such films as “Memento” and “Insomnia,” was chosen as the director. It seems as if the fans’ voices were being heard as Christian Bale, the “American Psycho” himself, was cast as Bruce Wayne / Batman. Kevin Conroy, who voiced the title character on Batman: The Animated Series, gave audiences the most well rounded interpretation of Batman… The lonely orphan, billionaire playboy, and caped crusader all in one. Christian Bale became the first actor to portray these three facets in a live action film.

It’s a bit difficult for me to get through the first act of “Batman Begins” because of the flashbacks of Thomas and Martha Wayne. They are so unbearably perfect that it’s hard for me to relate to them. Maybe that’s only how Bruce Wayne chooses to remember his folks? Ra’s al Ghul (the head of the demon) was far more complex than the antagonists in the Burton / Schumacher series. You left the theater not knowing if Liam Neeson was always Ra’s and Ken Watanabe was the decoy or if Watanabe was the original Ra’s and Neeson took his place upon his death (“The Dark Knight Rises” cleared that up). Either way, Liam Neeson brought an edge to usual role of mentor.

The Scarecrow was intended to be the villain in “Batman Triumphant,” the un-produced fifth film in the Burton / Schumacher series. Jonathan Crane finally made it to the big screen in “Batman Begins,” played by Cillian Murphy. The character did not have as much screentime as I would’ve preferred, but he was still memorable. Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes was probably the weakest member of the cast. She gave such a bland and uninspired performance that I don’t think anyone was too sorry to see the part recast in “The Dark Knight.”

Everyone raves about Christopher Nolan for the most part. I’ve heard some complaints that the female characters are underdeveloped in his films, but my only real gripe is the incoherent style in which he photographed the hand-to-hand combat scenes. I suppose that his intent was to make the viewer feel like they are inside the scuffle. That works for a boxing film like “Requiem for a Heavyweight,” but Batman and the members of the League of Shadows are ninjas. They fight at an extremely fast pace which appears like a blur close up. Pull back and let us see the choreography.

Tim Burton kept Batman in the shadows. Christopher Nolan and screenwriter David S. Goyer explain everything. Half of this film is exposition. Morgan Freeman plays Lucius Fox, who was Mr. Exposition. A fountain of all knowledge. Virtually nothing was left to the imagination. You know how and why everything works. Jim Gordon and Alfred Pennyworth were merely supporting characters in the Burton / Schumacher series. In Christopher Nolan’s Gotham City, they were essential to the plot. Michael Caine was nowhere near as placating as Michael Gough was. He was a surrogate father to Bruce, not just his servant. Gary Oldman has played some demented and volatile characters in the past, but he’d mellowed enough to effectively portray Sgt. Gordon, a committed ally to Batman, just as the character was depicted in Frank Miller’s Year One.

Roger the alien from “American Dad!” thinks that the sequel setup at the end with the Joker playing card was a bit on the nose. If this was a Michael Bay or Brett Ratner film, then I probably would’ve agreed with him, but I, like many in the audience was hooked by “Batman Begins” and anticipating the next installment.

Batman - The Dark Knight

“The Dark Knight” (2008)
Directed by Christopher Nolan,
Starring Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne / Batman,
Michael Caine as Alfred Pennyworth,
Gary Oldman as Lt. James Gordon,
Heath Ledger as The Joker,
Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent / Two-Face,
Maggie Gyllenhaal as Rachel Dawes,
& Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox

Just as when I wrote my retrospective of “Superman: The Movie,” I struggle to critique “The Dark Knight” because the film succeeds on almost every level and my review will be annoyingly positive. But, here we go…

It is now forgotten what a surprise it was when Heath Ledger was announced as The Joker. He was labeled a “pretty boy” and not someone you could have easily envisioned as the Clown Prince of Crime, but the buzz around him grew stronger as the release date approached. Sadly, Heath Ledger passed away just a few months before “The Dark Knight” premiered. The Joker, as he’s presented in this film, was a domestic terrorist, an agent of chaos. Some have said that Heath Ledger’s Joker sounded a lot like singer / songwriter, Tom Waits, while others sited the performance of Malcolm McDowell in “A Clockwork Orange” as an inspiration. I will not be comparing and contrasting Heath Ledger with Jack Nicholson since they were two wholly different interpretations of The Joker, existing in two different universes. “The Dark Knight” does not take place in a Tim Burton gothic fairytale, rather this film took a very pragmatic attitude. Christopher Nolan’s Gotham City is a real place with real people. I am not saying that is a better approach than what Tim Burton did. They were just different is all. To each his own.

Christian Bale may have went a bit overboard with his “bat-voice.” Michael Keaton as Batman spoke with a hint of a Clint Eastwood / Snake Plissken gravely tone. Christian Bale clearly wanted to sound even more ferocious than he did in “Batman Begins.” He was practically growling in this movie. I was half expecting him to start frothing at the mouth. Couple that with Bruce Wayne being a sad sack most of the time, is it a wonder that Rachel Dawes chose Harvey Dent? Rachel was now played by Maggie Gyllenhaal, who may not be considered as “traditionally” pretty as Katie Holmes, but gave a much better performance. I actually think audiences would have cheered if Katie Holmes was blown up.

Harvey Dent was played by Aaron Eckhart. This was the first time that Dent’s transition into Two-Face was depicted in live action. Billy Dee Williams was Harvey Dent in Tim Burton’s “Batman” and Tommy Lee Jones was Two-Face in “Batman Forever,” but no actor had played both the before and after, the ying and yang, which is the whole point of the character. Harvey’s face was scarred by a fire, his heart broken by the death of Rachel, and his mind poisoned by The Joker. The climax was a standoff straight out of a crime drama. And that’s exactly what “The Dark Knight” is, a crime drama, not a comic book. Harvey dies from a broken neck suffered in a fall. Everyone chastised Tim Burton for tweaking comic book characters, but it’s okay for Christopher Nolan? When in the comic books was Harvey Dent killed just a few hours after becoming Two-Face? Why not have him linger in a coma for at least one more movie before the plug is pulled?

A few other tidbits… I liked seeing Jonathan Crane / The Scarecrow make a cameo. I wish that other members of the Rogue’s Gallery such as The Mad Hatter had popped up in supporting roles throughout the Christopher Nolan trilogy. There was this theory that the character, Mr. Reese, was actually The Riddler, but I don’t buy it. I also disagree with all those who said that The Penguin could not have worked in Christopher Nolan’s Batman universe. Why can’t there be a gangster named Oswald Cobblepot who owns a nightclub? When Batman does infiltrate Boss Maroni’s nightclub, all those green strobe lights gave me a weird Joel Schumacher “Batman Forever” flashback. All of a sudden, we were back in 1995.

The Joker was not killed off. Obviously, he was meant to return in the next sequel. His line, “I think we’re destined to do this forever,” in his final scene is so poignant since we know that he won’t be returning. Heath Ledger was posthumously nominated for and won an Academy Award for his performance in this film, which was well deserved.

Batman - Dark Knight Rises

“The Dark Knight Rises” (2012)
Directed by Christopher Nolan,
Starring Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne / Batman,
Michael Caine as Alfred Pennyworth,
Gary Oldman as Commissioner James Gordon,
Anne Hatheway as Selina Kyle / Catwoman,
Tom Hardy as Bane
Marion Cotillard as Miranda Tate / Talia,
Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Detective John Blake,
& Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox

This was first movie that I experienced in IMAX, which was fitting given how highly anticipated this final chapter in the Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy was. The presentation was similar in tone more to “Batman Begins” than “The Dark Knight.” In a way, the screenplay may have tried too hard to connect back to the first film as apposed to being a standalone story. Christian Bale became the first actor to portray Batman in three live action films, breaking a tie with Michael Keaton.

Tom Hardy, who had co-starred in Christopher Nolan’s “Inception,” was cast as Bane, the (supposed) main antagonist. His take on the character was different than what had been done in the comic books and animated series. Or at least he sounded different. He was so darn formal even when describing and performing violent acts. Some have said that he sounded like Sean Connery meets Darth Vader. I didn’t enjoy him masquerading as the new leader of the League of Shadows. He should’ve just been a mercenary, who was ex-communicated from the League for being too extreme, then hired by Talia to avenge the death of her father. I recall that Ra’s al Ghul also had a decoy in “Batman Begins,” so Talia tried a similar rouse, but it was unnecessary and overly complicated.

Did anyone believe that Bane was the child of Ra’s al Ghul? Even if you’re not a fan of the comics and didn’t know that Ra’s al Ghul had a daughter, it was somewhat obvious that Miranda Tate was not what she seemed. Marion Cotillard made a point of saying that she wasn’t playing Talia while promoting the film, so that meant she was, without a doubt, playing Talia. I think the filmmakers made a huge mistake by waiting until the climax to reveal her true nature. Why didn’t she reveal herself during the underground fight between Batman and Bane? Since their plan was to leave Bruce to rot away in the pit, why didn’t they let him know who she really was right then and there? It made no absolutely sense for the villains to keep their secret from Bruce any longer because they thought that they’d never see him again, so what the hell were they waiting for? They were keeping their secret from the audience only. Miranda Tate could have still tricked Lucius Fox and Commissioner Gordon because they would have no knowledge that she revealed herself to Bruce. The reveal should have occurred when Bane broke Batman’s back. The filmmakers weren’t attempting to fool the other characters at this point, they were trying to pull one over on the audience. If you’ve seen a 007 movie, you could tell that Miranda was evil the minute she and Bruce made love by the fireplace. That is my biggest grievance with this film and the entire trilogy. They made us wait two and half hours for a twist that everyone saw coming.

Anne Hatheway played Selina Kyle / Catwoman. Of course, Christopher Nolan is just too cool to refer to her as Catwoman. She’s a “cat” burglar. Whatever you want to call her, it was inspired casting. Anne Hatheway has always had her wholesome image from “The Princess Diaries,” even if she’s played more risqué parts in smaller film such as “Havoc.” Anne Hatheway truly reinvented herself to mass audiences as a femme fatale in this flick. She looked great in the costume. Her goggles could even be flipped up to create the illusion of cat ears. Genius. I guess cat burglars don’t bother using whips in Christopher Nolan’s universe? Shucks. Though she was in full makeup while in prison and after Gotham City became a wasteland. I wouldn’t compare her to Michelle Pfeiffer for the same reason I didn’t compare Heath Ledger to Jack Nicholson. It’s two different worlds.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt played Detective John Blake, a character who was an amalgam of Robin, Batman’s traditional comic book sidekick, and Terry McGinnis, Bruce Wayne’s successor from the “Batman Beyond” animated series. Christopher Nolan had always claimed he was reluctant to incorporate Robin in his films, but John Blake is an orphan, a crime fighter, and his name turns out be Robin. Close enough. Will Robin John Blake become the new Batman or Nightwing? Maybe a spin-off will give us the answer? For some reason, I always thought that the kid (King Joffrey from “Game of Thrones”) who Batman gave his binoculars to back in “Batman Begins,” would eventually turn out to be Tim Drake, the third Robin from the comic books, but I was wrong. At least Blake rhymes with Drake. Again, it’s close enough.

I’m pleased that Batman was not killed by the nuclear blast. Bruce Wayne shouldn’t die young. He needs to become a bitter old curmudgeon. The filmmakers tried to pull the wool over our eyes again by implying that Batman was dead. Why did he bother faking his death if was going to slowly let everyone close to him know that he was still alive? He knew that Lucius Fox would find out that the autopilot had been fixed. He reunited with Selina Kyle and hung out at the café until Alfred saw that he was alive and well. Gordon and Blake were instructed to recreate “The Bat-Man,” so what was the point except to give the audience another twist? “The Dark Knight Rises” was the weakest of the trilogy and a semi-satisfactory finale.

“Man of Steel” (2013)

Super Man of Steel

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Superman 75th