Film Review: The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

The Dark Knight Rises
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Story by David S. Goyer & Christopher Nolan
Screenplay by Christopher Nolan & Jonathan Nolan

Rating: B+

Christopher Nolan and the rest of the creative team really dug themselves into a hole with The Dark Knight. They made quite possibly the greatest comic book movie of all time, featuring one of the brilliant performances in film history by the late Heath Ledger playing their character’s most compelling villain. Then they had to reconvene and write a third installment that would live up to the brilliance of its predecessor and close out their trilogy in a way that works. Although The Dark Knight Rises is not quite as good as The Dark Knight, it is by far the best super hero trilogy closer yet.

The Dark Knight Rises picks up eight years after The Dark Knight, a period during which Batman has disappeared and Bruce Wayne has become a recluse. Crime is almost non-existant in the city thanks to new laws inacted in Gotham City in honor of the late Harvey Dent, who is portrayed as a hero despite his fall. The relative peace of Gotham is destroyed with the coming of Bane, a terrorist leader hell-bent on annihilating Gotham under the false pretense of freeing it. Seemingly reluctantly involved is Catwoman, a woman named Selina Kyle who works as a thief to earn enough to get rid of the past she wants to get away from. With all of the trouble that starts to tear apart the city, Bruce Wayne comes out of his shell as Batman is forced to re-emerge.

There were two key issues based on the early information and trailers about the film that were the cause of most concern. The first of these is the casting of Anne Hathaway as Catwoman, which seemed suspect based on the scenes of her in action in the parts shown in the trailers. As it turns out, she very quickly proves that she is capable in the role, although not extraordinary. The second and most important concern was that Bane is a fairly boring villain after using both Two-Face and the Joker in the previous films, arguably the two most important villains in Batman’s canon. Bane is generally portrayed as a Mexican wrestler crossed with a ‘roid rager, and that doesn’t quite live up to the former District Attorney-turned-serial-killer of Two-Face or the Clown Prince of Crime. The film version is a signficant improvement over Bane’s depiction in the source material, but he is definitely not as charismatic or thrilling a villain as any of those previously shown in the series.

The biggest surprise of the movie is how much Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s storyline as young cop John Blake really made the movie. He is a very intelligent and capable cop, who in quieter times would obviously rise up in the ranks very quickly. It is hard not to be reminded of the idea of a young James Gordon in his absolute belief in the right thing, although we suspect Blake might even surpass Gordon in that respect. His relationship to Bruce Wayne and Batman in the film is a wonderful symbolism of what Batman as a figure means to all of the people in Gotham who don’t believe he was responsible for the death of Dent. Gordon-Levitt is outstanding in the role, and both Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman turn in their best performances in the trilogy for their parts as Alfred Pennyworth and Lucius Fox, respectively.

Despite the underwhelming villain, the plot of The Dark Knight Rises is outstanding and the build up to the finale is really well done. There are some really great twists that won’t be spoiled here but that upped the satisfaction level, despite at least one major one being far too heavily foreshadowed. A final judgement on a film of this scope really has to be made after repeated viewings, but it is at least a very good conclusion to the mythos. There is a lot to say from a comic book geek perspective in terms of things that seemed strange to leave out, or choices made in the end about certain characters, but these are qualms that probably wouldn’t even be noticed by someone without a familiarity with the source material. In the end, it is hard not to wish that a better villain than Bane had been chosen to close out the Nolan trilogy, but it is hard to complain about the film as a whole.

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Comic Review: New X-Men – E is for Extinction (2001)

New X-MenE is for Extinction (2001)
Written by Grant Morrison, Art by Frank Quitely

Rating: A-

Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely becoming the creative team of the newly retitled New X-Men was a very successful effort to revitalize the X-Men brand. After a few years of being relatively forgettable, Morrison and Quitely made changes to the team that still play a major part in the comics more than ten years later, and created elements that would be incorporated into the up-and-down film franchise.

E is for Extinction is the first story arch of their sizable tenure. It introduces the concept of secondary evolution, which has X-Men mainstay Beast changing from his old self into a more feline body, while telepath Emma Frost develops the secondary ability to change her whole body into nearly impenetrable diamond (a trait that is also shown in her minor appearance in X-Men Origins: Wolverine and her supporting role in X-Men First Class). Perhaps a more obvious change for the crew is that with this shift in creative teams the group has also shifted from individualized outfits to more basic and matching suits that emphasize that they are indeed a team of superheroes and don’t operate as individuals.

The story of E is for Extinction is outstanding; a new villain called Cassandra Nova is hellbent on destroying mutants to make way for what she claims will be the next phase of evolution. Although she doesn’t have the same level of charisma as Magneto or the pure cool factor of Apocalypse, she is a strong villain on the basis of the fact that she is so powerful that it is pretty terrifying. By the end of the three issues worth that comprise the storyline (and three-quarters of the trade release), she has managed to rack up a body count in the millions.

Morrison and Quitely have worked together a lot since this run, but E is for Extinction really made the X-Men cool again. The spirit of this book is so important because it modernized the X-Men in a way that was later carried on into Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men and is still an important part of what the X-Men are. With all of this in mind, it is really essential reading for anyone with an interest in the X-Men in print.