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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on Movies: The Dark Knight Rises

THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (Three and a Half Stars)

U.S.: Christopher Nolan, 2012

This review of The Dark Knight Rises was written yesterday, before I heard of the tragic shootings and  deaths at Century 16 Theatres in Aurora, Colorado. I had intended to write several more paragraphs on the movie today, and maybe I will later. But not now. (I did add a few words toward the end, in the description  of Intolerance.)

I heard the news this morning from a movie reviewer/editor friend who was weeping. She had just posted a note saying that her thoughts and prayers were with the victims of the shootings and with their families. So are mine.

1. The Rise

A visual marvel and a hellaciously exciting  action movie, that’s also long and confusing and full of doom, gloom, violence and unexpected poetry and emotion — and very little humor of any kind — The Dark Knight Rises is the latest movie incarnation, and one of the most spectacular, of the  adventures of Bob Kane‘s legendary caped comic-book crime-buster Batman a.k.a. rich guy Bruce Wayne. It’s Batman as interpreted by Christopher Nolan (in the last movie of Nolan‘s  Batman Trilogy), and, very simply, and despite any detectable flaws, he just burns up the screen with this movie — including the IMAX screens, as it happens, which means it‘s a bigger conflagration and crystal clear.

If you’ve never seen an IMAX movie, and shame on you if you haven’t, you should be advised, that the IMAX photography and screening processes —  with their six-story-or-more high screens (usually, an IMAX screen can be 72 by 52.8 feet, or more), filled to the brim in this case with grim, horrific, dark but sometimes truly startling and blissfully beautiful imagery — are the only way to see The Dark Knight Rises. The screen almost fills your eye-lines; the images are super-richly detailed and fantastically sharp.  I’m no particularly big fan of much 3D, even at its best (Hugo). But IMAX is something else again, a genuine leap forward, as we quickly see here.

IMAX, and the way Nolan and company use it, is one of the big, big attractions of The Dark Knight Rises. But so are Nolan and Company, the backstage and technical ensemble that includes his co-writer/brother Jonathan, cinematographer Wally Pfister, composer Hans Zimmer, editor Lee Smith, production designer Nathan Crowley and the visual effects and special effects supervisors Paul Franklin and Chris Corbould.

Also aboard for this $250 million roller-coaster ride (some new to the series, some not, some veterans of Nolan‘s last movie, Inception) are actors Christian Bale (as the damaged and reclusive Bruce Wayne, alias The Batman),  Anne Hathaway (as saucy cat burglar Selena Kyle, alias The Catwoman), Tom Hardy (as the brutal, wire-faced terrorist-killer Bane), Michael Caine (a real treat as the Wayne Mansion’s majestically sage butler/chauffer/philosopher Alfred), Morgan Freeman (as the Wayne Industries mastermind Lucius Fox), Gary Oldman (as the integral and vulnerable Gotham City Police Commissioner James Gordon),  Joseph Gordon-Levitt (as John Blake, the good cop and Batman fan), and Marion Cotillard  as the woman who might be Wayne’s savior (and more, if he‘s willing), Miranda Tate. (Hmm. Not Miranda Tautou?)

Everything becomes jaw-droppingly magnified in the huge IMAX images  — from the mid-air nightmare that begins the movie (a James Bond-style skyjacking episode, with the plane‘s nose sheared off and pointed skyward while villains climb the hull), to Bruce Wayne’s nerve-jangling ascent in the pit where he’s imprisoned by Bane, to the all-out terrifying terror-assaults by Bane on the Stock Exchange, the New York City bridge system and the N. F L. (Gotham City’s team are the Rogues)  and to the super-inflated, rip-roaring street races and chases, some of which look like The French Connection on steroids.

The plot is, at bottom, standard super-hero comic book stuff: Boy Meets Villain. Villain Bests Boy. Boy Bests Villain. (The fate of the world may or may not be hanging in the balance, depending on how ambitious the visual and special effects people are.) Here, Bruce Wayne is just about to emerge from eight years as a Wayne Mansion Howard Hughes-ish recluse (too long) after his loss, in The Dark Knight, of his beloved Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and after the death of Two Face, lawman/criminal Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), and the pariah status Batman received because of it. But, after an (also) eight year respite of criminal activity, hell is about to stalk Gotham’s (now Manhattan’s) streets once more, foaming at the mouth, spreading wanton destruction, and throwing out allusions to The French Revolution and Charles Dickens‘ “A Tale of Two Cities.” “It is a far, far better thing I do here than I have ever done…” (I like Memento better.)

Here, the Boss Villain is Bane, the ultimate terrorist, a bulked-up super-wrestler wearing a strange steel-wire-looking lower-facial contraption that makes him look like an insane hockey player (Jason’s coach?) — a cold-blooded murderer with eyes like chainsaws, heavy artillery at his side, and a voice like Darth Vader, gargling –sometimes Darth Vader trying to do a Sydney Greenstreet impression. (Actually, when Batman dons his sharp-looking black mask — so sharp that whenever he kisses Catwoman, you worry about him scratching her with his nose — he sounds like he’s doing a Clint Eastwood impression.) Bane is employed by a bunch of Wall Street Wolves, hot to take over Wayne Industries, but Bane is an unreliable employee and his larger plan is to plant a nuclear bomb somewhere in New York City, and otherwise wreak havoc.

Also around, occasionally illegal, but to our frequent delight, is the bouncy, impudent Catwoman (Hathaway, smoking). The good guys include Batman, Alfred, Lucius, Gordon, and Blake the cop, and other cops. (At times, Nolan puts more beat cops on the street than Buster Keaton did in his Cops.) The bad guys include Bane and his Mercenary (Josh Stewart), the Wall Street Wolves and the rest of Bane’s gang, including all the felons he lets out of prison. The gals are Catwoman and Miranda. But it’s more Boy Meets Villain…

2. The Fall


The acting here, especially Michael Caine’s, is the kind that’s sometimes called almost too good for a movie like this, or better than a movie like this deserves. But doesn’t the fact that we say things like that indicate that we’re looking for something more than even this exciting movie and these top-notch actors and movie people are giving us? Caine plays his two big scenes with Christian Bale beautifully, with the floods of emotion an Olivier or a Richardson might have brought to a film of Chekhov or Shakespeare.  The others are often almost as good — or at least good enough, as good as they have to be, and maybe better. But where is our Chekhov, our Shakespeare? Worse than that, where’s our Casablanca? We’ve got our Bob Kane, our Stan Lee. But, if those other guys showed up at the studios now — or a Griffith, or a Welles, or a Kurosawa, or a Bergman, or a John Ford, or a David Lean — you get the idea they’d be dismissed, pityingly, as terminally unhip.

By the way, the fate of the world, or at least the fate of Gotham City — and maybe tomorrow the world — does hang in the balance. Gotham City quakes. Well, what did you expect as the closer: a wrestling match between Batman and Bane in Gotham Central Park, followed by an Insider Trader’s Ball at Gotham Lincoln Center?    I told you this movie cost 250 million smackers.

Was it worth it? Financially, no doubt. Artistically maybe. It’s a great comic book movie. But how many comic book movies, let alone great ones, do we really need? Wouldn’t it be better, or just as good, artistically and maybe even financially, to try to make more movies like the greater and more realistic and more humane movie epics of the past: Lawrence of Arabia, Gone with the Wind (without the racism),  All Quiet on the Western Front, Apocalypse Now, Seven Samurai, The Leopard, The Searchers, Bondarchuk’s complete Russian War and Peace, or that fantastic, poor, mad, money-losing masterpiece (and prayer for peace) Intolerance? Or, more recently, The Lord of the Rings? Movies with spectacle and scripts, action and ideas, adventure and humanity?

Anyway, if we get many more comic book movies, and we probably will, it’s obvious that people like Nolan (and Company) should be making them — or, better yet, Nolan-with-a-sense-of-humor (and Company).  That said, the ending here sure makes it look like the head filmmaker of The Dark Knight Rises has finally had enough of this gig, at least for now. So. Rise, Batman, rise. Bane be gone. And Catwoman, you’re a doll.

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2 Responses to “Wilmington on Movies: The Dark Knight Rises”

  1. djiggs says:

    This review is the perfect example of why you have and will continue to be my favorite movie critic. I first started reading your work when you took over as chief film critic of Chicago Tribune in 1993. One of my first thoughts was “who was this guy taking over for the beloved Gene Siskel?”. I slowly warmed up to you especially after reading your 1993 Oliver Stone “Heaven and Earth” print interview & 1993 Best list where you talked about the mega list of films/directors/actors/cinematographers that you and your fellow critics at LAFCA and NSFC would use to refresh your memories during voting. I became a lifelong fan with your 1994 “Forrest Gump” print review. I loved your print retrospectives of Clint Eastwood, the top 30 films made from 1966 to 1996, why 1962 was the greatest movie year, why Robert Duvall’s work in “The Apostle” was one of the top 10 American leading performances of all time, Kubrick’s career, etc. I still have in storage those Tribune paper sections with those articles because I enjoy reading the work. You have been my best teacher in appreciating the infinite dimensions of film. Thank you for continuing to be a source about the wonders of film with such wise adult perspective.

  2. Mike Wilmington says:

    Thanks a lot. Critics do appreciate getting a good notice.


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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon