I don't know what to make of "The Dark Knight Rises." A part of me wants to love, love, love it, just like the initial time I watched "The Dark Knight." But second thoughts turn into quibbling. Which turns into nitpicking. Which then becomes self-destructive.
Let's first be clear: Christopher and Jonathan Nolan have created a riveting comic book/superhero trilogy for the ages. Immensely brooding, hypnotic, engrossing. The Nolans' take on Batman is, as a whole, celluloid masterpiece. All three films are a perfect reflection of our present era of faint hope amid cynicism, discontent and bleakness. Each movie explored crucial philosophical themes.
But where we geeks and non-geeks alike reveled in the near-movie perfection that lies between "Batman Begins and "The Dark Knight," it's human nature for expectations to be raised way too high.
What have we really expected from "The Dark Knight Rises"? Something somehow more than "The Dark Knight?" Something that matches our love for all or specific arcs in the Batman comics past and present? Something that exceeds Heath Ledger's mesmerizing portrayal of The Joker?
It's not all that dissimilar from the range of emotions that many of us geeks held prior to the release of "The Phantom Menace." We had built up two whole decades worth of hopes, expectations and fanboy dreams in seeing what new technology-driven "Star Wars" world George Lucas could deliver in the digital era. Ultimately, aside from a few scenes of sheer joy in "Revenge of the Sith," the second "Star Wars" trilogy was a downer.
Here with "The Dark Knight Rises," we've had four years to digest what TDK gave us. Each teaser, rumor and interview brought us fans an equal amount of anxiety and excitement. A few days since my initial viewing, "The Dark Knight Rises" is a rousing, super-epic, unnerving, relentless finale to the Nolans' Batman trilogy. It caps one of the great film trilogies. It's grim, well-acted, bold, ambitious, awe-inspiring. It provides a decent send-off, if that is really the case, for our friends.
It also - not surprisingly - leaves things open to a fourth installment and/or possibly a link to a Justice League flick, which – given the way things are going with DC Comics movies lately – may not come for at least a decade.
Alas, enter the second thoughts, quibbling and nitpicking. For all the amazing set action pieces the Nolans have provided throughout the trilogy, there are a few moments of bewilderment -- yes, even for a comic book adaptation (beware spoilers):
* Wow, an armed three-month occupation of a major city by a small hodgepodge of armed criminals and hybrid Occupiers/self-proclaimed freedom fighters?
* None of Bane’s guys caught that camouflaged Batcopter atop the roof?
* The same siege that's essentially supposed to leave Gotham City to wither doesn't seem horrible, not when cops in hiding are still able to meet each other in daylight to lay out plans for insurrection. They seem fed and clothed. So does most of the remaining population. And hey, if the U.S. government can send in a relief convoy (occupied by Special Forces members) with relative ease, things can't be that bad.
*Did Bruce Wayne really have a terrible background check for his employers?
* Bruce Wayne is an injured recluse, is able to walk with a robotic leg brace, then gets his back, umm, bent (not broken) by Bane, and then is able to escape what is pretty much the Lazarus Pit, a brutal prison that only Bane is said to have escaped as a child?
I do assume Bruce Wayne, once he's financially wiped out, still has plenty of contacts and favors to cash in around the world. Otherwise, I'm not sure how he covertly returns to a Gotham City under siege, from India, in a matter of days after being literally broken and imprisoned for weeks. (A-ha! Superman or Green Lantern could've given him a lift to the states. There you go, DC and Warner Brothers. I just gave you a connection to big-screen Justice League.)
*John Blake instantly recognizes Bruce Wayne as Batman, when almost nobody else in Gotham City does for years? Dude is gonna make an excellent detective. Hell, he might make a better sidekick/successor to Batman. He should just go by his middle name, Robin.
Sure we can, yes, quibble whether this would be Robin from the comics or a new creation by the Nolans – and perhaps a collective, subtle “screw you” to Warner Brothers. You decide.
Speaking of the ending, that too inspires great debate. Which film entry has the strongest final scene? Batman Begins finished with a flourish, with Jim Gordon and Batman discussing escalation in crime and alluding to The Joker arriving on the scene. The last scene in TDK was astonishing, the ultimate cliffhanger as Gordon talked of Batman being a dark knight, of being Batman being hunted down by the police. Geek giddiness. The end of TDKR almost spoils everything leading up to it.
And shall we mention a lot of the film's first half seems rather tedious - too tedious - in its build-up. I almost feel George Lucas could've inserted the banality of dialogue and plot contrivances from his newer "Star Wars" trilogy rather easily here.
I admit Tom Hardy breathes life - no pun intended - into a solid villain, Bane. It makes us almost forget the atrocity that was Bane of "Batman and Robin." By no means does he surpass Ledger's Joker. Anne Hathaway does a great job as Selina Kyle/Catwoman, but she still remains below a slinkier performance by Michelle Pfeiffer in "Batman Returns."
However, Bane and Catwoman's true motivations and machinations are muddy at best. Their decisions and revelations seem, at times, rushed and oddly out of place. Perhaps the bigger challenge/problem for the Nolans was to include so many great, strong individual performances in a grand-scale finale. But that's a dilemma common to most trilogy finales. (See "Spider-man 3," "Return of the King" and "Return of the Jedi".)
There are a few moments of levity in TDKR. Very few. Fewer than I expected. Of course, I knew this film would be just that, a film with a scattershot of worthy peers, larger than life. TDKR is the perfect foil to the lighter, more amusing superhero/comic book blockbusters this summer, "The Avengers" and "The Amazing Spider-man." But like with Alfred the butler reaching his limit to which he's willing to see a self-sacrificing Bruce Wayne, the last of the family he's served and loved nearly all of his life, there's a limit of drab that TDKR breaches.
"The Dark Knight Rises" is a spectacular piece of movie-making and the Nolans and David Goyer are to be commended for bringing this iconic version of Batman to the big screen over the past seven years. But at the end of this "film," I still feel disconnected from the psychologically nightmarish world that Ra's al Ghul and The Joker attempted to bring to Gotham City in the previous two films. Near-near-perfection is what I'll have to settle for.
Additionally, I don't know what to make of the Superman teaser, "Man of Steel." Half of geeks want Zack Snyder to succeed; the other half wants him to flop on his face. There is a risk in having other DC Comics heroes "Nolan-rised," as seems to be the case with this reboot of the Clark Kent origin story. "Superman Returns" under Bryan Singer wasn't horrible. Not at all. But be patient: Maybe in a sense, "Man of Steel" will be this generation's "Superman the Movie.” It might be our "Batman Begins." We can only hope.
And now I've come to the hardest part of my blog. Talking about "The Dark Knight Rises" here makes me recall monitoring Twitter early on the night of July 20. Looking for remarks from anyone who had seen midnight showings of TDKR. But sleepiness fast took hold and off to bed I went. I woke up late in the morning, about 9 a.m. That's when I saw my best friend's text messages about what happened in Aurora, Colorado just a few hours prior.
I didn't know Jessica Ghawi well. I wish I had. I had only talked with her briefly a couple of times in person, more so on Twitter. I loved her unbridled love for hockey and her humor. I enjoyed listening to Jessica's adventures/misadventures as she interned on Ticket 760 radio. Her microphone mishap at a Rampage game entertained me to no end.
That's one of the many things that family and friends remember best about Jessica: Her lust for life. Even in a moment of self-proclaimed silliness or embarrassment, Jessica shook it all off, carried on and learned from her mistakes. She smiled and laughed. She was serious about her professional and personal dreams, about wanting to help others. Her enthusiasm for life, friends, family and fun was infectious. A force of nature, if you will.
On a family trip, I missed the memorial service for Jessica last weekend here in San Antonio, but I caught bits and pieces thanks to online live streaming and later news recaps. Through those summaries and the interviews with her brave brother Jordan and pals who knew her best, in the hours and days following the tragedy, it's unfortunate I didn't have enough time to get to know Jessica better. I wish I had.
But Jessica's friends and family are correct: We don't dwell on the poor excuse for a human being who's taken away 13 innocent lives and destroyed so many families. We can't let win through fear. We instead celebrate the lives of those lost. I'm choosing to focus, like Jessica, on a pursuit of happiness in life. I aim to do my best to efficiently spend every waking moment trying to achieve my dreams, to help others in need and enjoy all that I can in this life. Hope you will, too.