The Dark Knight Rises

It’s been four years since Christopher Nolan’s superhero masterpiece, The Dark Knight, came flying onto the big screen grossing over $1 billion in box office revenue. To say the The Dark Knight set the bar high for the superhero movie genre would be a bit of an understatement.  Not only did The Dark Knight leave comic book fanboys in awe, Nolan’s film achieved storytelling feats no other superhero movie to date has been able to do. The Dark Knight became far more than just your average popcorn flick about a man in a cape smashing and blowing things up. It explored themes as heady as the institutional corruption of the modern American city, the nature and utility of law and order, and the ethical and moral dilemmas encountered when pure evil rears its ugly head and the good guys seemingly have no good answers.

With all that in the rear view mirror (not too mention the late Heath Ledger’s stellar performance as the Joker), a follow-up film seemed destined to crack under the weight of the franchise’s own success and expectations. When Nolan announced he would indeed direct a third film to complete his Batman trilogy, fans everywhere were thrilled and uneasy of what would come. Sure, Nolan teamed with his brother Jonathan and writer David Goyer hadn’t let audiences down yet. But how long could they keep that streak going? Failure, or at least, mediocrity (which may be worse) appeared ready to cap off one of the most successful and critically respected superhero franchises in history. Fortunately, The Dark Knight Rises doesn’t disappoint.

Jumping ahead eight years following Batman’s epic confrontation with the Joker, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) finds himself still grief stricken following the death of love interest Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and has donned the reputation of a reclusive eccentric. Wayne Enterprises is financially crumbling both due to inattention on the part of Wayne and the failure of a fusion reactor project undertaken by Wayne Enterprises and the company held by Wayne Enterprises board member Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard). Wayne has also retired from his days as the Caped Crusader as a result of taking the blame for Harvey Dent’s death as well as physical injuries that have left him decrepit.

While Batman is gone, Gotham City now finds itself largely in a state of peace due to the implementation of the Dent Act. Passed out of reverence for the late district attorney turned Two-Face, the Dent Act’s series of new police powers have allowed Commissioner Gordon to essentially wipe out organized and violent crime in the city. While Wayne and Gordon’s plan has worked to save Gotham from its rampant crime problem, both men find themselves living under the crushing weight of perpetuating the lie of Dent’s innocence and heroism and storm clouds appear almost as quickly as the movie begins.

While Gotham City seems safe and sound, a confrontation between an infamous cat burglar named Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) and Bruce Wayne leads Wayne to suspect something sinister is on the prowl, drawing him out to again wear his famous black suit while, at the same time, an investigation begun by a Gotham City police officer John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) into the death of a teenager brings Commissioner Gordon face to face with the movie’s main villain, Bane. Almost as quickly as the movie begins, the fireworks start to blow leaving Batman and Gotham’s finest struggling to understand just what the psychotic Bane wants with the city of Gotham and how just to survive his seemingly unstoppable strength and cunning. As the movie heads towards its finale, the twists and turns will leave you guessing just where Nolan is going to take you.

While The Dark Knight Rises doesn’t quite live up to The Dark Knight’s high brow pondering nor the film’s carefully crafted, almost symphonic delivery, it compensates with a thrilling pacing that completely engrosses you as quickly as you sat down in your seat. If you were someone who felt The Dark Knight took itself a little too seriously, Nolan tones things down just enough to find a sweet spot for you in the trilogy’s finale. Still, this is well-polished and substantive cinema at its best.

The acting this time around is extremely good. Bale, Caine, Freeman, and Oldman all offer great performances on par with their earlier work. Anne Hathaway’s performance as Selina Kyle/Catwoman avoids all the cheese and kitsch of former manifestations while adding, along with Freeman’s Lucius Fox, just the right amount of comic relief to keep the film from traveling too far down the darker side of things. Marion Cotillard, as usual, plays her role as Miranda Tate with a poise and class rarely seen from today’s actresses. Tom Hardy plays his role as Bane with a frightening ferocity that leaves the viewer truly questioning whether the good guys can really come out on top. But the best performance comes from Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s John Blake who plays a once orphaned street kid turned Gotham City police officer. Gordon-Levitt deftly gives audiences a character they can relate to: a heroic everyman whose thirst for justice leaves him asking just what is the right thing to do inside a calloused and corrupt society.

All in all, this is simply the best movie of the summer. While The Avengers was good fun all the way around, The Dark Knight Rises gives audiences the perfect balance between sweet and substance. The acting and directing are first rate, and the story gives a satisfying end to the Nolan Batman trilogy. While I’m sure Warner Bros. won’t let the Batman cash cow sit for long, Nolan gives audiences a movie that completes his vision and will long be celebrated for its artistic vision. Hats off, Christopher Nolan and company. Well done.





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Due Date

When I saw the previews for director Todd Phillips’ Due Date, it looked pretty obvious what I was getting myself into. On the surface, Due Date appeared to be a 21st century reboot of the 1987 comedy, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, starring Steve Martin and John Candy. Planes is a classic. Martin and Candy are comedic legends. Trying to update a great film (even if they aren’t explicit about it) is always tricky business and rarely a good idea. Still, the previews, the re-teaming of Zach Galifianakis and Phillips, and the inclusion of Iron Man sucked me into believing it would be worth seeing. Sure, Due Date was sure to have its quirks. But coming off Phillips’ surprise hit The Hangover, it didn’t seem reasonable to think with Downey Jr. on board Due Date wouldn’t be another pleasant surprise and a interesting twist on old favorite. Sigh. While premise wise Due Date is almost a carbon copy of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, Due Date derails (sorry, had to use it) somewhere between Alabama and the Grand Canyon.

Due Date is the story of workaholic Peter Highman (Downey Jr.) and his misadventures with fellow traveler Ethan Tremblay (Galifianakis). Highman is on business in Atlanta and needs to get home for the birth of his first child across the country in L.A. Normally just a few hour flight away, Highman is kicked off his flight and placed on the nation’s “no-fly list” while his bag and wallet are carried off on the flight without him. With few options and only five days to get home before the birth, Highman is offered and accepts a ride by a strange co-traveler, aspiring actor Ethan Tremblay. Let the hilarity ensue! Kinda…

To be fair, Due Date is not without its moments and Downey Jr. and Galifianakis do seem to have some comedic chemistry. Still, it seems most of the comedic set-ups and gags are wasted on the lowest common denominator, which becomes endlessly frustrating as the movie continues to develop. So many potentially hilarious moments are cut short or never develop at all just so that Galifianakis can do something completely over-the-top and bizarre. Sure, the thirteen year-old kid who snuck into the theater sitting behind me thought it was funny. But it’s not what I was hoping for.

The movie’s most glaring flaw comes in the form of the relationship that develops between Downey Jr. and Galifianakis. In Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, Candy and Martin develop a friendship that comes across as heartfelt and genuine in the movies final scenes. In Due Date, the friendship between the movie’s two leads seems bizarre and forced. I’m still scratching my head as to why Downey Jr. ever develops any sort of affinity towards Galifianakis other than the periodic drug usage that occurs during the movie. Galifianakis comes across as so over-the-top and sometimes downright disgusting that there is no conceivable way anyone in their right mind would be able to put up with him for five minutes let alone five days. That’s what was so brilliant about Candy’s character in Plains, Trains, and Automobiles. He is an everyman, an annoying and attention starved everyman, but still an everyman. Candy strikes the right balance between endearing and irritating. Galifianakis leaves us only with absolutely strange to the point of ludicrous.

In the end, Due Date was a serious let down. Sure, I laughed at times. But what could have been a nice update of a classic turned into a sophomoric affair. To say cheap gags and middle school boy humor abounds in this one is an understatement. This one might be worth a rental but definitely not worth the price of seeing it at your local megaplex. In fact, it might be more worth it to look up your local listings and see if the old John Candy and Steve Martin flick is on somewhere. It probably is, and it’s free and far more enjoyable.


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Rating: 3.5/5 (2 votes cast)