One of the best examples of a reboot in cinematic history, Christopher Nolan’s Batman Trilogy comes to an end July 20, 2012.  As sad as it will be that it has ended, it has been a historic masterpiece and one wonderful ride.  The best thing it did was to cleanse the visionary palate of a public that had to put up with a quartet prior movies that seemed like a good idea at the time, but have not aged well at all.  That was another time and another place.  There is no point in rehashing the sins of the 90’s version of Batman, other than to say that this series cemented Bale, Oldman, Ledger and quite likely Hardy as legends and established Christopher Nolan as a director with a one of a kind vision, style and technique that is at once classic and unprecedented.

Batman Begins – 2005

Directed by Christopher Nolan
Starring Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Katie Holmes, Liam Neeson, Gary Oldman, Cillian Murphy, Morgan Freeman, Tom Wilkenson
Screenplay by David S. Goyer

Review: A movie that gets better with repeated viewings.  Nolan takes an unorthodox approach in the first half of the film, going back and forth in the life of the young Bruce Wayne, thereby avoiding the typical feeling of an origin story.  Bale is more than up for the task of playing both an overzealous young man and an older, more cautious Wayne. All the while, he is able to toss off the irresponsible persona with the irreverence it deserves.
The rest of the cast is top notch, starting with Michael Caine as a caring yet lethal Alfred.  Katie Holmes gives a straightforward portrayal as Rachel, with the requisite arm’s length chemistry in her relationship with Bruce.  Freeman as Lucius Fox and Oldman as Gordon are performances that push this saga from comic book movie to dramatic adventure.  Neeson and Murphy give an excellent combination of brute force, guile and intelligence.  While Ra’s al Ghul (Neeson) has his reasons for megalomania, that he is the head of an order dedicated to chaos prevents it from becoming silly in the slightest. The drugs that the Scarecrow pushes have a type of brilliance, allowing for monstrosity, while keeping it in the realm of the possible.

The plot is well conceived and thought through.  The direction is pristine, evenly-paced, and actors, even those against type, allowed to shine without becoming grotesque embellishments.  Nolan took this task as seriously as anyone could, and we all benefit from it.

What we’ll miss most:  Freeman’s role goes from jailed genius to co-conspirator, to friend then head of the enterprise.  His smile in the conclusion is enjoyable in the way it shows his entire journey and has not one hint of malice.

Rating: (***** out of *****)

The Dark Knight – 2008

Directed by Christopher Nolan
Starring Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhardt, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman, Eric Roberts
Screenplay by Johnathan and Christopher Nolan

Review: There is an intense, propulsive beat through the opening cords of the film that never really let the viewer go.  Grabbing the imagination of the viewer through sound and an amazing optical feast that served as an excellent lead-up to his best movie, Inception. Everything about this film ups the ante from the original, from the acting, the direction, the score to the story that just keeps pushing the characters to the brink and beyond.
Eckhardt attacks the role of Harvey Dent with an earnest ferocity that belies the story’s comic book roots.  His dedication is real…but then, so is the dedication of The Joker, in a career making (and pretty much career ending) portrayal by Ledger.  What seemed like ridiculous casting when announced turned out out to be the move that made the series the finest superhero set of all time, provided the last one doesn’t blow it completely (not likely).  Ledger posthumously nabbed an Oscar, with his winsome, warped and completely different examination of the other side of the “freak” that is Batman.
“I’m not a monster,” he states with aplomb, ” I’m just ahead of the curve.”
Cue music, a siren score of increasing ferocity.  The end is near, but not near enough.  What follows is intense, but not nearly as intense as everything that follows the explosion.
So powerful is the story, it overcomes the few weaknesses of the film.  Gone is the effective Katie Holmes as Rachel.  In her place, Maggie Gyllenhaal, who just doesn’t cut it. Smug and smarmy where Holmes was dedicated and forward, Gyllenhaal is almost entirely comprised of nuance.  What is needed is something substantial as the rest of the film.
How in the hell did Eric Roberts get a role in this film?  His Sal Maroni is about as close as the series get to having a character of the caliber of the Burton / Schumacher films.  Even worse, now he gets to go around the talk show circuit, acting as if he has even a small part in the success of this enterprise.
Nolan and his brother carry out so much more than the sum of its parts, though.  It’s power and grace are majestic in scope and execution.  The IMAX scenes are seamless and beautiful, and the story is beautiful too.  Sadly so.

What we’ll miss most: I think it is obvious that Ledger left an indelible mark that can never be touched again.  I hope for the best for Hardy, and I think he will deliver.  It’s impossible to see him topping this.

Rating: (***** out of *****)

The Dark Knight Rises – 2012

Directed by Christopher Nolan
Starring Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Anne Hathaway, Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Screenplay by Jonathan and Christopher Nolan

Review: Here

What we’ll miss most: The whole series will never be topped.  Too many things to choose.

Rating: ****1/2


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