Monday, July 2, 2012

The Dark Knight vs. The Dark Knight Rises

On July 20 the wait for The Dark Knight Rises will be over. But can the final installment of director Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy rise above and beyond the standards set by its predecessor, The Dark Knight? Boasting popular and critical acclaim, including a score of 94% on Rotten Tomatoes, The Dark Knight cannot be topped easily. Here are five things the third film in the trilogy needs to have in order to rise above its predecessor.

#1 - Superior Action

This should be the least difficult task for The Dark Knight Rises to accomplish. The introduction of both the sleek, nimble Selina Kyle and the massive, brutish Bane guarantees the bashing in of at least a few dozen heads. It doesn't hurt that Nolan’s Oscar-winning director of photography Willy Pfister recently announced that The Dark Knight Rises will feature 100 minutes of action including chase sequences, battles in both the sky and on the street, and plenty of close-quarter combat. If The Dark Knight Rises lacks for anything, it won’t be speeding vehicles or fight scenes.

It's clobberin' time.

#2 - Superior Acting

This will probably be the most difficult challenge of all. Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and Gary Oldman all improved from Batman Begins to The Dark Knight, and they will likely continue to improve. However, The Dark Knight has an ace (or perhaps a Joker?) up its sleeve in the form of Heath Ledger. Ledger gave the performance of his life (literally) to bring Batman’s greatest adversary to the big screen. Tom Hardy, who plays Batman’s latest foe Bane, has proven himself a capable actor in past productions, but will need to truly knock this performance out of the park to stand even a slight chance at competing with Ledger.

(Too soon?)

#3 - Superior Supporting Characters

Heath Ledger’s Joker stole the show in The Dark Knight with his chaotic schemes, darkly humorous bravado, and disturbingly nihilistic tendencies. The Dark Knight also benefited greatly from the presence of Aaron Echkart’s Harvey Dent, Gotham City’s district attorney and resident White Knight-turned-disfigured-and-murderous-madman. Dent’s fall from grace was compelling and his arc nicely complimented Batman’s own character journey. Taking the place of the Joker and Harvey Dent will be Bane and Selina Kyle. The former of these two is known to pack a lot in the way of both brains and brawn, thus promising to be quite the formidable foe. Less is known about Kyle. It isn't particularly clear if Kyle will primarily function as her alter ego Catwoman or not. Assuming that Kyle and Catwoman are synonymous with one another, it still isn't clear how she would relate to the story. In the past Kyle has been portrayed as a sort of anti-hero frenemy of Batman. Her inclusion in this final installment is a wild card and The Dark Knight Rises could be made or broken by how this wild card is played. Unfortunately, director Chris Nolan has a bit of a reputation for being incapable of using female characters well. One of the only characters to receive significant amounts of criticism in both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight was Rachel Dawes, the series’ primary love interest and virtually the only high-profile woman in the series, who Nolan failed to make interesting or notable even after a noticeable swap in actresses to play the role. Hopefully Nolan will be more successful in working with Anne Hathaway, the actress set to play Kyle.


#4 - Superior Story

Both of the predecessors to The Dark Knight Rises exhibited some really great storytelling. Origin stories, when made correctly, can be a lot of fun to watch, and Batman Begins does not disappoint in this regard. The Dark Knight connected with audiences incredibly well on both a thematic and emotional level. The Dark Knight Rises must do the same if it wishes to impress. Many speculate that the storyline of the last installment was inspired by the classic “Knightfall” arc. In “Knightfall,” the inmates of Arkham Asylum manage to escape with the help of Bane, who wishes to test Batman. Eventually Bane comes to rule Gotham’s underworld after literally breaking Batman’s back, but is eventually taken out by a figure called Azrael. It seems unlikely that “Knightfall” will be followed detail for detail, but the basic idea of Batman being challenged more than he has ever been previously and brought down to a new low as a result is likely to be kept - a promising premise, to say the least.

Probably and unfortunately not appearing in this film.

#5 - Superior Star

In the end it all comes down to the star of the series - Batman himself. Watching Bruce Wayne become Batman in Batman Begins was great. Perhaps even greater was to see Batman face the dilemmas foisted upon him by his greatest adversary to date, the Joker, in The Dark Knight. The true success or failure of The Dark Knight Rises rests on whether or not it can bring a satisfying end to the character arc of Batman that the previous two films started.

Of course, if Batman is a drag, there's always Edgar Wright's take on Antman to look forward to!


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