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(This one is long and detailed; major spoiler alert)
When Bruce Wayne was a child, he fell down a chilly well,
And bats flew all around him, sparking panic and nightmares.
His father came to rescue him, explaining why he fell,
To learn to rise again as one of Gotham’s billionaires.
An opera they attended scared him, prompting them outside,
Where Chill, a desperate thug, shot both his parents but was caught.
Years later, one Falcone, a crime boss whom Chill defied
Had Chill killed, beating Bruce, who wanted justice done (he thought).
Bruce spoke with smug Falcone, who said Wayne did not “get” crime,
So Bruce departed secretly and lived like felons do.
But now Ducard gives Bruce a better outlet for his time,
To train with Ra’s al Ghul and battle fears he must subdue.
Bruce conquers guilt and fear of bats thanks to Ducard’s routine,
Excelling as a ninja on the Eastern mountainside,
But when he learns this League of Shadows wishes Gotham clean,
To purify by killing, he resists his former guide.
He fights the master Ra’s al Ghul, who’s killed within a fire,
But Bruce saves Ducard’s life and leaves him with a man to stay.
Then Wayne returns to Gotham, for his training helped inspire
A plan to battle evil in a much less lethal way.
He finds beneath his parents’ mansion bat-infested caves,
Which he at once remodels as his base of operations,
And Lucius Fox provides, in case some sinner misbehaves,
A hard, protective suit, as well as more high-tech donations.
At last, the Batman’s ready to contend with Gotham’s scum
And captures smuggled drugs, as well as old mob boss Falcone.
But there’s one Dr. Jonathan Crane who frequently has come
To court to plead insanity for every gangster crony.
He does this through a gas that makes the men hallucinate
And brings to life horrific fears that turn them all insane.
When Batman gets a breath of it, it almost is too late,
But Lucius and the faithful butler Alfred rescue Wayne.
With Fox’s antidote, Bruce tries to figure Crane’s designs,
But his old girlfriend Rachel beats him to it, though unwise.
She sees fear poison’s being dumped in Gotham’s water lines,
And Rachel gets some gas herself and nears her own demise.
But Batman gets her out of there with Sergeant Gordon’s aid
And drives a bit destructively to save her life in time.
He gives her extra antidote so that more can be made,
But Alfred’s getting troubled at how Bruce is fighting crime.
At Bruce’s birthday party, he comes quickly face to face
With old Ducard, who wants revenge, for he is Ra’s al Ghul.
Al Ghul burns down the house and has a city to erase,
Which he intends to do with his most recent stolen tool.
A microwave emitter taken from Wayne Enterprises
Ra’s uses to evaporate the city’s water store,
Releasing all the gas so when the populace arises,
Their terror will destroy each other in an inner war.
As chaos reigns and convicts run amok out on the street,
The Batman chases Ra’s upon an elevated train.
While Gordon takes the Batmobile and blasts the train’s supports,*
Bruce battles with his mentor, whom he saved before in vain.
Yet Batman flies away this time and leaves al Ghul to crash,
Averting more destruction had the train continued on.
The city’s saved (to some extent), but still there’s human trash,
For many criminals, like Crane, escaped and now are gone.
As Bruce rebuilds his mansion, fortifying the foundation,
Where no one knows his secret, save his butler and girlfriend,
A Joker has arisen, product of an escalation
That threatens Gotham City, but the Batman will defend.
The Joker’s on the rampage, stealing money from the mob,
A homicidal maniac who’s letting chaos reign,
But DA Harvey Dent is Gotham’s white knight for the job.
He’s fighting crime in ways that are respected by Bruce Wayne.
For Batman’s done his service, but he’d rather allow Dent
To prosecute the legal way with no need for a mask.
Dent’s also drawn in Rachel, causing Bruce to still lament,
But he and Gordon let Dent join them in their secret task.
A Chinese businessman named Lau is working with mob bosses,
Protecting all their money by escaping to Hong Kong,
But Batman has no jurisdiction and recoups his losses
By spiriting Lau back to Gotham, where he’ll play along.
The mob is desperate for some help and turns then to the Joker
To rid the town of Batman lest more obstacles occur.
The Joker then fills his new role as Gotham’s power broker,
By killing both a judge and the police commissioner.
He tries to take out Dent as well and Rachel by extension,
But Batman saves them both but lets the Joker get away.
When Gotham’s mayor’s targeted, the center of attention,
Lieutenant Gordon saves him but is killed to Dent’s dismay.
The Joker says that more will die if Batman doesn’t act,
Revealing who he really is, and Bruce is tempted to,
But Dent comes out and claims that he’s the hooded man in fact
And gets himself arrested, even though it isn’t true.
When Dent is off to prison, Joker follows for the kill,
But Batman saves the DA (though the Batmobile is toast).
He stops the Joker cold, and Gordon comes back for a thrill
To catch the laughing nutcase as a very living ghost.
They’re glad that he’s in custody, but he seems self-composed.
It seems that Dent and Rachel Dawes have somehow disappeared.
The Batman pounds the Joker for their place to be disclosed,
But Joker poses him a choice, the worst that he has feared.
For he can rescue only one before they blow sky high
And tries to go for Rachel, but he ends up saving Dent.
Police are too late saving her, and she’s the one to die,
And half of Harvey’s face is burned, which he comes to resent.
The Joker also got away with Lau in his possession.
When one of Wayne’s employees claims he knows who Batman is,
The Joker threatens hospitals to stimulate aggression
And get the town to kill this man and this secret of his.
When Bruce and Gordon save his life, a hospital is blown,
But not before the Joker frees a crazed and vengeful Dent.
The DA targets crooked cops and gangsters to atone
And lets a coin toss choose their fates to punish and torment.
The Joker next takes aim at ferries and the people’s will.
With criminals on one and all civilians on the other,
He gives them each a detonator for the other’s kill
And plans to kill them both if they do not blow up their brother.
The Batman fights his henchmen, who are not quite what they seem,
Confronting Joker high above the scene of anxious stress.
The people on the ferry don’t give in to Joker’s scheme,
And Batman hangs him up to dry but will not kill the pest.
He next goes after Harvey, who has Gordon’s wife and son
And plans to take revenge on those who didn’t kill his love.
They try to reason with him, but his mind is too far gone,
And Batman tackles Two-Face, who then falls from high above.
With Dent, the city’s shining hope, now made a villain, dead,
The Batman says he’ll bear his crimes to let the city cope.
As Gordon praises Harvey, lying as the Batman said,
Bruce Wayne retires cape and cowl, preserving Gotham’s hope.
Eight years have passed since Harvey Dent met his untimely end,
And in his name, the city’s cleaned itself from filth and crime.
Yet evil still is brewing, though the city’s on the mend,
And masked guerilla Bane waits underground to bide his time.
The Batman’s still retired, since he took the rap for Dent,
And Bruce Wayne is less agile, not the man he was before.
He meets a fair cat burglar, robbing him at an event,
But this Selina Kyle seems to covet something more.
She sells Wayne’s fingerprints in hopes of getting a device
To wipe her from all databases, granting a clean slate.
The deal turns sour when the buyer will not pay her price,
And when police come, Gordon’s caught by Bane, who lies in wait.
Though Gordon flees and is discovered by policeman Blake,
Bane finds a note revealing Gordon’s Dent-exalting lie.
The fiend attacks the stock market to wipe out Bruce’s stake,
And Batman un-retires to arrest a lone bad guy.
Bruce lets Miranda Tate, a lovely woman on his board,
Take over his whole company before a rival does.
This rival’s worked with Bane, who doesn’t act nice when deplored
And plans to be more lethal than the Joker ever was.
Though Alfred won’t approve of Bruce’s comeback with the cape,
Wayne listens to Miss Kyle to unearth Bane and attack.
Still hoping for that clean slate, she traps him with no escape,
And Bane confronts the Batman and breaks both his will and back.
Bane takes him to a foreign prison, deep within a pit,
To let him watch as Gotham is destroyed (or will be soon).
Then Bane takes over Gotham with a bomb to threaten it,
Employing Batman’s weapons to enforce a foul commune.
He corners all policemen underground and traps them there,
While forcing quarantine of Gotham City or else BOOM.
Meanwhile, in his prison, Bruce receives some painful care
And learns that Ra’s al Ghul’s offspring escaped this pit of doom.
He heals and trains for several months to climb out of the jail,
And somehow gets to Gotham, where the bomb will detonate.
He teams with Blake and Gordon, who have been on that bomb’s trail,
And frees the trapped police to battle Bane, who’s captured Tate.
Police and convicts clash as Bruce again confronts his foe
And bests Bane and demands to know who holds the hidden trigger.
Then Tate reveals that she in fact is Talia al Ghul so
She is the mastermind who climbed out of that prison’s rigor.
She leaves to detonate the bomb, which Gordon barely blocked.
Selina Kyle helps Batman and brings an end to Bane.
To their dismay, the bomb’s own timer has mere minutes clocked,
And ere she passes, Talia’s sure their efforts will be vain.
Since Batman knows what he must do, he uses his new plane
To haul the bomb across the bay, where it explodes apart.
The city’s saved, and Gordon sees the Batman was Bruce Wayne,
Who finally is honored as a hero from the start.
Though Lucius Fox believed the autopilot had been broken,
He learns that Bruce had fixed it ere his solemn sacrifice.
When Alfred is abroad, he sees a wish he once had spoken,
That Bruce would be there happy (with Selina), void of vice,
And Blake (or also Robin) gains the Batcave, free of price.

When Christopher Nolan began to reboot the Batman film franchise, no one knew how audacious the end result would be, a trilogy of dark, deeply layered superhero stories that transcended the camp and silliness of the original incarnations. Unlike many of the underrated films on my list, The Dark Knight trilogy had no trouble garnering effusive praise and is considered to consist of three of the best superhero films ever made. Rather than going for the humor and colorful characters (and entertainment value) of Iron Man or Spider-Man, Nolan and company created a weighty, brooding three-part storyline that takes itself wholly seriously, with the requisite glimpses of light and hope and victorious good to make it all worthwhile.

Batman Begins is quite the successful origin story, cementing all the main characters, Bruce’s reason for fighting crime, his relationship with villain Ra’s al Ghul, and the inception (insert Nolan joke) of the Batcave, Batmobile, and Bat-everything else. Unlike the obvious cramming of villains seen in Spider-Man 3, it pulls off the adroit introduction of Falcone, the Scarecrow, and Ra’s al Ghul as simply extra layers in Nolan’s trademark complex brand of filmmaking.

I can envision someone else playing Batman (I don’t know about Ben Affleck, though), but Christian Bale is the best of all of the actors so far. Gary Oldman isn’t particularly developed as Gordon other than being one of the few trustworthy cops, but he plays important roles in all three films, and Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox brought some much-needed humor and scientific experience to the proceedings. Liam Neeson goes against type as the villain Ra’s al Ghul and pulls it off better than I would have expected. Katie Holmes is the least successful of the actors, but she fills the role of Rachel well enough.

After hearing about the death of Heath Ledger and the extreme evil of his character the Joker, everyone seemed to be eager to see The Dark Knight, except me. Despite the exceptional reviews, it took me awhile to finally see the film, and, to be honest, it was good but not top 10 quality, as so many have said. Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning performance rivals the depravity of Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs, but I’m not in the habit of watching such evil for fun. I found the moral dilemmas he poses to the people of Gotham to be thought-provoking, as were the ethical ramifications of Bruce’s utilization of NSA-style spy equipment to protect the city. While Ledger made the role his own, just as Jack Nicholson did in the original 1989 Batman, I’ll always consider the best Joker to be Mark Hamill in Batman: The Animated Series, whose voice had the right balance of humor and villainous insanity. Aaron Eckhart was a much better Two-Face, though, than Tommy Lee Jones, and while his death was a tad anti-climactic, the statement about heroes living long enough to become villains was thoughtfully played out in his character. While it has its good points, The Dark Knight is the least emotionally involving (despite Rachel’s death) and my least favorite of the three films, due to its oppressively dark tone and the head-scratching ending, with Batman’s acceptance of Dent’s crimes for the sake of “hope” making little sense to me. (I will expound on that in a later post.)

Strangely, unlike the critical majority, The Dark Knight Rises is my favorite. Rather than the chaos of the Joker’s anarchic “plot,” we’re back to Batman preventing the more straightforward destruction of Gotham City, while retaining the intricacy and twists and turns of Nolan’s past films. Tom Hardy is chillingly menacing in a very different way than the Joker, again creating a much better version of the character Bane than the one in Batman and Robin. Unlike the constant shadowy cityscapes of The Dark Knight, this one also has a better balance of environments, including a daytime football stadium and a foreign prison (The Dark Knight never even visited the Batcave). Anne Hathaway is an outstanding Catwoman, and her moral ambiguity is better handled than similarly conflicted characters.

Though I’ve failed to mention him thus far, the best actor of the whole cast is Nolan favorite Michael Caine as butler Alfred Pennyworth, whose scenes hold more emotional weight than everyone else’s put together. His few scenes in The Dark Knight Rises are testaments to that. Also, (Lost alert) Nestor Carbonell, who played Richard Alpert on my favorite show, plays Gotham’s mayor, and Brett Cullen (Lost’s Goodwin) has a bit role in the third film as a kidnapped congressman.

Ignoring the dark tone of the films, the visual effects are truly impressive. From the train finale in Batman Begins to the overturned truck scene in The Dark Knight, the filmmakers created some great action sequences and explosions, while mostly avoiding the bombast of the Marvel films.

My VC had set ideas about what to expect from a Batman movie and did not care for Bruce’s aimless wandering and his ninja training that took up the beginning of Batman Begins. The first two films weren’t her cup of tea, but she at least liked the third film as well. Though she couldn’t get into Nolan’s impressive work, I admire many of his artistic touches as well, such as the pit-like prison in the third film being analogous to the well Bruce fell into as a child. Overall, The Dark Knight trilogy does not include my favorite superhero films, just as Batman isn’t my favorite superhero, but it’s a praiseworthy achievement that will be hard to top, even if further Batman films arise.

Best line: (Alfred, after young Bruce falls in the well) “Took quite a fall, didn’t we, Master Bruce?”  (Thomas Wayne) “And why do we fall, Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.”

Artistry: 10
Characters/Actors: 9
Entertainment: 8
Visual Effects: 10
Originality: 8
Watchability: 6
Other (dark tone, violence, language): -5
TOTAL: 46 out of 60

Next: #165 – What’s Up, Doc?

© 2014 S. G. Liput

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