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‘The Dark Knight Rises’

Audience:
A-III – Adults

 

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Comic book hero for adults only

(Editor’s note: While we acknowledge the tragic events in Aurora, Colo., related to this movie, and pray for the victims and their families, the real-life evil acts of one person should not be allowed to figure in the critical assessment of the film itself.)

Paradoxically, sometimes success at the box office can turn out to be a burden for a movie director. Having created one popular picture, Hollywood helmers can find themselves faced with impossible expectations for the sequel.

That problem is especially acute in the case of Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy, of which “The Dark Knight Rises” (Warner Bros.) is the final installment. Given that the feature stands in the shadow of 2005’s successful reboot of the franchise, “Batman Begins,” as well as 2008’s “The Dark Knight” – a film described by some critics as one of the greatest movies of all time – the question arises: Can the director and co-writer (with his brother, Jonathan Nolan) make lightning strike thrice?

The answer is neither a conclusive yea nor a definitive nay. While this lavish closing chapter will certainly delight the Caped Crusader’s dedicated fans, more casual viewers may find its 164-minute running time bloated and unwieldy.

Set eight years after “The Dark Knight,” the latest adventure finds Batman’s alter ego – billionaire Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) – injured, exiled and grief-stricken. The events of the previous film have not only deprived him of the company of his childhood friend and love interest, Rachel Dawes, they’ve also made him an enemy in the eyes of the police and the public at large.

Yet, on cue, Wayne and his Batman persona find themselves pulled out of retirement. Initially, that’s due to the arrival on the scene of slippery cat burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) – a morally ambiguous character out to pilfer Wayne’s jewels and flirt with him at the same time.

But it’s the aptly named terrorist mastermind Bane (Tom Hardy) who really forces Batman to don the cowl once more. In the face of his criminal onslaught, the cops – led by jaded commissioner James Gordon (Gary Oldman) – fall to pieces, despite the dedicated efforts of idealistic Officer John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt).

Hardy’s Bane, a worthy successor to Heath Ledger’s show-stealing Joker in the previous movie, seeks to claim the city of Gotham on behalf of “the people,” thus providing a violent fictional twist on the real-life Occupy Wall Street movement.

Although Nolan’s visual style favors the bombastic set piece, his screenplay evinces a surprising amount of humanity and emotion. Especially so as it shows us the protagonist’s touching relationship with long-serving butler Alfred (Michael Caine) who acted as a father figure to the young lad after Wayne’s parents were murdered.

These personal touches accompany a message about self-sacrifice that makes more explicit than ever the altruism that has always characterized Bob Kane and Bill Finger’s comic-book creation – who made his debut on the printed page in 1939. Batman’s rejection of anger and revenge – as well as his refusal to employ unnecessary violence in fighting crime – are also emphasized. So too, of course, is his desire to do good.

Nonetheless, the bone-breaking nature of the mayhem on display excludes the youngest batfans, who would also likely find their attention spans taxed by the lengthy proceedings. Some parents may, however, deem “The Dark Knight Rises” acceptable fare for older adolescents.

The film contains frequent and intense action violence, including gunplay, an implied nonmarital encounter, a few uses of profanity and some crass terms. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III – adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 – parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

(By Adam Shaw, Catholic News Service)

‘The Watch’

Audience:
O – Morally Offensive

 

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Don’t bother to ‘watch’ this gross flick

Director Akiva Schaffer’s comedy and science fiction mix “The Watch” (Fox) was originally titled “Neighborhood Watch.” But then real-life events intervened and gave us all the Trayvon Martin case to ponder.

Whatever else one makes of that incident, legally, politically or culturally, its status as a tragedy is undeniable. Thus the abbreviated title of the film is obviously both a necessary marketing stratagem and a gesture in the direction of good taste.

That’s about as close, however, as any element in this project ever gets to being tasteful, sensitive or restrained. For the rest, adolescent wish-fulfillment runs amok as the main characters form a four-way bromance, shoot up the bad guys and even get to glimpse an orgy.

The genre-blending premise that’s squandered is a potentially interesting one: After the night watchman at the Costco store he manages is mysteriously murdered, earnest suburbanite Evan (Ben Stiller) forms a ragtag team of neighborhood guardians to investigate.

Joining Evan on his crime-stopping crusade are happy-go-lucky family man Bob (Vince Vaughn), police department reject Franklin (Jonah Hill) and British-born square peg Jamarcus (Richard Ayoade). But this quartet of bumbling sleuths, and newfound friends, gets more than they bargained for when clues begin to suggest that the culprits behind the killing were other than human.

With that as their starting point, screenwriters Jared Stern, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg could have put the same kind of comic twist on extraterrestrials that 1984’s “Ghostbusters” gave to things that go bump in the night. Instead they deliver an endless stream of juvenile sex jokes and moments of brief but gruesome violence.

The foundering proceedings head to Marianas Trench-depth as scenes of group sex and other perverse activities are played for laughs.

The film contains a demeaning view of human sexuality, including the frivolous treatment of aberrant sex acts with gratuitous nudity, fleeting but horrific gore, about a dozen uses of profanity and pervasive rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is O – morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R – restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

(By John Mulderig, Catholic News Service)