Monday, 13 August 2012

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

I saw The Dark Knight Rises (Christopher Nolan, 2012) at a midnight screening on opening night, and I wasn't impressed. In fact, I fell asleep in the middle. That said, it was 2 AM and I'd been watching Batman for eight hours (they were showing Batman Begins and The Dark Knight beforehand, and I can't resist a movie marathon), so I thought I'd give the film another shot before I said anything mean on the internet. Now that I've seen it twice, though, I've made up my mind: The Dark Knight Rises may be enjoyable, but it's definitely disappointing. The film is smarter (not to mention longer) than most summer blockbusters, but it doesn't reach the bar set by Begins and TDK. This trilogy deserved a better finish.

Dancing cheek to cheek.
The Dark Knight Rises has the dubious distinction of being a Batman movie which features very little Batman. Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has holed himself up in Wayne Manor, Howard Hughes-style, and Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) is the first person to see him in eight years when she pops upstairs to steal his fingerprints and his mother's pearl necklace. Pursuing Kyle leads Wayne to Bane (Tom Hardy), but not in time to keep the masked baddie from imprisoning the entire Gotham police force and turning the city into a lawless no man's land (sound familiar?). Anarchy isn't what Bane really wants, though. Bane is with the nefarious League of Shadows, and what he really wants is to blow Gotham to smithereens: in fact, he's acquired a nuclear weapon for the occasion. Bane breaks Wayne's spine and tosses him into a Middle Eastern prison to keep him out of the way, but these are piddling trifles to Batman and soon enough he's back to save the day. This is accomplished through a large number of dull action sequences, and finally Batman and Catwoman are able elope to Europe (either that or Alfred [Michael Caine] is going senile). In the end, a young Gotham ex-cop (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is left to take over as Gotham's newest masked sheriff.

Many, many critics have identified the parallels between Bane's ragtag anarchists and the Occupy  movement (there's even a scene where Bane and his goons storm the Gotham equivalent of Wall Street, terrorizing the poor, helpless capitalists). Chris Nolan has been very coy on the subject, but he's not fooling anyone. This movie's politics are abhorrent, not because they're conservative but because they're cheap. Think about the function of the nuclear bomb in this movie: why does Bane need it if Gotham's common folk will tear each other apart in the absence of the law? TDKR's nuclear MacGuffin exists so that Nolan doesn't have to follow the logic of Bane's "villainy", and Batman's "rescue" to its inevitable conclusion: that Batman must save Gothamites from a world without prisons, police, and the Patriot Act (which the film renames the Dent Act for easier digestion). In essence, he must save the people of Gotham from an enemy worse than the Scarecrow, Two-Face, or even the Joker: themselves. Some studio bigwig must have clued in that this was a moral which mere commoners might find unpalatable, and demanded that the nuclear weapon be added in as well just to make it really clear that Batman was the good guy. Ain't nobody gonna argue with a nuke.

I'll let the Green Arrow handle this one.
Even apart from its politics, The Dark Knight Rises retains the weaknesses of the previous two Dark Knight movies without retaining their strengths. Bloated runtime? Check. Hokey script? Check. The B-movie tricks Nolan puts his A-list actors through here are cringe-worthy. Michael Caine is made to deliver a bathetic monologue to a grave marker. Gary Oldman is made to spend three quarters of the film gasping pithy truisms from a hospital bed. Marion Cotillard is made to die very slowly while delivering death-rattle exposition. It's like watching race horses being forced to give pony rides. And unfortunately, the dark realism that sold Nolan's previous films is on shakier ground here. Between his ridiculous mask and his shallow motives, Bane never quite makes it out of comic-book territory. Additionally, the mask muddies his dialogue: since Bale's bat-rasp is back full force, "dramatic" conversations between the two verge on incomprehensible. Also, why is it that every time Bruce Wayne leaves America, it's suddenly Batman in Clicheland? I've counted exactly four geographical locations in The Dark Knight universe: the Middle East, the Far East, Russia (where they make ballerinas), and Gotham. TDKR's treatment of Talia (Marion Cotillard) and Bane's far-off origins reminds me a little of the "filthy Eastern ways" gag in Help! (1965), but Richard Lester was playing it for laughs and Nolan apparently means us to believe that there's a prison somewhere out there that is literally just a huge hole in the ground. How can anyone be expected to take this seriously? What happens when it rains?

This review is harsher than I meant it to be. The Dark Knight Rises isn't bad. It's maybe a 3/5. But it could have been so much more. As far as the Seven Stages of Grief go, I'm still in the "bargaining" stage with this movie. If there had only been a better script... if they'd edited more tightly... but no. The Dark Knight Rises is what it is: a sprawling, grim, and perhaps deliberately inflammatory finish for an equally dark, and often equally exasperating, series. I saw Batman Begins five times and The Dark Knight six, but with The Dark Knight Rises, I think I'm gonna stop at two. I've had enough Nolan for a while.

SCENE STEALER: Anne Hathaway's wonderful Selena Kyle (she's never actually called Catwoman) is the high point of this movie: the only bad thing about the character is that she's underused. If every second of the usually riveting Marion Cotillard's screen time had been given to Hathaway instead, the latter would still leave us hungry and the former would hardly be missed. Kyle is wry, self-aware, and instantly more sympathetic than the film's ostensible hero -- when she warns Bruce Wayne that he's "going to wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us," you not only believe her, you kinda look forward to it, too. I'm glad to see that the Catwoman character has not, after all, been forever tainted by you-know-what-movie (Batman geeks: the healing process may now commence).

1 comment:

  1. I only just watched TDKR and came back to re-read this, and I think a 3/5 is staggeringly generous. Rises is an appalling movie. You're on point for the lion's share of the review, tho.