The Dark Knight pushed the mythos of Batman into the stratosphere, creating an army of followers who react angrily to any criticism of their film with a mixture of venom and close mindedness that makes religious fanatics seem rationally open to discussion and reason. The Dark Knight was a good film, half an hour too long with a spectacular performance from the late Heath Ledger as the Joker, a flip side to Batman who wreaked havoc with abandon. The Dark Knight Rises contains nothing as good as Ledger’s work (maybe Wally Pfister’s excellent cinematography?) but does provide a fitting (strangely open ended?) conclusion to Christopher Nolan’s trilogy of the Bat. Suffering somewhat from the problems of cramming everyone in and tying up loose ends that have beset many a third parter of a franchise, TDKR is a long, fiercely staight faced,epic superhero film that will no doubt prove as bulletproof and indestructible to it’s devotees as it screams past $1,000,000,000 at the box office. We are going to sling a few arrows it’s way anyway….
Batman is (and always will be) a pig of a roll, a thin metaphor for the darkness within us, a Jungian cipher of confused yearning and loss. Keaton jumped after two films, fed up of being upstaged by scenery chewing villains, whilst Kilmer and Clooner brought only a muddled woodeness to their crusaders. Nolan and Bale have improved him somewhat, adding complexities of purpose and a mixed morality to this incarnation of the vigilante. Where they have excelled is in their work on Bruce Wayne, troubled, wracked with guilt and decidedly humanistic, Wayne is an excellent portrait of a haunted-behind-the-eyes billionaire, Hughesian with a dash of a Kennedy about him. TDKR showcases him perfectly, locked away from the world, broken of body and possibly mind, Bale plays him drawn, haggard and lonesome,a tall, dark, Byronic figure with a past we all know, it’s fine work from the Welshman….
….which brings us to Bane, the nemesis, a primal block of crypto communist rage, kept alive via anaethetics pumped into his gigantic facial wound via an almost Vader like mask. Tom Hardy does his best (emoting the shit out of things with his eyes), but ultimately, like De Niro’s Capone in The Untouchables, it’s the weight gain that is the performance. Hardy has pumped up to a WWE level to play Bane, a man who’s special power appears to be punching really hard and suffocating anyone and everyone. In many ways, Bane is a worse role than Batman, fine in motion and violence, shots of an unmoving, eighty percent obscured face with a raspy, distorted, sometimes unintelligible, plummy, English accent screeching from the speakers are as bad as they sound.
Ignoring the two “showcase” parts is wiser. Joseph Gordon Levitt pulls on his deep voice shoes and performs admirably as a beat cop promoted to detective during the crisis. Anne Hathaway almost steals the film as Selina Kyle, a cat burgler treading a thin path of amorality. Oldman gets his east coast twang out and Modine provides a cowardly foil for Gordon Levitt to embarass. Elsewhere, a fine supporting cast, including Tom Conti as someone best described as “not English”, fill out CIA agents, thugs and money men, Morgan Freeman wears a bow tie with aplomb, Marion Cotillard wanders in from Inception and Michael Caine can’t stop giving speeches and crying.
It feel’s churlish to kick holes in a superhero flick but Nolan has infused his films with such an intelligence that this trilogy should be treated as more than a blockbuster designed to shift more Burger King meals. Any film with a budget the wrong side of $200 million that explores socialism, the 99% and Occupy Wall Street movements wants to be taken seriously (EBFS never, never wants Nolan OR Bale to do a comedy) which is where coincidence comes in. In a flawed yet majestically bruised narrative, coincidence just keeps rearing it’s ugly, lying head. Televisions spray out useful information at perfect times (a classic movie trope), people are ALWAYS in the right place at the right time, the Batwing is accessible every time something needs blowing up and by the time Bruce Wayne travels from a dusty faraway land back to Gotham, sans passport, money, food or any obvious way back into his city to locate Selina Kyle ON THE STREET intervening in a mugging all the fight to believe has taken a sharp exit.
The action sequences, spectacular dual plane opening aside, contain non of the verve or invention that made The Dark Knight so vivid. Nothing here compares to the bank heist or the truck flip from the previous film. The bike chase after the stock market heist is muddled and ponderous and an underwhelming introduction for the Batman after eight years in retirement, the Batwing ruins any tension by being a safety net after every fight (EBFS feels this whole “Bane” thing could’ve been sorted out if Batman NEVER left his stupid batcopter) and the total rip off of the Gangs of New York, stalking each other through a riot mess that precludes the finale between Bat and Bane feels cumbersome and unlikely in a gun heavy crowd. Inception’s hour long, three level, action packed finale feels fucking light years away from TDKR‘s attempts to shoehorn pathos and regret and pain into everything Batman does.
The Dark Knight Rises is epic, Wagnerian, movie making on an almost unprecedented scale. Kudos must go to all involved in even attempting such a venture and for bringing brains back to the multiplex. That it doesn’t quite work is a point to be debated but ultimately will prove futile as the Church of Batman grows in strength. At least until the inevitable reboot…..
Finally, Andrei Rublev is 174 minutes long, The Dark Knight Rises is 165 minutes in duration and no one even attempts to make a giant bell…
Agree? Then let us know, or check out the review by @noonanjohnc here.