The Dark Knight Rises
This is it, the opening that superhero fandom has been awaiting with bated breath for years: the conclusion to Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. What started with Batman Begins and swelled to unprecedented heights in The Dark Knight concludes with The Dark Knight Rises. And — well, I really hate to say this because it’s called down such bile onto other critics — it’s just not very good. At two hours and forty-five minutes it’s a lumbering, blundering behemoth of a film with none of the subtlety, nuance, or intricacy we know Nolan and his brother Jonathan are capable of. And while there are no stunningly obvious plot holes — blatant factual errors aside — it just doesn’t make any sense or fit in with anything outside itself.
It’s eight years since Batman stopped the Joker and Harvey Dent. At the end of the last story, he took the blame for Dent so that the former DA’s image could be used to ram through a Patriot-ish act giving Gotham’s police the powers they needed to clean up the city’s streets. Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has become a recluse in his mansion, attended only by Alfred (Michael Caine); Lieutenant Gordon (Gary Oldman) has become the police commissioner, and he picks out rising star officer John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) to work with him.
But all is not well after all; did you really think it would be? Wayne Enterprises is stagnating, and one of the board members tries to stage a coup. He hires cat-burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) to steal Wayne’s fingerprints to make fraudulent stock trades to ruin his fortunes, while at the same time employing a mercenary as an enforcer. This proves to be a mistake, since the mercenary — the super-strong Bane (Tom Hardy) — has plans of his own.
Bane has a fantastically gothic back-story, being born in and subsequently escaping from a third-world hellhole of a prison. He claims to be fulfilling the plans of others who have tried to destroy Gotham City, but in practice the footsteps he follows are more those of Tyler Durden. He isolates the city and holds it hostage with a hydrogen bomb, declaring that he is returning it to the people. This plunges it into an anarcho-communist parody of Reagan-era horror stories about the conditions in Soviet Russia, right down to a kangaroo court meting out punishment on the bourgeoisie, led by none other than the unmasked Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy), ratty suit and all; fear literally establishes itself as the new order. But Bane and the rest of the core cast know that the bomb will go off of its own accord in time, rendering the whole exercise a bizarre, five-month farce.
Nolan must be credited with some fantastic visuals, but they’re fewer and further between than in his previous efforts. Thankfully there’s no extended chase scene like in The Dark Knight, because Nolan still can’t direct coherent action worth a damn. The real disappointment, though, is the truly awful, ham-fisted writing. The first ninety minutes alternate between set pieces and stupefyingly long chunks of awkward exposition, each one a neon sign screaming out the important plot points contained therein. Acting-wise there’s not much anyone can do for good or ill; they just have to come off as earnest and possibly constipated, which they generally do. The only real exception is Caine, who descends into such self-parody that I have to believe he knows how much he’s embarrassing himself.
Still, what ultimately lifted The Dark Knight up was its themes; Heath Ledger’s Joker set out to strip the thin veneer of civility from the city and prove how savage we all are underneath, only to be caught unprepared when the common people — citizens and criminals alike — actually banded together for the common good. Here, all that is thrown out in favor of a right-wing fantasy of power and martyrdom. I know that the story draws many of its points from Frank Miller’s 1986 miniseries Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, but the tone draws its influence from the present-day Miller’s vitriolic rants against the Occupy movement.
This time around, the Joker was right after all: society really is just waiting for the excuse it needs to break down and give in to its selfish urges, and those who seek to allow that breakdown of the state’s authority are secretly conspiring against the people to lead them to their own destruction. The common people are selfish, stupid lambs to be led to the slaughter by the promise of finally eating the rich, and all that stops this moral apocalypse are the brave, powerful men who are willing to do whatever it takes — including overstepping the legal bounds of authority — to preserve order.
The ideas are childish fantasies; the dialogue and narrative structure are terrible; the action is less coherent than the plot; the imagery is disappointing. Nolan’s turn at the helm goes out not with a bang, but a whimper, and a really long, drawn-out one at that.
Worth It: if you’re really invested in the series by now, go on and finish it out. Otherwise, don’t bother.
Bechdel Test: fail.