The Dark Knight Rises
Where’s the Batmobile?!
Starring: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy
Review written by Robert Patrick
The brooding, downtrodden, emotionally eviscerated Bruce Wayne we have become so familiar with in the universally heralded Christopher Nolan reboot finds himself even worse off in The Dark Knight Rises, the final pillar in the Batman franchise’s acropolis. Since the barbed events of the last film, the masked crusader has hung up his weathered suit in favor of a life of seclusion. Wayne (Christian Bale) hasn’t been seen in eight years, leading many to believe that the business magnate has gone Howard Hughes, complete with Nasferatu-like nails and a beard reminiscent of Grigori Rasputin (really, like most depressed people, he has only grown a mid-nineties baseball player goatee). Here, in the musty halls of the once spruce Wayne manor, we begin the final chapter of the thorny series.
Nolan, who directed the first two Batman features, constructs the atmosphere with pulpy abandon. There are plenty of grays, blacks, off-whites and marble blues in the film that are indicative of both Gotham’s and Bruce Wayne’s shattered psyche (or something existential like that). In The Dark Knight Rises, the charismatic, crinkled madness of the Joker has vanquished into the background of the narrative. The city’s newest heavy is Bane (Tom Hardy), a juiced up, masked behemoth that has the mind of a megalomaniac genius. His voice is raspy, deliberately muffled by the odd breathing device fastened to his face’s framework. Where the Joker was maniacal, daffy, and whirring, Bane is borderline inert, monolithic, and stoic. In Joel Shumacher’s atrocious Batman and Robin, Bane was a stammering, hulking beast that did little other than waddle and let out primordial growls. Here, there is an actual brain inserted into that Sherman tank of a body that Bane skulks around in. In addition to the aforementioned threat to Gotham, there is a spurious servant, who purports to be well intentioned, but whom is actually a cat burglar named Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway). The agile thief has a cloaked moral compass, as you might guess, and moves in serpentine ways around the city.
While the tenuous calm of Gotham is trembling from Bane’s nefarious plans, we are introduced to a police officer named John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and a doe-eyed philanthropist named Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard). While Bruce Wayne ambles around in depression like a loose limbed marionette, Blake and company attempt to patch the hull of Wayne’s sinking mind. Nolan films the scenes of emotional torture and spouting flames with his brand of technical precision. Sometimes the lofty expectations of the third film manage to get the best of the auteur, but he still manages to carry his directorial baton with white knuckled confidence. There is a tangible sense of dread that Nolan is so good at creating, and in The Dark Knight Rises you can feel the venom dripping off of the film’s dewy fangs. Still, some of the film is pockmarked with zingers that you would find in a mid-eights Arnie film. Altogether, however, it’s difficult to rap the hand of Nolan for inoculating the action sequences with flurries of guffaws; it is, after all, a comic-book movie. To make The Dark Knight Rises too academically dramatic would lasso some of the soul of the franchise. The film works best, though, when a cocktail of seriousness and doubt inundates the characters, the screen, the audience. Slivers of hope fleck the screen, but ultimately the cloven hooves of darkness gallop over the reels – this is definitely not a light hearted foray into the sunset.
The Dark Knight Rises is a good film, there is no question, but to say it’s without flaws is to admonish truth. Running at a bloated – some may argue necessary – 165 minutes, the film trumps the length of a David Lean epic (The Bridge Over the River Kwai finds the finish line faster than Nolan’s latest opus). Given there is a lot to address in the blistering, chaotic, ribcage pummeling conclusion, The Dark Knight Rises could still be trimmed of some of its fat. Aside from some of its indulgent posturing, some of the casting is awkward. Matthew Modine plays deputy commissioner Peter Foley in the film with a sort of frozen stare that you would see on a tiki statue. Anne Hathaway, despite all of her slinking and squatting, looks perfectly maladroit in her skin-clinging costume. For someone playing a stealthy, sexy pickpocket with dialogue sharper than a guillotine, Hathaway looks unsure of herself and completely disassociated with the material. Her movements look constricted, forced, nearly Tin Man-like. And most upsetting of all, Tom Hardy, who played a bullish and looney convict in Bronson, has so little to do in The Dark Knight Rises there could have been any beefed up actor beyond the robotic muzzle attached to his mug. The malnourished charisma between the primal Bane and the emotionally maimed Batman lacks the crude whiplash seen between Heath Ledger’s manic, unhinged Joker and Batman’s skewed inner workings. Where there should be repugnant, boisterous exclamation marks with razor wire wrapped around them, there is instead a droll ellipsis until the next interaction between good and evil begins.
Even with the myriad of problems in the movie, The Dark Knight Rises is a technical exercise of great depth and courage. The film itself will not be the figurehead of the series, but that’s not to take away from the fiery climax that is Nolan’s newest picture. The camerawork snaps and the sound clatters in a way that you would expect from the franchise. The star of the film, really, is the sound editing and the special effects. The action is always filmed with a palpable kind of energy that has framed the drama of the dialogue, and the score, here by Hans Zimmer, doesn’t embellish the chaos so much as support it. Looking back, at a series now completed, Nolan has crafted one of the most influential superhero franchises in the history of film. Once you throw the flaws of the series overboard like a ship’s ballast, it’s easy to acknowledge that Nolan has turned a genre that was once smitten with wonky innocuousness into a serious, respected place – and for that he should be commended.