By an unhappy coincidence, I saw “The Dark Knight Rises” about nine hours after the mass shooting in Colorado during the midnight showing. The darkness of that act kept intruding into the darkness of the film, director Christopher Nolan’s third (and final?) working of the Batman story. Its immediate predecessor, “The Dark Knight,” is probably best known for the late Heath Ledger’s chilling, mesmerizing portrayal of “The Joker,” a hard act to follow for anyone.
Unfortunately, this one doesn’t quite come up to that standard, its several strengths notwithstanding. Christian Bale’s wounded, brooding Bruce Wayne may be the most intriguing reading of this deeply conflicted character, who has developed into something considerably more than your standard comic book hero. He is again ably supported by veterans Michael Caine (as Wayne’s butler, Alfred), Morgan Freeman (as his financial manager/armorer Fox), and Gary Oldman (as police commissioner Gordon). And Anne Hathaway turns in a surprisingly effective performance as jewel thief Selena Kyle, aka Catwoman (though she is never called that here).
Cinematographer Wally Pfister and film editor Lee Smith get plenty of chances to show off their skills, as they did in the first two in the series; so does Hans Zimmer, reprising his signature themes—though I could have done with the volume being turned down from 11 every now and again. (The sound quality sometimes obscures what might have been some excellent dialogue, for all I know.) Nathan Crowley’s production design is more gritty and realistic than before, which is fitting for a story that uncomfortably mirrors the reality outside the theater doors.
Joined again by his younger brother, Jonathon, Nolan has written a screenplay that takes too full advantage of the nearly three hours running time affords. (It doesn’t hurt that Nolan also is one of the film’s producers.) One might be able to assume that everyone who sees #3 has also seen #1 and #2--but one shouldn’t. After all it’s been seven years since “Batman Begins,” almost as many years as Bruce has sealed himself away from the world as this movie opens. So some of the references to, say, the Legion of Shadows, may not resonate as they did back then. Even Nolan’s bringing back Liam Neeson from #1 for a quick review won’t clear up the uncertainty for those not addicted to the series.
Other questions remain, such as why Bane, a villain who looks to have honed his criminal skills in ultimate fighting and the weight room, hates Batman with such a passion. Or why the Caped Crusader has sulked in his tent (i.e., Wayne Manor), taking the fall for having killed Harvey Dent (see #2), the crusading district attorney turned maimed fiend, without explaining why he did so. Or why Bane lets all the convicts jailed by the Dent Act out of prison when he intends to nuke Manhattan and the surrounding fifty miles.
There is also some confusion about Nolan’s thematic intent. Does he sympathize with the plight of “The 99%” whom Bane unleashes? Or does he abhor the Robespierrean excesses that follow, destroying the structure of the city—physical and political—and generally threatening chaos beyond Gotham City? Bane even trashes an NFL game, for crying out loud! Is nothing sacred?
Nolan throws in a number of twists at the very end, raising some intriguing possibilities of the sort that often get tacked on at the end of the credits. (Don’t bother waiting: there ain’t no more.) Two of them involve Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a cop from Brooklyn and Marion Cottilard as a wealthy ally/lover of Wayne. I won’t spoil the fun, other than to say that they leave a door or two open for the trilogy to become a tetralogy.
It’s pointless to quibble about what has been the summer’s most anticipated movie: no film critic’s mild strictures will hold back the hordes of viewers that have been itching to see the Dark Knight rise. It’s rated “PG-13” for violence and some implied sexuality. There will remain larger questions about the ultimate social impact, attempts to connect the dots of the terrible occurrences within the theater in Aurora to the violence on the screen. There will doubtless also be debate (again) about our sacred right to carry assault weapons. But that’s the stuff of another column or two. (As a footnote, I recommend a piece David Graham wrote for the Associated Press for a balanced approach to the weekend’s events.)