Friday, July 20, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (Christopher Nolan, 2012)

Picking up eight years after Batman (Christian Bale) takes the blame for district attorney Harvey Dent’s misdeeds, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES finds Gotham City free of organized crime.  Batman has vanished from the public eye.  Bruce Wayne has become a recluse in his stately manor.  

When a cat burglar posing as a server steals a pearl necklace and Bruce’s fingerprints from his supposedly uncrackable safe, he’s stirred from his self-imposed seclusion to learn more about and confront the thief named Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway).  She means him no harm.  Selina is in desperate need of having her identity cleared from all records and is assured she can get it for providing Bruce’s identifying marks.

Selina warns Bruce that bad times are on the horizon for Gotham City.  Indeed. Terrorist leader Bane (Tom Hardy), a beefy brute whose face is mostly covered with what looks like a high tech ball gag, is assembling a small but loyal underground army to foment a revolution that he promises will return the city to the people.  The time has come for Batman to resume his public service.   

Whether it’s the chronological reversal in MEMENTO, the artful trickery in THE PRESTIGE, or dream layering in INCEPTION, Christopher Nolan’s films boast complicated narrative architecture yet lay out detailed blueprints to follow.  The director, who co-wrote THE DARK KNIGHT RISES with brother Jonathan Nolan, is less successful navigating the way through his final Batman trilogy entry.  Perhaps all of the dots in the first two films connect in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, but grasping the totality of Nolan’s vision is a challenge short of rewatching BATMAN BEGINS, which receives numerous key callbacks.  As these comic book films become more intertwined, whether in their own dense mythology or across a series of franchise movies, the point has been reached where it would be helpful to get a footnote-intensive fact sheet along with the ticket.   
THE DARK KNIGHT RISES isn’t left wanting for ideas and artistic relevance to current events.  The 2008 financial crisis, Occupy Wall Street, government-sponsored torture, tribunals, the surveillance state, and the war on terror are referenced and mirrored in the film’s reality, but these subjects are commented on in such a muddled manner that their inclusions primarily amount to buzzword-dropping rather than cogent commentary. Post-9/11 conflicts are addressed most thoroughly, if unexceptionally.  Where prior Nolan films have resembled elegant mathematical proofs, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES looks like trial-and-error calculations scribbled on a scratch pad.  

Nolan makes the serious miscalculation of hiding the most expressive part of the villain’s face.  Whoever was following Heath Ledger’s Joker in THE DARK KNIGHT was liable to compare poorly among Batman nemeses, but Hardy, limited to his eyes, muscular torso, and voice, doesn’t have a chance to engage in a fair fight.

Hathaway’s Catwoman fares better in that she contributes a welcome dash of humor. As butler Alfred, Michael Caine’s watchful concern for Bruce brings the depth of feeling to an emotionally chilly film.  The opening sequence aboard a CIA extraction flight gone wrong as it attempts to leave Uzbekistan delivers a flashy action setpiece that the remainder of THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, encumbered with scenes of talky exposition, fails to match.  

Shortcomings and all, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES remains a fascinating film, albeit one that suffers from an excess of ambition and deficiency in unifying its objectives with clarity.  Nolan and editor Lee Smith keep the proceedings moving even when it seems as though the film is bogged down in yet another plot payload transfer.  THE DARK KNIGHT RISES builds to a rousing concluding act without the safety net typically assumed with franchise pictures.  Considering its narrative and tonal risks, it’s just disappointing for a filmmaker of Nolan’s caliber to conclude the trilogy with what plays like a bloated middle installment.
Grade: C+

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