Dark Knight fades
Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy loses its way in finale
I have to say, despite a nearly three-hour running time, The Dark Knight Rises manages not to overstay its welcome. Unfortunately, it also never rises to meet the potential set up by director/writer Christopher Nolan’s first two entries in the trilogy. Taken as a whole, his fascinating narrative arc matches the epic sweep of Coppola’s The Godfather trilogy, but like The Godfather Part III, Nolan’s Batman conclusion sputters in comparison to its predecessors—going off with the muffled bang of a wet firecracker. It really doesn’t resolve all that much, feeling merely like an extension of the second entry rather than a satisfying conclusion in itself.
If you’re content with turning off the brain and coasting on spectacle and nostalgia, then DKR will probably deliver. But if you require a competent narrative to go along with the eye candy, then Nolan’s innate weakness as a writer will consistently hobble the show. While inarguably a gifted stylist, Nolan’s scripts are notoriously full of plotholes big enough to flip an 18-wheeler. With Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, these weaknesses were overshadowed by inspired performances and Nolan’s determination to prove that a comic-book movie doesn’t need to be kids’ stuff. But here, while the pacing is brisk, the whole is oddly lacking the Wagnerian bombast of the first two.
And there is a lot of talking. If you suffer short-term memory loss, then this is definitely your bowl of medicine, as between the bursts of mayhem the cast pauses to iterate and re-iterate plot points while Hans Zimmer’s propulsive score saves the movie from stopping dead in its tracks. It’s a convention lifted from the comic books, where a balloon of exposition spares the reader a few panels of static space in a limited format. The conceit doesn’t translate well to film. Don’t tell. Just show.
While Nolan’s approach is to ground the Gotham City proceedings in a reality as tangible as any other familiar real-life American city, he still clings to a comic-book casual disregard for grounding the narrative. There are more than a few times when the story makes outrageous jumps. I mean, just exactly what was the villainous plot supposed to achieve? Roll in a neutron bomb that’s set to go off in five months? The waiting period just seems like a lazy way of giving breathing room to another plot point. And there was no context given to the results. I don’t need a detailed portrait of what exactly the civilians of Gotham were doing in those five months, but some casual brushstrokes would have been nice.
Worse, none of the villains rises to the level of Heath Ledger’s Joker or even Aaron Eckhart’s tragic Two-Face. As Bane, Tom Hardy does the best he can with his eyes and mannerisms, but his Yoda-esque lilt is further hobbled by a mask that muffles his voice (and the clarity of certain plot points). And all Anne Hathaway’s turn as Catwoman provides is an excuse to include her action figure in the marketing and prove that her ass looks nice in pleather.
On Batman’s side, Morgan Freeman as Fox is squandered, and the only purpose Michael Caine as Alfred the butler serves is to fill in for the traditional girlfriend role by expressing reservations about the hero’s agenda. Joseph Gordon-Levitt serves absolutely no narrative function here other than to scuttle around waiting for the moment when he gets to reveal who he is for the inevitable next entry. Which was actually a disappointment, as I hoped that Nolan was playing for higher stakes. He wasn’t.
I was also hoping he would tie the Bane Occupy Wall Street figurehead/terrorist stuff into the Bruce Wayne billionaire/Batman dichotomy, but he never really fulfills that promise. He evokes the subtext of fascism, but never overtly addresses it.
Long story short: The sporadic action is entertainingly action-y, although delivered without inspiration. The Dark Knight Rises isn’t a bad time. It’s just not a good movie.