Bane of existence

The Dark Knight Rises

Batman beating up on Bane. Obama beating up on Bain. What a week!

Batman beating up on Bane. Obama beating up on Bain. What a week!

Rated 3.0

No wonder Bruce Wayne retired from being Batman. Everybody wants to psychoanalyze the guy: his butler, his burglar, his nemesis, his police commissioner, even the members of his company’s board. Among other things, he is accused of pretense and, perhaps worse, of “practiced apathy.” Well, it was a double identity, and a dubious one, after all.

Anyway, it’s only a temporary retirement (at least until it becomes permanent), and at the outset of The Dark Knight Rises, it’s more or less mandatory; the hero’s city, historically rather preoccupied with mask-wearers and turncoats, no longer trusts him. But that’s just all the more grist for director Christopher Nolan’s mill: Two films in the rebooted Batman franchise already behind him and still with so much more head-shrinking to do.

In Nolan’s estimation, The Dark Knight Rises, this grand trilogy capper, requires two hours and 44 more minutes of duking and talking things out. And it takes so long because screenplay co-writers Nolan and his brother Jonathan Nolan like to get into some back story, and then revise it while we wait. Fortunately, they understand that sometimes it’s fun being inside a movie for so long. Even one so tense, huge, noisy, dark and unswervingly glum as this.

For the casual viewer, familiarity with the ins and outs of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight is not required; Nolan, scripting again with his brother Jonathan, seems glad to summarize: It’s about power, justice, virtue and philosophical challenges thereto, not to mention the aesthetics of the summer-blockbuster set piece.

Many helpful signposts abound, some of them in human form: the butler played by Michael Caine, the burglar played by Anne Hathaway, the commissioner played by Gary Oldman. The nemesis in this case is a respirator-faced hulk called Bane, and played by Tom Hardy, who here resembles Darth Vader without his helmet, or an uppity BDSM man-slave with vengefully revolutionary ambitions. Backed up by a squad of glowering thugs, he’s the tea party multiplied by Occupy.

That mouth cover is meant to be menacing, but mostly just makes it hard to see his face or hear what the hell he’s saying. “Thashah dobetayu bekosth abe longeume,” for example, is his rendering of “The shadows betray you because they belong to me.” (Thank you, Internet, for that translation.)

Bane and Batman have a personal trainer in common, and it shows when they get to fighting. The fighting is like the dialogue: labored, with most natural movement restricted by so much preliminary suiting up, and a lot of people—extras, the audience—waiting around for the blows to land. They do land, at least, sounding like bombs.

Speaking of stuff blowing up, Bane’s agenda includes a lot of that, not least a 4-megaton time bomb. Also there are hostages at the stock exchange, a few ransacked mansions, and most of Gotham’s police force trapped underground. Heavy stuff. Not just any old immersive experience, The Dark Knight Rises comes with a promise to its audience: As a graphic novel enlarges the scope and seriousness of a mere comic book, so a Christopher Nolan film should exalt the summer superhero movie. And with the likes of The Avengers and The Amazing Spider-Man getting so cheeky, so loopy, Batman must once and for all reassert his solemnity. The pleasure, however preposterous, is in Nolan’s dedication—creating, maintaining, and to an extent defending a universe in which people still take this stuff very seriously.

In addition to some familiar figures from the other two thirds of the trilogy, Nolan also seems to have brought in half the cast of his other self-analyzing action flick, Inception. The most promising of these is an eager beat cop played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, looking good and growing into the movie as it grooms him—but for what? Well, now let us reflect on how everything that rises must converge, and how, over the last few films, Christian Bale has grown into those dubious double-identity heroics of Bruce Wayne. When he finally does retire for real, who’ll take over for him?