The Dark Knight Rises . . . and Falls

The circus has come to town again. I mean that particular combination of spectacle and bombast that is a Christopher Nolan production, where concept is more important than character, and don’t look too closely at the concept or it will fall apart.


The Dark Knight Rises is the third in Nolan’s trilogy of Batman movies, which brought a much-needed redesign to what had become an undernoirished franchise. Once again, an arch-villain is about to take over Gotham City and, we assume, the world. Who can save us? Only The Batman. But like Achilles in the beginning of The Iliad, he spends the first act of the movie moping in his tent–er, I mean in his multi-million-dollar mansion.


Bane, the bad guy, is played by Tom Hardy, an excellent actor who plays his part with a swaggering menace. It’s a tall order to play a Batman villain after Heath Ledger’s bravura performance in The Dark Knight. But Hardy is up to the task. It’s a shame he has to play the part with half his face covered by a mask that looks like a carburetor cap and makes it hard to hear some of his dialogue. Hardy is so bulked up that the role might have been played by that big blue alien in Prometheus, or is that a body double?


The soundtrack itself is so loud that it overwhelms some of the dialogue. No matter. There are no memorable lines, just overly pointed exposition. The tone is all you need, and you can pick that up despite the sounds of explosions, gunfire, and the rampaging kettle drums of the score.

Things to admire:


The opening scene on the plane is a stunning spectacle, though when you think about it later, Bane had several far easier ways of getting what he wanted. 


The action scenes, the only real reason to see this movie, are crisply rendered and exciting.

Anne Hathaway plays a morally ambiguous cat burglar who may or may not be the Catwoman, which adds interest to the tired cast of characters. She’s so tough and wily that I wasn’t entirely convinced she’d be afraid of Bane. Or anyone.


Vexing questions:


If Batman is so against guns, as he takes time to tell Catwoman in the middle of a battle, what’s the purpose of all those cannons and missiles on his tanks and bat-copter? (Thanks to The Sleeper for this observation, who, by the way, didn’t sleep a wink.)


I won’t spoil anything here, but be sure to examine the rope-work in the pit scene. Some colossal silliness there.


The movie’s jammed with excellent actors, but most of them have little or nothing to do. Some, like Daniel Sunjata, Reggie Lee, Cillian Murphy, and William DeVane, have almost nothing to do and almost no screen time. 


Why do Bane’s bomb trucks take the same route every day? I’m no evil mastermind but it seems to me you’d want to mix up the routes a bit.

If Bane’s mask is preventing excruciating pain for him, wouldn’t it make sense to get the mask off him? I mean it’s only held on with rubber straps.


In such an overblown movie with so many spectacular chases and effects, did the final confrontation between good guy and bad guy really have to boil down to no more than a fist fight?

Coincidences run amok in this movie. Characters appear precisely where the plot requires them to be, even though there’s no discernible way they could know that’s where they needed to be. 


The space-time continuum is routinely toyed with, nowhere so much as when Batman travels from a Middle Eastern desert to the streets of Gotham in the blink of an eye.


Fans of Ayn Rand will love this movie, which posits that gifted individuals are the hope or the menace of humankind. And the people are no more than a malleable mob who’ll follow even a masked whack-job like Bane if he says the right words (and if those words can be heard through his party mask). Thematically, the movie’s about the rediscovery of trust. But that mob undercuts the message. It shows that efforts to spread the wealth lead directly to chaos and self-interest, that people can’t discern the difference between evil and good. Oh heck, maybe it’s just me. I have the same complaint about Shakespeare’s treatment of the mob in Julius Caesar.


Message to Mr. Nolan: I like a good B-movie as much as the next fellow, but B-movies should come in at 90 minutes or so, not 244 minutes. And they should focus on action, not bombastic speeches. At the very least, the last half-hour should have been severely shrunk.


People who love this movie will love it regardless of its many flaws. They’ll love the heavy score and the iconic figures and the illusion of ideas and the illusion of characters that live at the heart of a Christopher Nolan movie. But the body knows the truth even if the mind is fooled. When I saw the movie, the ten or so who erupted in wild applause at the end were the ones texting through at least half the movie. Even if you were all tweeting about the movie, know this: if the movie doesn’t capture your full physical and mental attention–if it doesn’t take the mind and body hostage–it ain’t very good.


And Bane, my brother, I know you’re a scary evil-doing dude and all, but word to the wise: an athletic cup is worn a little lower down the body.