The Dark Knight Rises
2 out 4 stars
One of the very few filmmakers who can simultaneously please both eggheads and couch potatoes, Christopher Nolan has in a dozen years or so, become one of the most powerful directors in the world. Only Steven Spielberg has more industry clout and creative free-reign.
Never one that could be accused of being jovial or the life of the party, Nolan is a Deep & Serious thinker who isn’t afraid of being downbeat and highly cerebral. Along with his co-writer brother Jonathan, Nolan crafts impossibly convoluted stories (“Inception,” “Memento”) that eventually kind of make sense, although it’s often a chore for the audience to wade through them. Pegging Nolan to direct the now completed “Batman” reboot was fitting. He and Batman are sullen, loner types with anti-authoritarian streaks and just the slightest hint of narcissistic genius.
The first two (and best) installments in Nolan’s trilogy found him loosening up a bit and having a modicum of fun. His Batman (Christian Bale) was suitably dark and brooding but with a gleam in his eye and spring in his step. Thanks mostly to a bravura turn by the late Heath Ledger as the Joker in part two, Nolan set a bar so high not even he could come close to reaching it again.
Opening with a throttling skyjacking scene that could rival anything in any James Bond movie, “Rises” extends the maniacal urgency and unhinged glory of its predecessor. We’re introduced to the villain Bane (Tom Hardy), a psychopath ex-con whose shaved head and extreme bulk suggests a cross between the Incredible Hulk and Mr. Clean. With a strap-on mask that covers most of his face and half of his remaining head, Bane could easily become an instant smash on the professional wrestling circuit.
Initially intimidating, Bane’s mystery mask quickly becomes a narrative impediment. Not only does it restrict any and all facial expression, it turns Hardy’s normal honey baritone into an almost indecipherable synthesized/robotic stream of gibberish. If you can understand half of what he’s saying, consider yourself lucky. Bane’s dialogue should have come with subtitles.
As has been the case with all of Nolan’s and Tim Burton’s “Batman” offerings, the title character, aka Bruce Wayne, is a glorified supporting player. Not showing up until well past the 30-minute mark and eight years after the end of the previous outing, Wayne is more detached and aloof than ever. Holed up in a single room of his mansion, he is still hobbled by past injuries and has no intention of ever donning the bat suit again.
Mostly regulated to semi-heady chats with the franchises’ three elders (Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine), Bale is left little do besides looking lost and despondent. When he does eventually assume the Batman persona, it’s in fight scenes that are either edited to death or bone-crushingly over-the-top. Only in the film’s last half hour do we get to see Batman as we fondly remember him: resourceful, edgy, verbally caustic and engaging.
Also fitting that positive 11th hour description and more for the entirety of the film is Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle, a high-end burglar who is never actually referred to as Catwoman. Zipping in and out of the margins and saving the day whenever she’s on-screen, Hathaway is charged with and successfully delivers all of the sparse comic relief. She is by far the best thing going on in the movie and Hathaway’s incarnation of Catwoman needs her own franchise.
Clocking in at an excruciatingly tortured 164 minutes, “Rises” is top-heavy with effects and explosions that are admittedly impressive until they’re not. As he proved with “Inception,” Nolan is a master with visuals but after 2.5 plus hours worth it becomes numbing. Rivaling all of the “Transformers” flicks and the last act of “The Avengers,” “Rises” is a cacophony of cluttered, bombastic overkill. To top it all off, it’s also an all-too-realistic commentary on current events.
Would you care for some identity theft? How about a crashing stock market? Perhaps we could interest you in some One Percent/Occupy class warfare, mob justice or a nuclear weapon in the hands of terrorists? No? Then how about some extended aerial shots of what is obviously Manhattan being destroyed in a manner clearly modeled after 9/11?
In Nolan’s mind, the typical action/adventure “end of the world” scenario is too been-there-done-that; he wants his fantasy rooted in the stark and chilly here and now and it all makes for a huge joy-killing bummer. Not that there was much joy in this movie to begin with.
Goodbye for now Batman and Mr. Nolan. We’ll certainly see both of you again in the future but in the meantime, you might want to consider supplementing your diets with lots and lots of Prozac. Seriously; you both need to lighten up. (Warner Bros.)