“The Dark Knight Rises” is a big, bold and occasionally brilliant piece of blockbuster filmmaking.
– Alistair Harkness, Scotsman
The biggest, best, most exciting Batman of them all.
– Scott A. Mantz, Access Hollywood
Bleak, black and brilliant.
– David Edwards, Daily Mirror
These three quotes about “The Dark Knight Rises” share more in common than an avid affection for alliteration. Fellow-reviewers Harkness, Mantz and Edwards represent symptomatic examples of the majority of the film’s early critiques. They fawn over the picture in blurb-friendly sound bites, slobbering on Christopher Nolan’s latest creation like obedient puppies at their owners’ returns.
I understand the impulse. I myself could not resist salivating at the power of the film’s trailer. “The Dark Knight Rises” is, without question, the most important spectacle to open this summer, and even high-minded critics are not immune. But after seeing the final product, to suggest that this bloated conclusion to Nolan’s Batman trilogy is anywhere in the vicinity of “brilliant” is to drain this already overused adjective of its final shred of potency.
The film is, however, bludgeoningly loud. Each gunshot pierces the ear canal. Each explosion accelerates deafness. The score is a jackhammer. Dialogue is drowned out almost as often as it is clear.
“The Dark Knight Rises” runs 165 minutes, making it the longest Batman film ever, and much of the duration comprises these eardrum-bleeding, if visually spectacular, set pieces. There’s a holdup of a stock exchange and the obliteration of a football stadium. There are bridge collapses, plane hijackings, high-speed chases, brutal subterranean battles, and a race against atomic Armageddon. It all cost an estimated $250 million.
Nolan deserves considerable credit for choreographing these elaborate phantasmagoria – fevered hallucinations of urban terror, shot and edited with visionary aplomb. And, as with “The Dark Knight,” he should be applauded for injecting some political provocation into the blockbuster formula.
Set eight years after the last movie, Gotham City is under attack by the masked marauder Bane (Tom Hardy), a domestic terrorist preaching a violent strain of dictatorial Marxism. He strips the rich of their palaces of decadence while freeing the “oppressed” (AKA the denizens of Gotham’s prisons), with intentions to scorch the metropolis and rebuild the people’s city into one free of corruption. With the city’s rotten money-lenders and politicians frequently cited for its downfall, “The Dark Knight Rises” operates in a climate of economic and legislative unease poised between dictatorship and democracy – one that seems to inherently address the uprisings in the Middle East and the Occupy Wall Street movement, while casting a skeptical glance toward all of them.
This is more than can be said for most popcorn pictures, but it doesn’t elevate “The Dark Knight Rises” to a level of artistic transcendence. For every cerebral moment, there are twice of many examples of head-slapping simplicity or brazen illogic. While Bane is at least provided a meaty backstory, Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) is given little to do other than look pretty and kick ass. “Cat got your tongue?” she quips, before disposing of an adversary, recalling those stupefying Batman movies from the late ‘90s.
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Indeed, for all of its admirable attempts to inject darkness back into the Batman legacy, Nolan’s films are still PG-13-tame. Yes, Bane is a brutal villain, and he puts an already handicapped Batman (Christian Bale) through Hell, but the caped crusader barely bleeds, knowing full well that any number of deus ex machinas are waiting around the corner to lift him from the blackness. The fact is, I’ve seen more curdling meanness in low-budget, 90-minute noirs from Fritz Lang and Samuel Fuller.
Christopher Nolan is a mesmerizing storyteller, but he knows which side his bread is buttered on. Any gestures to shake up the formula of the comic-book movie are secondary to the objective: the almighty dollar, whose acquisition means placating teenagers with disposable incomes. This is the overriding tendency that sees “The Dark Knight Rises” all the way through to its cowardly conclusion.