Seven years ago I reviewed Batman Begins and gave it 4 bullets, ending on a note of hope for the revived franchise under what I welcomed as Nolan’s inspired guidance. Then Dark Knight happened, dashing those hopes soundly. This film is better than Dark Knight, but it’s still fatally flawed. What works in Nolan’s favor is the cast. Whether you see them as familiar faces from the franchise as a whole, or as the stars of Inception in an ersatz sequel, is up to you. It’s actually kind of funny to think of the Inception supporting cast (that film, after all, was a sort of an X-men movie if they were all trapped in a maze by Mastermind or Arcade; I bet I could even assign the core players mutant analogs if I tried, Kitty Pryde being the most obvious). But let’s look at it this way; Nolan has switched his leads, trading DiCaprio and Page for Bale and Hathaway, but the rest are all there. Bane is again Tom Hardy’s mask-prone criminal, with more muscle tone. Marion Cotillard is the enigmatic and alluring foreign beauty, used to doing things her own way, despite her leading man’s contrary desires. Michael Caine is the elderly mentor and advisor (whose advice is much better as Alfred, and thus even less heeded). And Joseph Gordon-Levitt is the stalwart and talented young warrior, using his athletic skill in the service of the larger team goals. However, in Inception, Leavitt’s challenges were mostly of a physical and time-based nature. He had to be good at his job. Really, really good, but he didn’t need to ponder it much. Here, as young officer Blake, his dilemma is more of a moral one: in a corrupt city, where forces conspire to force most to accept easy moral compromises, which side will he choose? His is one of several excellent performances that really raise the bar of the film. Another is Anne Hathaway’s. Catwoman was the best thing about the previous series of Bat-movies (the character’s potential is cinematic gold, capable of as many identity twists and interpretations as the Bat himself). If Hathaway doesn’t quite best Pfeiffer’s tragic anti-heroine, she comes close to equaling her (and hopefully she’ll scrub the memory of Berry’s limp travesty from all our minds). This Selina has an even better story arc, as she’s more than an angry ghost wreaking vengeance. Instead, she has her own moral dilemma: in an unfair world of haves and have-nots, where she was born without privilege but with natural gifts that make having (and taking) more of an option for her than most, will she continue to serve her only her self-interest? Or will she make the right choice, in the service of the greater good, when it counts? Other characters have moral dilemmas as well, though not as compelling. Alfred has to figure out what to sacrifice to best serve his life’s charge. Wayne has to figure out how much to sacrifice, even up to his life itself. Lucius Fox and James Gordon have already chosen their sides, in fact Gordon as always is the smartest guy in town, one for whom the audience roots effortlessly. Too bad he doesn’t have any super toys, though. Maybe Fox should work for him rather than for Wayne Industries, which has lapsed into inactivity just like Batman himself. This is one way that the film stumbles, in that I just don’t really buy eight years of mourning from a barely older Bale. Sure, Rachel was the love of his life (as he keeps claiming), but no one else seems too concerned about the moral dilemmas of the previous film. Not the citizens of Gotham, who pay the barest lip service to the idea of Batman as the betrayer of Harvey Dent, turning to him desperately when faced with the bigger bad guy of Bane. And this is the other stumble, because Bane just can’t hold up his end of the bargain, despite Hardy’s many gifts. First he’s hobbled by the mask, then given an endless array of boring speeches about the wealthy vs. the poor, only we never see any wealthy (a lawn party, some classical music, a statue or two) or really any poor (Catwoman’s shabby chic apartment in “Oldtowne” notwithstanding). Instead we see cops vs. mercenaries, that is, disloyal criminals vs. a band of brothers who at least should aspire to a moral code of service. The kangaroo court the mercs set up allows for another amusing cameo, but it’s from a different film altogether. If Nolan really wants to make a statement about class warfare at all. But I don’t think he does. I think he wants to blow things up really stylishly. If there’s good wealth and bad wealth (and there must be because it’s only Wayne Industries that builds the arsenal used in the film by both sides, as well as the problem-solving power source all factions are fighting over), then it comes down again to individual choice and obligation, not class struggle, and that’s not a radical notion at all. I’m not saying I think Nolan was being opportunistic by grafting in references to the Occupy movement to give his film some gravitas (I agree with Bale himself that it was more likely he was being accidentally prescient, the script having been writer prior to last year’s new social movement and the filming going on more or less simultaneously). Good art often taps into the zeitgeist, and Nolan can do gravitas in his sleep. If anything, I wish he’d lighten up! Gotham is not as anonymous as it was in Dark Knight, but it’s still a generic Ur-city amalgamation of bridges, harbors, and skyscrapers that represents for Nolan the sleek, faceless hegemony of modern capitalism. It just gives him a blandly convincing corporate setting for explosions. The Bat-cave and Wayne Manor are far better locations, used hardly enough (and when did they all get rebuilt from the destruction of the first film?). The numbingly droning second hour of the film could have been cut entirely, for all it shows us of Gothamites barricaded in by a madman, and the entire police force trapped underground like unfortunate miners. Batman, after a predictable early defeat by Bane, could have completed his revisit of his macho identity quest from the first film in a quarter of the time, but instead it drones on and on until his back heals by magic. The enjoyment level of this film ramps up in any scene involving the Bat and the Cat, where he’s the wise warrior and she’s only a little bit over her head, but as clever and ruthless when it counts. Hathaway is slinky and sullen, seductive and surprising, all she needs to be in a varied set of situations she adapts to readily. She just needs slightly better toys, and once Bruce provides them the movie wakes up and hurries to a quite compelling and surprisingly fitting denouement. That’s why it’s better than the middle film, but it never fulfills the promise I was hoping for in the following paragraphs from my old review: “If anything is keeping the movie from being a truly timeless film, it is that the old shopworn formulas are so clearly the structure that holds it all together. But with Bale on contract as the lucky title-holder of the newly vibrant franchise, I expect even greater things to come.” The talent’s still there, but the greater things fell into a black hole and never got back out. Bigger, louder and badder, to be sure, but I found myself more entertained by the James Bond-ian opening sequence of an unlikely and daring mid-air heist between planes. And that was without even Batman showing up for another two reels. If the end of this movie is anything to go by, the possibility of a more adventurous romp where the stakes aren’t quite so high persists (though under new management – hey, it worked for Spider-Man!). I’ll probably go see that, in the hopes my Batman will show up again someday. At least in this film I got my Cat. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)2.5Overall ScoreShare this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.