Following my outright disappointment in The Dark Knight, a film that was talked about to virtually no end by everyone and their great grandmother even before its release date, I deliberately withdrew myself from any and all participation in the much anticipated follow-up, The Dark Knight Rises. That means no trailers, exclusive clips, message boards, Wikipedia, viral marketing, leaks, nothing. It was to the point where the most I knew about the film was that The Dark Knight was supposedly going to rise, or something. As a result, my expectations were so shockingly low going into The Dark Knight Rises, the third and final installment in director Christopher Nolan’s Batman film trilogy, that the notion of walking out feeling content wasn’t as farfetched as it once seemed. And yet, even with my prosaic outlook for the last year or so, it couldn’t help the film from overcoming its sordid plot, murky screenplay and Nolan’s languorous direction.
Judging by the thunderous applause in the cinema when The Dark Knight Rises faded to black, I assumed myself to be, once again, in the minority of those who were seriously disappointed and infuriated. But by now this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, as I was in the same boat for the previous two installments of the franchise. In 2005, Christopher Nolan rebooted the Batman film series, after an eight year hiatus. Batman Begins, the first in Nolan’s revisioning of the Batman story, is, in retrospective the best of three, though that isn’t saying much whatsoever. Nolan made the absurd concept of a billionaire playboy donning a rubber bat costume to fight criminals seem quite logical and made the transition from Bruce Wayne’s parents being murdered to Wayne becoming Batman quite believable. But that’s about as far as I can reach for the positives in Batman Begins.
The second film in the trilogy, The Dark Knight, is perhaps the most talked about film of the decade. Where Batman Begins lacked in a central villain, The Dark Knight makes up for it plenty with Heath Ledger’s exhausting take on The Joker. Unfortunately the film was largely overshadowed by Ledger’s performance and much like the former Batman Begins, the plot is, in the end-product, a cut-and-pasted mess. The film is evidently lacking a consequent plot, a cohesion of the myriad of action scenes it has been broken down into and a common sense to know when enough is enough. The Dark Knight also features what might quite possibly be the single worst, most embarrassing boat sequence to ever be conceived in film history.
And so we arrive at The Dark Knight Rises, a film that not only offers nothing new in the exalted franchise, but grotesquely showers the audience with the all too familiar and pedestrian. It can be plainly summarized that The Dark Knight Rises is nothing more than a lazy amalgamation of the first two films. And with the strategy Nolan and his team choose to employ, when wrapping up the films final minutes, it’s as clear as day that they’re purely trying to neatly tie up all the loose ends to assure his fans sleep well at night. The Dark Knight Rises, in short, is far too convenient.
Comic book superhero films should receive a certain amount of latitude, I mean you can’t really expect “art” when they have no intention of giving you that. It’s purely intended to entertain, and maybe deliver some sort of simplistic moral and perhaps even stand up as a ham-fisted societal metaphor. I’m fine with that, not every film needs to elicit hours of reflection, sometime simple escapism is what’s needed. That being said, there are still standards and The Dark Knight Rises pretty much falls well below any of them. There’s not an exciting action sequence anywhere and the acting, even by comic book film standards, is abysmal.
When this so-called ‘plot’ finally does come together, it comes together very haphazardly. In the similar fashion of the films two predecessors, The Dark Knight Rises story is rooted in the ever so tired world domination viewpoint of its main villains. However, unlike Batman Begins and The Dark Knight before it, The Dark Knight Rises villain, the hulking Bane is portrayed as self-declared revolutionary of sorts, set to liberate the city of Gotham from its oppression by the wealthy upper class. Bane and his cronies proceed to trap the majority of Gotham’s police underground, sets off bombs throughout city, kills the mayor in the process, destroys the bridges and tunnels leading to the city, empties the jails of all prisoners and arms them. Sound familiar? Yeah, I thought so, too.
On the topic of politics, the films political overtones are completely hollow and uninvolved. Christopher Nolan can say that the film isn’t political all he wants in interviews, but it is there and he’s not really subtle about it either. While there are some blatant, albeit caricature depictions of the real world Occupy Wall Street movement, the film never fully delves into any worthwhile conversation about the intent of Gotham’s citizens sudden uproar. Seeing as how the Dent Act scrubbed the city clean of crime, the populaces purpose for supporting Bane’s obvious nihilism and reign of terror is fundamentally flawed. We get brief glimpses of (what would be here) the 99% tossing the wealthy 1% from their homes and even prosecuting them to either exile or death in their makeshift court of law. There is no motive, only senseless acts of violence. Members of the real world Occupy movement may rightfully react angrily at being depicted, even at second hand, as spineless followers.
As Bane and his henchmen lay waste upon Gotham, Batman is nowhere to be found, leaving us with what might possibly be the most muddled middle in film in recent memory. Bane, after easily defeating Batman in a… boxing match (?) is forsaken to a faraway prison somewhere in the desert. It’s no ordinary prison, it’s a hellish pit. Earlier I stated that the boat sequence in The Dark Knight is embarrassing, well the entire pit sequence in The Dark Knight Rises is altogether silly. First Bruce Wayne, whose back is severely broken, has it punched back into place. Literally, it’s fucking punched back into place. Punched, as in with a human fist. Then we are subjected to tiresome training montages intertwined with obtuse spiritual messages from the wise old inmates. Eventually Wayne’s training pays off and he escapes from the pit, but not after helping further stretch the film’s bloated runtime.
I think you know what happens next, Batman returns to Gotham and dukes it out with his archenemy Bane. What you might have not known is that the battle between the two powerhouses is utterly stiff and anticlimactic. The films budget is a whopping $250 million and instead of putting the money to good use they used it to hire senior citizens from a nearby retirement home to choreograph the fight scenes. Money well spent, boys. Basically the final fight is another boxing match. While I’m on the topic of action, the ‘action’ portion of The Dark Knight Rises is, for lack of a better word, dull. I could use another adjective but I find it that dull is perfectly suitable. We even get the same, frame-by-frame race-against-time ending from Nolan’s previous film, Inception, right down to the all inclusive pulsating Hans Zimmer score. To say that it’s lazy directing would be an understatement.
Everyone in the film is a cardboard cutout and as a result we don’t feel any compassion for the characters or their dire predicaments. The city of Gotham, going through a calamity that has altered their very social order, is empty and vacuous, as the citizens don’t show their true selves or any comprehension of the situation at hand. Instead Christopher Nolan thinks it would be best to use Gotham and its people as wallpaper to cover his weak foundation. The brief moment in The Dark Knight Rises where we do commiserate and see some sparkle of sincere emotion from a character comes from that of Alfred Pennyworth, Bruce Wayne’s loyal butler. Michael Caine bestows a rich warmth to the film, especially in one particularly moving scene where he’s brought to the point of tears. Not before long you remember this is The Dark Knight Rises and begin to wish Caine were doing this in a film more worthy of it.
I don’t have much else to say about The Dark Knight Rises even though I did bypass some pretty important plot points and what-have-yous. I’m not going to go into them because, quite frankly, The Dark Knight Rises doesn’t deserve any more of my time seeing as it has already stolen nearly three hours of it. It’s a shame that the man who directed Memento, a film I immensely enjoyed, essentially bungled his entire career and more so his artistic merit as a filmmaker since then. Christopher Nolan directing a comic book film is not unlike Barack Obama entering politics. It’s clear that neither man holds their calling in particular regard. Both see themselves as loftily above and it does beg the question: Why do it then if you think so little of it? When thinking about it, Christopher Nolan’s ego expands in proportion to that of the colossal budgets of his films. Hopefully by his next feature film, his ego is so big he tips over, never to direct again.