The Dark Knight Rises (Warner Bros. Pictures, PG-13)

dkrises sqNolan’s Gotham City has always been a particularly dark one, but here it dances around violence and death without ever really showing it.

 

darkknightrises

Despite his success, one has to feel kind of sorry for Christopher Nolan. Hell, I certainly wouldn’t want to follow up The Dark Knight, Hollywood’s crowning achievement in a good decade or more’s worth of above-average comic book films (which seems to be one of the last things Hollywood gets right these days). If I were him, I wouldn’t even want to try. It seems like anything he could possibly do would pale in comparison.

And to be sure, The Dark Knight Rises absolutely does pale in comparison with The Dark Knight, but it’s not an outright bad film by any means. Here, Bruce Wayne/Batman (Christian Bale, toning down his Eastwood-style Batman voice somewhat) is in semi-retirement after the events of The Dark Knight—at least he is until he’s burgled by Selina Kyle/Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) and concurrently learns of the rise of a dangerous, muscular-as-fuck, masked criminal named Bane (Tom Hardy). At this point, he decides to get back into shape, put the mask back on, and go fight some crime. Along the way, he meets rich humanitarian named Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), who seems a fine candidate to replace Rachel (Batman Begins’ Katie Holmes and The Dark Knight’s Maggie Gyllenhaal) as Wayne’s love interest, and a scrappy cop named John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt. He is also reunited with his usual entourage, including Alfred (Michael Caine), Lucius (Morgan Freeman), and Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman).

Unusually, for what is essentially an action movie, the first act is the best. Most of the introduction to the new characters (or new to Nolan’s take on Batman, anyway) is a lot of fun, particularly in Selina Kyle’s case; I’ve long contended that Hathaway has proven a few times that she actually has a lot of talent as an actress (see Brokeback Mountain and Rachel Getting Married, and maybe a couple of others), but she rarely bothers to show it. She’s on here from her first scene, though, and this is probably her best role to date. She switches effortlessly from innocent to sexy to devious to dangerous and back again a hundred times. Cotillard is also a pleasure, as she pretty much always is, but one odd misstep is Gordon-Levitt. I generally like him a lot, but here he is woefully miscast as a hotheaded cop. He’s much more the good cop than the bad cop in the way he looks and acts, and is never able to truly sell the character. Too bad Nolan was apparently so gung-ho to reunite members of his Inception cast. And speaking of that Inception cast, Hardy has a pretty intense physical presence in this film, which is mostly all that’s required of him. Through the mask, his voice is sort of a weird pitch and often hard to understand, but while you may not quite get all of what he’s saying, you’ll always know the gist.

One mild improvement over The Dark Knight here is its use of the IMAX screen. I complained in my original Dark Knight review that it was annoying how they’d switch between aspect ratios in IMAX. While the movie still does that in Rises, it’s less noticeable than it was in its predecessor. Probably because there’s more IMAX footage overall this time around; its integration is much smoother.

Around the film’s final hour, things start getting muddled, though, and it feels like Nolan is trying to tie up too much in too little time. Plot points often go over the top, and most glaringly, the film’s politics get kind of screwy. This is a film that seems to be set more or less in the present, as there are indirect references to what sounds like the Bush presidency (“We don’t negotiate with terrorists”) as well as the Occupy Wall Street movement (note that our hero is in the 1%).

I don’t intend to give away the ending, but there is one particular plot point toward the end that seems like it’s begging to be read as a political statement on the film’s part, and said statement is a rather boneheaded one. Since the film’s biggest flaws all arise in the end, it left me with a bad taste in my mouth overall, despite the fact that I enjoyed the majority of it. Regardless, it’s safe to say that it’s the worst of the three Nolan Batman films.

And one final thought: I realize that if they had done so it would have meant literally millions of dollars less in the box office, but I really wish that this film had not censored itself and just gotten an R rating. Nolan’s Gotham City has always been a particularly dark one, but here more so than the prior two films it is distracting the way it dances around violence and death without ever really showing it. | Pete Timmermann

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