The Dark Knight Rises – Christopher Nolan
Christopher Nolan’s brilliant exploration of the moral conflicts at the heart of the Batman myth made The Dark Knight easily the best of the comic book-based movie genre. Heath Ledger’s superb Joker was a truly Satanic figure, driven by a belief in the essential imperfectability of a mankind instinctively drawn to greed, selfishness and sin. A metaphysical rebel against G(o)od as represented by Batman, Ledger’s Joker knew that the surest way to ensure the triumph of Evil over Good was to subvert the Good: not just to defeat Batman but to corrupt him. The Dark Knight ended with Batman thankfully relinquishing his role as defender of the Good by allowing it to be thought that it was he who had been responsible for the evils perpetrated by the Joker and furthered by the depraved DA Harvey Dent. To persuade the people that the idealistic Dent had not been turned by the Joker into embracing the triumph of evil, Batman accepted the responsibility for those evils so that the people might be inspired by the Goodness of Dent as hero. Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) was co-opted into this well-intentioned conspiratorial lie.
This conclusion was a powerful representation of the oldest moral dilemma of them all: that the end justifies the means. Giving people the heroic figure they desired to persuade them of the triumph of the Good – was a lie: in itself a corruption of the very moral reason that motivated the deception in the first place. Even in death, the Joker, Evil, won.
Eight years on, overseen by Commissioner Gordon, an authoritarian rule of law, deriving a false legitimacy from the manufactured myth of Dent’s heroic goodness, Gotham has largely eradicated organised crime and a zero tolerance approach has led to largely safe streets and full prisons.
What a set up for the final conflict. Moral dilemmas beautifully balanced. It is therefore such a disappointment that Nolan abandons this simple but profound vision. His almost biblical portrayal of the conflict between Good and Evil inThe Dark Knight; the metaphysical rebellion of Satan against the dominion of God; is here abandoned in favour of a petty, petulant exercise in power politics and megalomania.
Don’t get me wrong: ‘Rises’ is a tour-de-force of action sequences, superbly choreographed set pieces; and a frequently exciting thrill ride. But a confused and confusing narrative meanders splutteringly through a wearying 164 minutes which never seems a second less than 2¾ hours. The mythical conflict between Good and Evil becomes just a massive punch-up between Tom Hardy’s be-masked Bane and a reluctantly returned Batman.
Harking back to Nolan’s first in the trilogy Batman Begins, it seems Bane is the last surviving member of the League of Shadows from whose original Ninja leader Ra’s al Ghu, Bruce Wayne first learned the fighting skills with which to battle injustice, a passion generated by the murder of his parents. Bane on the other hand has his own vengeance to wreak having been maimed for trying to help another, leaving him disfigured and needing a mask to alleviate constant pain.
With a few thousand mates to help him, Bane infiltrates the Gotham sewers and sets explosives to blow up half the city. He steals the Wayne Enterprises limitless energy fusion machine and turns it into an irreversible nuclear time bomb. Trapping most of the Gotham police force underground, Bane sets about releasing anarchy, with distinct echoes of the worst excesses of revolutionary France, on the streets – wresting political control from the rich and privileged whose public support and authority is founded on the lie of Harvey Dent’s benign authoritarianism.
As the threat unfolds, the ailing Bruce Wayne is dragged out of self-imposed reclusion. No longer the Super Hero he was, Wayne as Batman is initially defeated and in an echo of Batman Begins ends up in a Prison far away, from which Bane himself originally escaped. There Wayne recuperates and gets fit to return as Batman to the fray.
Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle, Cat-Woman in all but name, clad in fetching but oddly un-erotic black leather with a distinctly supernumerary mask, wanders in and out as an amoral thief longing to go straight. As it turns out Batman believes in Selina far more than we do, so she is one of several distracting, if pleasing to the eye, sub-plots.
Marion Cotillard with a bemused “où la baise suis-je? (Where the f*ck am I?) ” look on her face throughout plays Miranda Tate, an eco-philanthropist who ostensibly wants to re-activate Wayne’s fusion energy machine for the good of mankind.
Entertaining, very loud, and very very long, ‘Rises’ struggles unsuccessfully throughout to maintain its dramatic momentum against the constant distraction of disconnected sub-plots, one of which to do with corporate chicanery and market manipulation seems largely irrelevant.
With the exception of a doughty turn by Joseph Gordon-Levett as ex-orphan good cop (Robin-sic) John Blake, casting is patchy with Hathaway sort of Ok without getting the pulse racing ; Cotillard looks lost though to be fair her part though critical as it turns out, is badly conceived and poorly written. Hardy’s Super-Villain is simply perverse : his face half covered with a mask as if a metal crab is stuck on his nose means there are no facial expressions to read and much of the time his dialogue, proclaimed with an odd quasi-Shakesperean Blessedian ring, is often inaudible. Christian Bale’s deadpan, dour playing of the caped crusader needs an animated protagonist for which the stolid, Vaderian Bane does not cut the mustard.
Sound is in fact a problem throughout. It seems inconceivable that 100s of millions of $ can be spent on a film with such culpable inadequacy of acuity in dialogue. How is it possible that such an expensive, hyped film can be released to the paying public with often critical dialogue incomprehensible, meaning often declining into a muttering dying fall.
Good fun, entertaining, reasonably exciting; The Dark Knight Rises is also indulgently long, with technically inadequate sound, weak casting and with seriously cluttered, clunky plotting. For all it’s noise and hype it ends Nolan’s trilogy not with the explosive crescendo promised at the end of The Dark Knight but with a whimper that keeps the franchise discouragingly alive.
Filed under: Christopher Nolan