Movie Review: The Dark Knight Rises
Austin360.com | Austin American-Statesman
"The Dark Knight Rises" is a lot of movie.
The two hours and 45 minutes come at you like a train, riffing on class warfare, "A Tale of Two Cities," power, money, nuclear anxiety, masks, weird voices, really cool cars, even cooler helicopters and the mythology director Christopher Nolan has built over the course of three movies.
Throw in a couple of comic book Easter eggs that hardcore fans will love (or hate — they're a fickle bunch) and you have a sprawling heap of a movie that zooms in all sorts of directions.
And it's not un-entertaining. Exhausting, a bit, but not un-entertaining.
Indeed, from the stunning opening stunt to the dark-hued action sequences in an increasingly fractured Gotham, "The Dark Knight" is chock full of moments that sweep you up in their kinetic power. From gritty hand-to-hand combat to mobs hurling themselves at each other to thrilling chases, Nolan has become a truly formidable action director.
But you cannot help thinking that Nolan is piling on the themes and arcs to make up for the fact that earlier triumphs are going to haunt the proceedings.
After all, topping or even matching "The Dark Knight," pretty much the best superhero movie ever made, seems like an impossibly tall order. In the previous movie, the humorless Nolan received a substantial gift in Heath Ledger's chaotic, lithe Joker, a performance that added verve and wit to an otherwise grim proceeding.
But here, Nolan has no such hole card. He has only Bane, a tank of a man whom longtime fans of the comics will remember as "the man who broke the Bat."
We open eight years after the conclusion of "The Dark Knight." The late Harvey Dent is now pure martyr, honored every year as a hero. Legislation passed in his honor has put away thousands of criminals in Gotham City, now peaceful and now eight years without the Batman.
Police Commissioner Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) knows this is a lie, knows that Dent died a psychotic criminal and knows that he was not, as is believed, murdered by Batman. But he keeps it to himself, and doing so makes him sick.
Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne, now with a mustache and beard that signify "I don't ever leave the house," has gone recluse, moping in Wayne Manor, limping around with a cane he may or may not need and thinking about his lost love Rachel (last seen blown to pieces in "The Dark Knight") while his company bleeds money.
When an ambitious thief named Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway, almost totally an adult) breaks into a Wayne house safe for a very specific item, Bruce is intrigued, much to the concern of the Wayne family butler, Alfred (Michael Caine, one of the all-time great bits of casting). It is good to get Wayne back into the world, reasons Alfred, but not necessarily the Batman. Bruce's business manager/armorer, Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), on the other hand, seems itching to try out all the new toys that have been gathering dust.
Wayne is pursued by Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), an investor and philanthropist who wants to solidify her relationship with Wayne-the-man and Wayne-the-business.
Elsewhere, the physically imposing mercenary Bane (Thomas Hardy, not that you can tell) is well on his way to executing a plan of staggering ambition. Bane, all heavy sheepskin coat, shirtlessness and military wear where Batman is stylized armor, wears a breathing apparatus over his face that both distorts his voice and forces Hardy to act mostly with his eyes and arms. Which he does remarkably well, especially given that every third line or so is completely unintelligible.
Speaking of unintelligible, the politics of this thing are kind of all over the place. We have a very rich man, Bruce Wayne, as one-percent as it gets, who has withdrawn from the world only to be taunted by Selina Kyle, who is convinced she is only stealing from those who have entirely too much. Wayne's philanthropic arm is enslaved to Wayne Enterprises, and certain charities have gone wanting — Bruce cannot do good if he is not doing well, after all. And what of the ravenous capitalists who lurk on the Wayne Enterprises board?
And there's Bane, the terrorist who only wants to give Gotham "back to the people." And set up kangaroo courts. And incapacitate the police. And also maybe destroy Gotham just for fun. (Given Bane's revolutionary rhetoric, anyone who makes the Bane-somehow-equals-Bain-Capital argument is just flat-out wrong).
It is hard to tell where Nolan wants our sympathies, exactly. Is he for order? For the status quo? Are The People sheep willing to eat the rich at a moment's notice? Or are they to be trusted not to get carried away, if only in small groups? (Again, "A Tale of Two Cities" is in here A LOT — "Dark Knight Rises" is Nolan openly wondering if things get as bad today as they did during the French Revolution, just how would that play out?)
The answer can be found, more or less, in the most noble guy on the board, a humble beat cop named John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, terrific as usual).
Blake is the film's emotional center. He is not quite a POV character — Nolan doesn't really do those — but a man in the distant middle between Bane's apocalyptic fervor and Batman's melodramatic style. Where both Bane and Batman have implacable death drives, where they are epic figures who live far above us mortals on the ground, Blake is down in Gotham, every day.
He is a fan of the Batman, but absent the Caped Crusader, he is going to do the best job he can. As much as "The Dark Knight Rises" has one, it is he, not Batman, who is the movie's moral center. We cannot be Batman, but there is more than a little John Blake in anyone. That, if anything, will save us from ourselves.
Contact Joe Gross at 912-5926