|Why so serious?|
Whilst certainly not lacking in ambition, Christopher Nolan’s bloated, almost fatally self-important conclusion to his Dark Knight saga ultimately fails to rise from under the weight of both expectation and the looming shadow of its superior predecessors. Weighing in at a hefty 164 minutes, The Dark Knight Rises certainly feels in no hurry to gets things moving, and it’s the first half that suffers most noticeably as a result. A stunningly executed mid-air setpiece introducing us to Tom Hardy’s Bane aside, we’re left with reams of stodgy exposition introducing us to new characters, flashback reminders of past incident and heavy-handed thematic cues spelling out the uncomfortably right-wing agenda of the forthcoming drama.
Lacking the nightmarish psychological ambiguities of Batman Begins or the clearly plotted narrative back-and-forth of The Dark Knight, it’s the straining for emotional weight that finally lets the third instalment down. So insistently sombre is the prevailing mood, that the few moments of levity that surface (usually courtesy of Anne Hathaway’s Selina Kyle) feel tonally awry to the humour-vacuum that surrounds them. The mirroring of real-world disaster and upheaval in Nolan’s Gotham are facets that work both for and against the film; imagery and setpieces that recall both 9/11 and the Occupy movement may serve as a contemporary anchor around which his crumbling world can revolve, but quickly show the strain of thematic overload, especially when spelt out visually and in dialogue with so little recourse to subtlety.
That said, there’s still much to admire, even if mostly of a technical nature. Nolan’s fight sequences show vast improvement on the frenetically edited incoherence that marred Batman Begins, and an insistence on utilising practical effects wherever possible often inspires awe, particular in a late chase sequence with new flying toy, The Bat. Production designers Kevin Kavanaugh and Nathan Crowley remain on board, as does cinematographer Wall Pfister, consistently proving themselves vital cogs in Nolan’s machine. If The Dark Knight Rises ultimately lacks some of the already-iconic imagery that populated The Dark Knight (or even Inception), it seems likely a result of its lack of a central figure as indelible as that of Heath Ledger’s Joker.
As the one-note embodiment of brute strength, Hardy’s Bane inevitably suffers in comparison to his predecessor’s impish malevolence. With his face covered, he’s left to throw his weight around in a couple of key sequences, rarely coming to life through his (mostly coherent) monologues on punishment and retribution. Another newcomer fares somewhat better, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s rookie cop John Blake given ample screen time to forge a satisfying character arc, even if he represents little more than a fourth pillar of earnestness to stand beside Freeman, Caine and Oldman; ever present for a concerned-looking cutaway to remind us how seriously we’re supposed to be taking proceedings whenever frivolity threatens.
The inclusion of two major female characters may be a step in the right direction for Nolan, but the love-triangle which develops between Bruce Wayne, Selina Kyle and Marion Cotillard’s businesswoman Miranda Tate is awkwardly handled. Cotillard isn’t given the opportunity to transcend her role as plot device, leaving only Hathaway the chance to shade her character in anything other than black during her cat burglar’s introductory flirtations, absconding with Wayne Manor with the billionaire’s fingerprints and his mother’s pearl necklace.
The Dark Knight Rises remains an epic experience in every sense of the word, it’s spectacle more than standing up to the competition. That said, Nolan himself set the terms of expectation for this third instalment himself four years ago, and its when held up against both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight that the film most obviously feels disjointed. With so many narrative threads to bring together and such reverent regard for its own psychological and real-world subtexts, it too often deflates under the weight of its own bombast. B-
The Dark Knight Rises - 2012 - USA - 164 mins - dir : Christopher Nolan