|Christian Bale, The Dark Knight Rises, Warner Bros. Pictures, 2012.|
Continuing and supposedly wrapping up his incomparable contemporary comic-book opus, modern master Christopher Nolan delivers a dense, dank, crystallized pop culture summary of the world we live in and the way we portray it through our art. The first two films, Batman Begins (2005) and The Dark Knight (2009), were darkly psychological, character and theme driven movies that combined the popular mythos of the comics with Nolan's specific strengths as a director. They were the best super hero films of the decade; topping them would be a death defying feat.
The Dark Knight Rises is a wondrous thing; filled to the gills with subplots, new characters, and double twists, at times it bites off more than it can chew. The all-encompassing dread of Gotham remains intact, the character development via action and emotion still palpable. And yet I couldn't help but feel that despite all that is wonderful about it, this Knight has many problems.
Nolan and his brother Jonathan's screenplay is excellent, maybe too much exposition in the end, yet undeniably brilliantly written. Two subplots don't feel as smooth as they could be, and in the end I just did not buy them. Joseph Gordon Levitt as Blake, a new cop character whose story line culminates in a flimsy twist, gives a strong performance, as usual, and yet his entire trajectory just doesn't feel as strong as it should. Marion Cotillard as Miranda, Bruce's new love interest with an iffy twist, feels even less natural.
Aside from these and a few other pitfalls, the film picks up and carries on well from the last film. Its just that, coming off of that high, it is apparent that even a master like Nolan cannot deliver near-perfection every time. Bale, Oldman, Caine, and Freeman all return in top form. Tom Hardy makes an impression as Bane, the formidable new villain. His parts of the film are some of the strongest; his take over of Gotham City and the anarchy that ensues make for the strongest sequences of the film.
Anne Hathaway is on target with her Catwoman; more of a peripheral character, more a love interest than a villain, Nolan's handling of her character is inspired. The conscience she develops is fascinating, registering in her wounded brown eyes.
The movie has an air of doom aside from the obvious; thematically enriched by love, death, and loss, the tragic passing of Heath Ledger and the opening night massacre in Aurora pin an aura of legendary despair to the entire affair. Wally Pfister continues to capture a nightmarish Gotham City in line with Nolan's neo-noir vision. Hans Zimmer's score is a pounding, pulsing thing of action film beauty. Nolan's Batman comes to a blisteringly uneven close.
Despite its glaring inconsistencies, The Dark Knight Rises is the best comic-book adaptation of the Summer, and despite its low place in Nolan's oeuvre, this cultural phenomenon is better than almost anything at the multiplexes this season.