Stunning but only in its capacity to underwhelm, The Dark Knight Rises may have had an army of fanboys defending its name on (and even before!!) its release but this supposed movie extravaganza is nothing but a damp squib. Christopher Nolan’s final contribution to the Batman franchise sees Gotham being held for ransom by a formidable foe named Bane (Tom Hardy) who hijacks the city under the threat of nuclear destruction. Set eight years after the events of The Dark Knight, a physically weakened Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) who has hung up his cape these last few years poses little threat to the savage Bane and must rediscover his zest for life in order to defend the city once again. Along for the ride are the usual assortment of characters from Michael Caine’s Alfred to Gary Oldman’s Commissioner Gordon as well as a few newcomers, namely, Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a boy wonder type, and Mathew Modine as a bigwig in the police department.
After struggling with the coordination and overall pacing of the multiple subplots in Batman Begins yet seemingly mastering them in the The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises is a return to the hectic, rushed, and just plain muddled film-making of Nolan’s first installment. Side stories are merely introduced and with no time to let them nor the characters they’re built around develop, they’re accelerated, truncated, and fleetingly revisited all with the intention of bringing them together at the end. Unfortunately, given their slipshod construction we could care less about any of those characters by the time they get there. Even Batman elicits little in the way of the audience’s concern as the interminable final act plays itself out.
The character who suffers the most in this is Hathaway’s Catwoman as her early sequences showed some promise as the potentially treacherous nemesis of the Caped Crusader. But like every other character in this movie, the tension she offers peters out and the treachery becomes jarringly ordinary. Yes, it doesn’t help that Hathaway is operating in the shadow of Michelle Pfeiffer’s seminal turn in Batman Returns wherein she came to embody the very essence of feline treachery but in truth she was never even given a chance to compete. Tom Hardy puts in an interesting shift as the bad guy and Nolan sets up his character and introduces him effectively. However, because his brooding menace culminates in nothing more than a bunch of physical beatings he dishes out, the character ends up stagnating and even diminishing in threat.
On the technical front, Wally Phister’s cinematography, Lee Smith’s editing, and the visual effects are undoubtedly spectacular but with such an insubstantial story underlying them, the movie begins to feel like nothing more than a slideshow of striking images. This becomes rather jading and the film feels more and more like a visual marathon. The set pieces are elaborately set up but such is Nolan’s tendency to truncate every aspect of this film that, with the exception of the reasonably impressive opening sequence, they’re never allowed materialise into anything like what we saw in either of the first two installments. In fact, if it wasn’t for Hans Zimmer’s thrilling score we would barely notice the tepid action that this movie repeatedly serves up.
In the end, the abiding memories of The Dark Knight Rises are of the endless yet entirely nondescript hand-to-hand battles (somebody finally teach Nolan how to direct a fight scene, please!) and of Batman flying very slowly away from those fights in his nebulously shaped flying machine (don’t ask!). In fact, one desperately struggles to comprehend why so many have raved about the movie. It’s true that Nolan hires the cream of the industry’s technical talent and so his films have a very shiny gloss indeed but with such confused and unfocused writing and direction it’s all just a bottle of smoke.
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