The Dark Knight Rises: Armored in our mistakes
It isn't put together very well, the story, but it has such affection for its characters, and it believes uncynically in what it's trying to be, and it is trying to be a sad, beautiful story. Whether it's succeeding or failing at any given juncture, it's entertaining; watching it try to be what it wants to be is two hours well spent. — my review of The Dark Knight, July 11, 2008
My 2008 take on The Dark Knight holds in most of the particulars for its successor, The Dark Knight Rises. Not the "two hours" part, as Rises is a gratuitous near-three, and therefore not as much the "entertaining" part, since repeated cuts back to Bruce Wayne in a prison straight out of a New Yorker cartoon had me wondering if I hadn't already watched this scene. The action sequences have improved marginally since the last outing — street scenes with shiny mega-gadgets look pretty good, but hand-to-hand indoor combat usually has the characters wading through invisible pudding, with even the sound muffled by banana crème — but it's not brawls and shoot-outs that bloat the running time, alas. It's dawdling backstory that, thanks to the Law of Economy of Characters, we don't need; it's visual/narrative quotations from other superhero and underdog "texts" (Superman II, The Magnificent Seven, e.g.) that don't always favor this one.
And yet, there is the same "and yet" I've supplied for the previous Bale Batmans. Gary Oldman's twinkly, prickly Commissioner Gordon is still a delight; punny cartoon sketches that bugged 25 years ago (the Joker previously; Catwoman and Robin here) fall into three dimensions with thoughtful character beats and acting. And the franchise has something to tell us about a handful of things we only tell ourselves. What men fear, and mourn. How we armor ourselves with our mistakes. The quality of light during the battle for the faith of a city — of this city, which many times in real life has linked arms to become its own superhero. I find it quite…"unpleasant" isn't it, so maybe "striking," in the sense that I am stricken, to watch depictions of New York City landmarks dying; I have a physical response like that of an auto passenger phantom-braking in a swerving car. Nolan's wide shot of the bridges sundering is faraway and hushed, turning a mighty place into a frail old relative just out of reach. Later on, as Alfred chokes on his grief, the wonderful Michael Caine seems close to dissolving, also once mighty, also now frail.
The Dark Knight had an even thicker darkness built into it after the death of Heath Ledger, and I attributed its elegiac quality to that. Now, I think it's a feature of the franchise: unapologetic heartbreak. Thank God for Bale's much-maligned "I have Grant's Tomb stuck in my throat" line readings as the Batman; it gives me something to laugh at, and I suspect that it's the production laughing, just a little bit, at a broken man's manufactured grandeur, which is after all also encased in rubber…because no one can feel sad every minute. (Well, Robert Wisdom's agent is probably hanging in with it. "One LINE?!")
Tags: accentry bored now Christian Bale Gary Oldman Heath Ledger Michael Caine movies Robert Wisdom the Chad Palomino School of Acting The Dark Knight Rises untimely demises