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Home » Culture and Criticism

The Dark Knight Rises: Armored in our mistakes

Submitted by on December 28, 2012 – 2:59 PM9 Comments


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?!")

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  • Meredithea says:

    Lots of the film was shot in Pittsburgh, so I spent a lot of the film noticing where things were shot: "Hey, that's across the street from my office!" Or "Hey, that's my bus stop!" I need to see it again to see the film for itself.

    You didn't mention what you thought of the Bane voice, and is wondered since it was so polarizing. I was fine with it, but I'll admit I've been giggling at impersonations for months!

  • Meagen says:

    I agree that this is not the best Batman film in existence, but I'll still take this flick over George Clooney and his nipplized batsuit any day. And Bane, despite me envisioning him rolling out a tea set in the middle of film due his bizarre (yet aristocratic) accent, is a much more worthy enemy for Batman than Ahnold was as Dr. Freeze.

    Also wanted to share this post. The blogger also made an interesting point about the dearth of female extras in the movie. Made me think.

    Batman and the Case of the Missing Women

  • angela says:

    I thought the French Revolution/Tale of Two Cities theme was grossly misapplied, and I have never gotten the fanboy drooling over the one-hit-wonder that is Bane. Talia, I have have hated on priciple since the eighth grade…but you are right about the city's pain that Nolan incorporates into the film, that resonates past the platitudes. I have to admit my favorite character beat was watching Hathaway's Selina cynical take on the Vicky Vale/damsel-in-distress screaming trophe in the bar shoot-out. "Eh, it's a living."

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    I had to admit the whole "I Am Talia Hear Me Roar" speech bugged, but not just because the third act is not the place to cram a seven piece matched set of calfskin exposition. Cotillard is too good an actress for that (as is Hardy, given the whole "guess what I'm emoting behind this gas mask" thing he was saddled with).

    No, it was the gratuitious recon of the way the setup of this universe works that did it for me. Bane is supposed to be the male avatar of Pallas Athene, here–justice without mercy, the cold light of the gods picking out every last self-delusional blemish on the self-serving, constantly excusing "justice" meted out by men. He's Shelly's Ozmondias statue before its collapse in the desert, a figure of terror that pulls the worship of the helpless.

    But the second Talia starts in on her story, Bane is instantly converted into some kind of grumpy Care Bear who did it all for love! C'mon! I'm not saying a heart of flesh can't still beat within the stone walls of Bane's philosophy, but asking me to buy it in three minutes after nearly three hours of terrorist attacks is just a little much.

    Plus, the whole reason for his devotion to Talia–R'as al Ghul's rejection of him after he got severe facial wounds protecting Talia from a Fate Worse Then Death? Are you kidding me? Since when does R'as set such store by someone's appearance that he would reject the man who saved his daughter? Derp, I say, derp!

    Okay, all this bitching made it sound like I didn't like the movie, which I did. Great acting and fun scenes (like the doctor listing the various ouchies Wayne has sustained, then dryly concluding "and so I cannot recommend that you go heliskiing" was great) and Joseph G-L in his fifty-fifth screen appearance of 2012 was fab. And Christian Bale's take on a role that's only gotten more thankless through the franchise was honestly refreshing to me–pain and sulking without self indulgence on the part of the actor.

  • Matt says:

    Coincidentally, I just Redboxed this mofo in lieu of buying it outright, and I'm glad I did. I forgot how boring most of it was. I was totally into everything Anne Hathaway and Joseph Gordon-Levitt did; into about half of what Tom Hardy did; and not into anything else. I also forgot that I felt the same way about II – the screen lit up every time Heath Ledger was on it, and then went dark again when he left.

    Also, the League of Shadows…I don't get it. When Marion Cotillard did the reveal at the end, I felt like grabbing her and Bane by the (shearling) lapels and shaking them while yelling, "The incoherence of your evil plot offends me!"

    I wish I liked these movies more. As action/superhero movies, they're actually pretty interesting, in that they tend to be constructed out of philosophies and character arcs rather than one-liners and action set pieces. (Which is good, because Nolan can't direct action for SHIT. I can never tell where the hell anyone is!) But I think that's part of the problem. I'm probably in the minority, but I've never thought Bale was much of an actor ("3:10 to Yuma" and "Terminator: Salvation"…yeesh). With that kind of vacuum at the heart of things, it's hard for the movie to get over. Everyone (including Caine and Oldman) is doing good work in the margins, but that's not enough to fill the frame with color.

    So yeah, kinda glad the series is over. Of course, if "Spider-Man" is any bellwether, we can expect a reboot in 2015.

  • Josh says:

    Most of the acting is quite good, but the plot holes really start to pile up after a while and there's this sense that Nolan has gotten lost in his own sense of self-accomplishment after all the praise garnered from The Dark Knight (which I maintain ultimately failed in its unnecessary and wasteful killing of of Harvey Dent/Two Face).

    Hathaway does reasonably well with what she's given, but the character is a featherweight in a heavy movie, and without more backstory and buildup she's unfortunately playing more of a dilettante than anything else. This is who Bruce Wayne flees his life for?

    It's not a terrible movie, but it's not the triumph the director so clearly is trying to insist it is.

  • Jaybird says:

    I kept looking at Wisden and thinking, "Cerulean…? Is that you, er…Kitsunegari…pusher-type guy who messed with Mulder…?"

  • Sandman says:

    I'm not sure that the adverb "uncynically" can really be applied here. I found the whole Occupy/French Revolution/Reign of Terror motif that @angela points to not only ill-judged and clumsy, but deeply cynical. I was annoyed by how leadenly the middle act plodded along while Tom Hardy trotted out his Charles Laughton impression for no adequately defined reason. Of all the Nolan players brought along from Inception, Gordon-Levitt was the most welcome. Hardy was charming in that one, and so utterly devoid of charm (at least to me) here. I agree, too, with Jen S 1.0's observation that Talia's Expository Magnum Opus occurs far too late in the proceedings.

    @Matt: "When Marion Cotillard did the reveal at the end, I felt like grabbing her and Bane by the (shearling) lapels and shaking them while yelling, 'The incoherence of your evil plot offends me!'"

    Hee! A most excellent observation. Apparent Cotillard is Nolan's designated Crazy Lady.

  • Sandman says:

    Also: One of the nicer things about this movie is Caine's performance, with its restraint in showing Alfred's grief and how he had reached his limits; I have to say I was disappointed as all of that circumspection and dignity was tossed out in the last reel when Alfred completely loses his shinola – at Bruce's graveside, no less. Ecch.

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