The Dark Knight Rises
Action, Adventure, Fantasy Based on the DC Comics Character; U.S.; 2012; 164 minutes; directed by Christopher Nolan
Medium: Currently in Theaters
Rating: 2.0 bat droppings (5-bat dropping system)
First there was the superlative Batman Begins (2005, 4.5 Stars)—the best comic book-based movie ever produced bar none.
Then Christopher Nolan managed to do something few accomplish in a sequel. He topped himself and made a genre-defining motion picture that has set the standard for everything that follows—The Dark Knight (2008, 5.0 Stars—yeah, it’s really that good).
And that’s really the shame of it all in a nutshell. Mr. Nolan set the bar so high with the third of the Dark Knight trilogy that anything short of perfection would be perceived as a dull thud of bat guano on the pavement in the shadow of the Wayne Enterprises Building. And what a heaping, steaming pile this movie is.
The first two films had a laser-like focus, the first on the development of Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) and his eventual and reluctant transformation into his dark alter ego—The Batman. The primary villain in this almost operatic melodrama is Ra’s al Ghul (Liam Neeson), Bruce Wayne’s mentor in the blackest of martial arts and teacher of skills more fitting an assassin.
It is the second in the series (The Dark Knight), however, that is and probably will remain for decades to come the benchmark for movies based upon comic book heroes. Heath Ledger’s Joker is in my opinion the most evil character in cinematic history. And every time you think you’ve finally got a handle on how evil and depraved this character is, he get even more evil and depraved.
But Heath Ledger’s incredible acting as a mere device in this second film—a means to an end. For The Dark Knight is not so much a Batman movie as it was a cautionary tale of post 9/11 excess. The message here is, if something is truly and incomprehensibly evil, it will eventually corrupt good until the two become indistinguishable.
And this is where The Dark Knight Rises gets tripped up, as it were, and falls flat on its face. The underlying message here is contradictory to the tale that preceded it, contradictory to the point of incoherence.
Batman’s nemesis this time is Bane (Tom Hardy), a character who (like the Joker and Ra’s al Ghul before him) wants to destroy Gotham City . . . but not before turning the citizens of Gotham upon each other. If it’s been done twice before, you’d better come up with something really novel the third time around. Alas, Christopher Nolan does not. And whereas the Joker was totally unpredictable in his evil, Bane is not. Bane is pretty much an open book from the beginning, save for his deepest, innermost motivations, which are saved for the climactic battle near the end of the picture.
It is Bane’s predictability that makes him far less menacing than the Joker, even if the extent of the disaster he has planned for Gotham is more heinous. Overall, the sense of dread facing Gotham over a three-plus-month period (no wonder the film runs nearly three excruciatingly painful hours) just starts to wear down the viewer to where I no longer cared. The whole setup was dull, plodding, and interminable.
If you’re still inclined to watch this film, it is imperative that you view the preceding two or you’ll become irretrievably lost in the ensuing mayhem and the cascading litany of characters and references that rain down upon the audience like a monsoon downpour on the Indian subcontinent.
If not for the ending, I’d be giving this pile of bat guano 1.5 droppings, but the melding of all the elements in the last few minutes salvaged half a dropping for its inventiveness, if nothing else.