The concluding chapter in the Dark Knight trilogy is generally an exercise in grim-faced grandiosity.
DIRECTED BY CHRISTOPHER NOLAN
Before The Dark Knight Rises arrived and instantly supplanted its predecessor as the most sombre mainstream-comic-book-to-film adaptation ever made, Heath Ledger’s admonishments against seriousness in The Dark Knight had appeared a little ironic. Relative to Rises, however, The Dark Knight now seems something like Christopher Nolan letting his hair down: despite its largely dour tone, the director harnessed Ledger’s phenomenal turn to lend the film genuine moments of twisted levity.
This time around, Nolan’s trademark quiff is firmly pomaded in place, and the absence of the anarchic Joker is keenly felt. Granted, Rises is visually spectacular, and features an assortment of audacious, massively scaled set pieces. But with a runtime of two hours and 45 minutes, the concluding chapter in the Dark Knight trilogy is generally an exercise in grim-faced grandiosity, even more determined than the previous instalment to transcend pop entertainment and tackle the hot-button sociopolitical crise du jour.
In The Dark Knight, that was the post-9/11 security state. Here, it’s the growing disenchantment of the 99 per cent, and Nolan, who returns as co-writer with brother Jonathan, is none too subtle about it. In one scene, Batman’s latest nemesis—Tom Hardy, as the oft-incomprehensible Bane—literally occupies Wall Street, storming Gotham’s stock exchange to torment the hapless traders within. Informed by a suspenders-clad Gordon Gekko type that there’s no actual money on the premises to steal, Hardy’s masked brute wheezes the pointed riposte, “Then why are you people here?”
The siege is part of a convoluted plot to propel Gotham toward outright class warfare, with the aid of a mothballed Wayne Enterprises fusion reactor, hijacked and repurposed as a neutron bomb with a city-wide blast radius. Naturally, Bruce Wayne’s gravel-throated alter-ego is the only entity capable of curbing Bane’s reign of terror, despite having laid low for nearly a decade after taking the rap for the death of Harvey Dent. Dusting off his cape and cowl, Christian Bale’s Wayne is joined by series newcomers Joseph Gordon-Levitt as an intrepid rookie cop, and a sassy Anne Hathaway as a slinky cat burglar with potential links to Batman’s adversary.
Physically, Hardy’s hulking villain is more than a match for Bale’s Batman. But without a comparably developed sense of motivation—his desire to destroy Gotham is apparently inspired by a hazy allegiance to Batman Begins baddie Ra’s al Ghul—Bane fails to compel. Indeed, quite why he commands the cultish, even suicidal devotion of an army of followers remains a mystery, beyond the notion that Nolan is making a vague, laboured allusion to the continued threat of religious extremism.
Similarly, even Rises‘ overt references to the Occupy movement begin to feel like a clumsy bid to generate timely thematic heft. With the stage set for Gotham’s class-divided denizens to face a climactic Dark Knight–style moment of reckoning, Nolan shirks judgment in favour of a bombastic but standard-issue race-against-the-clock action sequence. A similar conclusion served The Avengers well enough, but given that Nolan works in a more self-important mode, here it registers as a tad insubstantial.