SPOILER WARNING: this review contains essential plot details of the film but it may save you from wasting three hours in air-conditioned semi-darkness.
Ever since Frank Miller created the template for an ageing, wounded and retired Batman in his groundbreaking graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns, DC comics and Warner Bros have had the opportunity to create a thrilling and moving cinematic event.
The Dark Knight Rises is not that film.
With Avengers Assemble, director/writer Joss Whedon had the smarts to stay close to the classic versions of his comic book heroes. Christopher Nolan thinks he knows better and wants to sprinkle them with intellectual ideas from the ‘real world’. The previous instalment of this muddled trilogy was blessed with a truly compelling performance from the late Heath Ledger. It was the Joker who saved the day. DKR has no such wild card to divert our attention from hazy plotting, fight scenes utilising the moves of television wrestling or the pitiful sight of veteran character actors having to mouth inane Hollywood dialogue.
Bane, the Batman’s latest screen nemesis, resembles a muscle bound oaf who has recently ‘discovered himself’ at an S&M nightclub. Of course both Bats himself and his ruthless anima the Catwoman are more than a little on the Torture Garden side, although both are curiously sexless in this particular outing.
the contents of Nolan’s psychosexual complex do not transfer to screen in any meaningful way
Nolan’s last hit Inception also managed to sidestep the primal urge for sex/death even though its subject matter was the dream state itself, which he reduced to the level of an expensive car ad. To make a truly memorable subconscious movie he should have taken note of the old duelling mind doctors Fraud and Junk who both agreed that dreams were the true temple of our base desires. Unlike a Hitchcock or a Lynch, the contents of Nolan’s psychosexual complex do not transfer to screen in any meaningful way. Throughout DKR’s overlong running time the director wilfully selects to abandon the sinister nocturnal imagery of the cat and the bat, placing them mostly under overcast daylight on the streets of Gotham where, stripped of their totemic context, they frankly seem a bit shabby.
needlessly elaborate long-chain action sequences
The man behind The Prestige certainly knows about misdirection. He hopes to fool the audience into thinking that something is actually going on by casting out wildly elaborate plot threads with over delayed payoffs, and marshalling his vast army of crew and technicians in order to bludgeon the audience with needlessly elaborate long-chain action sequences, punctuated by sleep inducing dialogue scenes in which the leads discuss their dreary motivations. In an attempt to keep its 12A rating this instalment abandons the graphic excesses of its predecessors and politely recruits a little team of orphans who exist only to cheer on the Batman as he saves the city.
It gets worse.
The film adopts a neo-populist stance by taking every opportunity to bash the rich: brokers are shot dead on the stock market floor, the privileged are turfed from their homes and Bruce Wayne himself is reduced to a pauper. The screenplay takes great pains to illustrate that both Bane and Catwoman have shown real character by clawing their way up to the top of the heap from dire circumstance. This creates an interesting inversion, which could have spiralled to a satisfying climax.
Bane is no ‘King of the Mob’ intending to liberate the People from their oppressors; the idle rich. Actually he is just a brawny henchman working for the daughter of a dead Supervillain from the first movie, using a peaceful energy fusion device transformed into a nuclear bomb to humiliate the US government and then destroy Gotham City because the mysterious League of Shadows needs to restore the correct balance between dark and light.
You couldn’t make it up.
Unfortunately you can, and Nolan proves that when you are big in Hollywood you can get away with anything. Predictably the hero ‘falls’ only to ‘rise again’ not just once, but several times, before the film stumbles its way to both a sappy ending and a franchise sequel opportunity. Thankfully the Odeon Cinema’s half-price Tuesdays offer meant that I only popped five pounds and fifty pence for this wasted opportunity and Mr. Nolan has claimed that he is finally done with the character.
We are thankful for small mercies.