When I mentioned last time that I was tired of superhero movies, I hadn't account for what has been touted as the summer's biggest movie, Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises, the final installment of his Batman trilogy. The Dark Knight Rises opens eight years after the last film closed on the death of District Attorney Harvey Dent. Organized crime has been eradicated from Gotham City and Batman has been branded public enemy number one. Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has gone into hiding after a failed energy project that had promised to supply Gotham with renewable, fossil fuel-free energy. Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) is still unsatisfied, convinced that things in Gotham are not as peaceful as they seem. It doesn't take long for a new villain to arrive in Gotham, proving him right. Enter Bane (Tom Hardy), a masked madman excommunicated from the League of Shadows and in league with Daggett (Ben Mendelsohn), a businessman bent on taking Wayne down. As Bane threatens to finish the destruction The League of Shadows started, he brings Batman out of hiding, causing a final conflict between Wayne and Alfred (Michael Caine). At the same time, Batman comes toe to toe with catburgler Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway).
To me, the most compelling parts of the story are the subplot of The Pit and the evolution of Detective Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). To break his spirit and to keep him out of the way, Bane exiles Wayne to a prison in a pit the middle of a far-away desert. Because you "cannot have despair without hope," prisoners are given the chance to climb out of the pit. None but a child born in the pit has ever managed the climb, though, and many have died trying. Rising from the pit and the anger that pushes Wayne out of it becomes the thematic center of the film. It's as subtle as a sledgehammer, but what can we expect from a film with so many explosions? Meanwhile, Gordon-Levitt's Blake takes over from Alfred as the ethical compass of the film. His character is the most emotionally rich of the film as he journeys from hope to disillusionment and back again. Gordon-Levitt, looking as manly as we have ever seen him, carries the role beautifully. He is able to convey both the boyish admiration of the Batman and the anger of an orphaned child grown into a man whose world is collapsing. He is a beautiful foil for Bruce Wayne and a more nuanced character than the Batman in this installment. Selina Kyle is my favorite performance by Anne Hathaway in quite a while. Her cat ears that flipped down to become goggles were one of my favorite details of the film. Hathaway's cat woman voice, a sort of sarcastic purr was sometimes annoying, but I far prefer it to Bale's Batman voice.
I think I'm the only person in American who didn't like The Dark Knight and I stand by that opinion. I find Nolan's movies overwhelming and pompous in such a way that the artistry of his films is overwhelmed by a lack of editing. In The Dark Knight Rises many of the slower moments which could have added more emotional substance to the many action sequences came across as stilted. The action sequences are well choreographed but there's so many of them it's hard to keep hold of the plot. In this film, however, I was more impressed by the details. A police captain arrives to the final showdown in his dress blues, a response to a sarcastic jab made at him by Commissioner Gordon. Catwoman disappears on Batman and he comments, to camera, "so that's what that feels like." As my best friend noted, the soundtrack (which sounds like a toned-down version of the Inception score to me) adds a great deal to the mood of the film.
Overall, however, I found this movie stressful to watch. It is exceptionally violent. Some have noted that the subtle argument between Batman and Catwoman over the use of guns adds an ironic touch, but even medical treatment in the movie is distressing to see. I left the theater exhausted and not in a cathartic way. Rather, I wished that some of the more subtle moments had been given more room to resonate instead of the sounding of machine guns.
For artful storytelling and great secondary characters, weighed down by overly drawn-out action sequences and clunky attempts at emotional scenes, I rate The Dark Knight Rises 3.5/5 stars
The Dark Knight Rises was written and directed by Christopher Nolan with Jonathan Nolan. It runs 163 minutes and is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some sensuality and language. Frankly, I'm shocked it's not an R.