Then trips and stumbles through a wild-roaming plot and heaps of bludgeoning. Oh, Batman.
If only they were fighting superhero fatigue.
Are you feeling dizzy? Short of breath? Empty of wallet and brain, tired and lethargic? If not, you will. This is definitely the summer of superhero fatigue.
Surely the most wearying of all this summer's comic book movies is also the most anticipated -- Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises. It's being heralded as the best Batman movie ever, a masterpiece, an epic of good and evil, of light and dark, practically the Apocalypse Now of superhero movies. It's none of these things, and less.
Ominously (in a storytelling, not atmospheric, way), the blockbuster opens with a public memorial to Harvey Dent. Dent is symbolized by a glossy shot of actor Aaron Eckhart's chin dimple. Eckhart, if you recall (and more power to you if you don't), played Dent, who turned into the villainous and less-photogenic Two-Face in 2008's Dark Knight.
Now Dent is being hailed as a (dead) hero for cleaning up the streets of Gotham. Which never really seemed to need any more cleaning up than the average hip-hop video, but we have to give Nolan some allowances, I guess. Batman meanwhile has gone AWOL for reasons that are never made entirely clear, though his disappearance is sure talked about a lot.
This creaky plot-starter is followed by an action scene featuring a James Bond-ish midair kidnapping. This would be thrilling if it weren't so confusing. Though there's no real reason for such an elaborate scheme to kidnap one lone nuclear physicist, the sequence does serve to introduce Bane, the franchise's most menacing and incomprehensible villain yet.
Bane is played by Tom Hardy, a slab of beef who brings an unexpected eloquence to the role. This is all the more impressive considering nearly half of his dialogue is unintelligible due to being spoken from behind a grill-like mouthpiece. Mumble-mumble-mumble, he goes.
Bane is one of the two interesting characters in The Dark Knight Rises. The other is Selina Kyle. If the movie took itself less seriously, she would be known as Catwoman instead of just plain old Selina. She is played by Anne Hathaway, who puts a clever spin on every line uttered by her tough-cookie seductress/jewel thief.
The Dark Knight Rises comes alive any time one of these two are onscreen. Unfortunately, that leaves approximately 90 minutes of Christian Bale sulking and the rest of the cast, including Michael Caine, Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman profitably chewing the scenery.
And I never did figure out what Joseph Gordon-Levitt is doing here, except to demonstrate his ability to keep a straight face during one of the movie's most ridiculous scenes. In it, he tries to lead a school bus full of at-risk orphans (I'm not making this up) out of imperiled Gotham. I guess the idea of at-risk orphans who are also blind or handicapped would have been just too over-the-top for The Dark Knight Rises.
Ra ra bludgeonings!
The plot becomes increasingly nonsensical as the movie squeaks along, with villains wanting to destroy Gotham because mumble-mumble-mumble (the idea of class warfare is touched on for about five seconds, though Bane never goes so far as to carry an Occupy Gotham protest sign), and Bale/Wayne having to prove himself by climbing out of a pit which looks like it might be in Saudi Arabia but logistically speaking must be just outside of Gotham city limits, if not in the backyard of city hall.
There are plenty of other things wrong with The Dark Knight Rises, not just from a storytelling angle but also from aesthetic (oh, for some colour!) and moral (the movie wallows in violence yet never shows blood or even a convincing depiction of pain) points of view.
But to be totally fair, the last (if only) installment in Nolan's trilogy does bludgeon the audience into rooting for its heroes through default -- Hardy as Bane is better at embodying evil than Bale is at giving boring old Batman some depth.
For all its budget and pretensions, The Dark Knight Rises boils down to two guys, an underdog and brute, pounding each other senseless. It's a Rocky movie in Kevlar.