The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

*. When he confirmed signing on to this third part of The Dark Knight Trilogy, director Christopher Nolan remarked that it would be a great chance to finish things off “rather than infinitely blowing up the balloon and expanding the story. . . . Unlike the comics, these things don’t go on forever in film, and viewing it as a story with an end is useful.”
*. This at least shows an awareness of how “blowing up the balloon” and infinite expansion (comic book storylines that do go on forever) had become an integral part of superhero franchises. As I said in my notes on Avengers: Age of Ultron, these movies only obey the rule of more is more (and I said that before we got Infinity War and Endgame).
*. So here are the numbers (I did a similar accounting in my notes on Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End if you’re interested in these things): Batman Begins ran 140 minutes and cost $150 million, The Dark Knight was 152 minutes and cost $185 million, and The Dark Knight Rises came in at 164 minutes and cost $230 million.
*. Eight years have passed and Batman has retired. He’s been through some wars and taken a lot of damage, physical and emotional. No longer the billionaire playboy, he’s the billionaire recluse, and even walks with a cane that is not a prop. He has no problem though getting back in the suit and kicking ass like it’s still 2008.
*. This is one of the biggest problems I had with the story. I can sort of get on board with Bruce Wayne/Batman wearing a knee brace so he can get back in the game. But how can we credit for a second the idea that after he has his back literally broken by Bane, with the vertebrae sticking out of the skin, all he has to do is a few chin-ups in a jail cell for five months and he’s as good as new? That’s a rehab too far, even for a comic book (in the Knightfall comic book this story is loosely based on the rehab goes on much longer, and is aided by top-of-the-line medical care).
*. I do like Tom Hardy as Bane. The big guy has evolved dramatically from his bathetic appearance as a gorilla in Batman & Robin. Hardy’s old-man voice makes an interesting discordancy with his bearish physique, and his Bane really seems to be enjoying himself tearing Gotham apart, perhaps even more than The Joker did.

*. I wonder how much of Bane’s Bolshie rhetoric he actually believes in. Or is he another anarchist like The Joker? But then I also wondered how much of an anarchist The Joker was in The Dark Knight. Or is that, another alternative, that Bane is so smitten with Talia that he’s just her bulldog?
*. These are questions worth asking because Selina Kyle/Catwoman seems to have a similar anti-capitalist agenda, which extends to being against the wedding of Big Data and the power of the state. At least that’s how I read her. But she probably also gets a kick out of dressing up.
*. Anyway, I mentioned in my notes on The Dark Knight how iffy the politics, which were seen as loosely addressing the fallout from 9/11, were. My point here is that they are even more confused in this movie. Critics saw some link to the Occupy Movement in Bane’s overthrow of Wall Street, but this may be cynical opportunism on his part, and anyway he’s a bad guy. As Anthony Lane points out, “nobody is richer or whiter than Bruce Wayne,” who actually lives in a castle. “Also,” Lane continues, “the outcome is positively Victorian, in that its dread of disorder far outweighs its relish of liberty uncaged; the throng is faced down and tamed by ranks of growling police officers.” It’s Peterloo all over again.
*. In Batman Begins I didn’t understand what the League of Shadows was up to. Something-something about unleashing chaos to re-establish, if not order, some kind of balance to the world. I don’t think Talia is interested in completing her father’s work but just in exacting a measure of revenge. Which at least makes her easier to understand.
*. There are more characters than we need here. I could put up with Talia’s late appearance just because she helped draw the trilogy together a bit at the end. I never saw the need to make such a big deal out of Harvey Dent. Catwoman has very little to do, wasting Anne Hathaway, an actor who lights up the screen pretty much whenever she’s on it. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Blake (Robin) seemed to just get introduced for an imaginary sequel. All these faces become hard to follow. I was genuinely surprised at the end to realize that Commissioner Gordon didn’t know that Batman was Bruce Wayne. By then it seemed like everybody else in Gotham had figured that much out.
*. I’m sure there are fans, maybe many fans, who find something profound in all of this. I don’t, but I think this may be the best we can expect out of such material. The fact that Nolan remained at the helm as both writer and director gives the trilogy a creative integrity and coherence. A couple of the villains are memorable, even if what they’re up to isn’t. Everything is turned out in properly epic fashion. If it’s all kind of ponderous that’s part of the epic treatment too.
*. Christopher Nolan would go on to other things. Or would he? I can’t say fresh woods and pastures new. In the fourth edition of his Biographical Dictionary of Film, which came out just prior to the release of Batman Begins, David Thomson would give us this capsule appreciation ; “without meaning to be crushing, I have to say that his [Nolan’s] work has already become progressively less interesting.” Still, he held out hope. “I suspect that his future will find a way to guide him back to modesty and limitation.”
*. Clearly that didn’t happen. I’m still not sure Nolan has much of a personal vision to offer. He strikes me as being another one of Hollywood’s talented engineers (which I don’t mean as a put-down). Meanwhile, The Dark Knight trilogy didn’t change the movies so much as it represented a step in the transformation of the blockbuster that was already underway.
*. Playing by the new rules of the game, however, it did mark a real advance over previous attempts at bringing Batman to the big screen. A dead end too.

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