‘The Dark Knight Rises’ not quite far enough

July 29, 2012
Christian Bale in Warner Bros. Pictures' "The Dark Knight Rises"

Sadly overshadowed by the pall of the Colorado tragedy, "The Dark Knight Rises" is being analyzed from every angle imaginable. With everyone hungry for a fresh take on a story in our 24-hour news cycle, the film is being picked apart to find sense in a senseless act.

But I will leave that dissection for the television media vultures; I merely want to view it for its artistic merits as well as its place in the "Batman" canon as envisioned by director Christopher Nolan.

For those with squirrel-like spans of attention: "Rises" is the messiest of the trilogy, but manages to bring matters to a fitting close despite its seams-bursting length and ambition.

For the rest of us, a more detailed dissolution: "Rises" had incoming Goliath-sized expectations. For not only had Nolan constructed a perfectly plausible world that made us believe a man could roam freely fighting crime in a pointy-eared bat suit, but the director also took time to slip in a little film called "Inception" that was a dizzying slice of mind candy.

He scraped away the campy buildup that encrusted the latter attempt at the franchise, and gave us a vision as dark as it was morally complex. "Rises" begins eight years after we last left billionaire Bruce Wayne (played by Christian Bale), who led a Howard Hughes-like existence holed up in his estate, pining the loss of his true love. Meanwhile, a hulking mound of muscle and menace named Bane (played by Tom Hardy) has risen from the shadows in an attempt to "liberate" Gotham City.

Also lurking in the periphery is one sultry Selina Kyle (played by Anne Hathaway), Gotham’s rubber-suited Robin Hood who is part adversary, part ally to our hero (and is thankfully never referred to as “Catwoman”), and officer John Blake (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who’s straight out of a Dickens novel in his scrappy earnestness. Michael Cain and Morgan Freeman both return to their respective roles as Alfred the Butler and Lucius Fox, with Caine given the heavier role in this chapter.

And just as Bane signals a lack of balance in Gotham, the same can be said for this installment of the franchise. The problems are not overwhelming, but enough to distract from what is a satisfying draw of the curtain to an amazing feat of film.

The main issue of “Rises” that perhaps affects all else is one of pacing. After a midair action sequence that starts the film in fifth gear, things slow down to cram in as much exposition as possible…perhaps too much. By the third act, Nolan rushes to tie up the frayed ends, which causes fissures in the story and asks a bit too much of its audience to digest without questioning. For we are required to make giant leaps that seem far too convenient, even for a film based on a comic book.

You might say, “Well, it is based on a comic, so isn’t the very foundation of the film a giant leap?” If you didn’t say that, you should. Shame on you. But Nolan went out of his way to ground this film is some sort of reality (unlike the fanciful “Avengers,” which happily existed in its own alternate reality). And when you toss that reality out in the final hour, it causes other holes to appear (such as: if all these people close to Batman know his true identity, why does he still feel the need to talk in the growly, death-metal voice when he is alone with them in his costume?).

The other issue that anchors this “Dark Knight” from truly taking flight as its predecessor did is its chief nemesis. Tom Hardy is a skilled actor, and his mass and movement are threatening, but when his face is almost entirely covered in what looks like Darth Vader’s summer vacation helmet, he’s reduced to just a set of squinty eyes. And perhaps it was the sound in my particular theater, but between his modulated voice and Hans Zimmer’s bombastic score, many lines were rendered unintelligible.

What Nolan does do is re-enlist Wally Pfister as chief cinematographer, who is once again superlative and smooths over many a rough patch. He also sticks to a decidedly old-school approach to action, with actual staged, elaborate set pieces which give authenticity to the film in an age of wispy, computer-generated craziness.

When lined up next to its predecessors, “The Dark Knight Rises” doesn’t feel as though it has the same grand ambitions. It’s more content being a comic-book-based motion picture. That is good enough for most, and I walked away satisfied and still in awe of what Nolan has accomplished as a whole. But he had seemingly gone out of his way to make this franchise more than that, so it’s hard to blame those of us who had hoped for just a little more of a proper send-off.

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