Nolan rises to the occasion and goes for thirds (spoiler notice)
In 2008 I called it: there was no way they’d be able to top The Dark Knight and they should leave it alone. It was a perfect storm of acting talent, writing, theme, characters and timing, and after Heath Ledger’s Joker, the only way was down. My predictions proved spot on. But The Dark Knight Rises does not merely fail to live up to its predecessor: it disappoints with a vengeance.
This movie is an exercise in testing the audience’s patience. For two and a half hours it barrages us with boring characters, tedious storytelling and insulting plot twists. The back-and-forth patter, usually possessing Nolan-brand smarts, comes across as smug and clichéd. All the players have become laughable parodies of themselves. Mentor Alfred seems eternally stuck in giving solemn advice through recounting details of his life. Batman haphazardly switches between extreme moroseness and bullish anger. Scarecrow comes up for another cameo, but has unfortunately devolved into a comedy character rather than the sinister presence he once was. It’s a funny scene, no doubt, but also a depressing use of the delightful Cillian Murphy.
Everything about the way this movie works speaks of how rushed it was. The ideas that fuel it are shallow and in need of a lot more maturing. The plot is an unorganized mess that smacks of reheated leftovers from the previous film. Characters are just there for god knows what reason. What exactly is Catwoman adding to the theme of the film?
Batman Begins was an investigation of fear and how it could be harnessed. The Dark Knight ingeniously explored the cutting edge between order and chaos. What’s this one about precisely: the battle between the haves and have-nots, some recycled notions from its predecessors? Besides which, the Joker was a truly menacing villain. His insidiousness lay in the fact that he forced Batman to make decisions that tested his morality. Contrast that to the flimsy evil of Bane, whose idea of torturing his enemy’s ‘soul’ is to put a television in front of them so they can see how they’ve failed. Not even Tom Hardy can make that work, though his performance in itself is top notch.
Nolan is often accused of favoring the clockwork intricacies of his plot over the emotional journey of his characters. I have no problems with this: you go into these movies knowing what to expect. I enjoy the game-like structures the director builds so lovingly and the heavy exposition that comes along with it. Indeed, usually this is handled with grace and wit. But when the plot isn’t that good or interesting, and the exposition delivered with heavy hand, it falls apart. Suddenly, we’re left with neither intriguing ideas to dig into, nor any emotional truth to the characters.
This dark knight hardly rises above the level of a Saturday morning cartoon. The fantastically dull, overlong climax centers around a ticking time bomb threatening to blow up Gotham. It’s inches away from “Some days, you just can’t get rid of a bomb!”-territory. After Joker’s crafty mind games last time around, nothing could be more drab. The worst crime is how uninteresting it all is. I shouldn’t be this disappointed though: after all, I already knew it in 2008.