Rising to the occasion eventually
Mano-a-mano with masks: Tom Hardy and Christian Bale in “The Dark Knight Rises.”
Updated: August 13, 2012 3:54PM
DARK KNIGHT RISES
★ ★ ★
It’s probably a good thing that the Batman takes a bow and makes his exit (at least for the moment) with this final installment in director Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy, because it’s clear he’s grown weary of the whole superhero business.
Unfortunately, that’s an emotional attitude that’s more deadly than any number of super-villains, and one that prevents “The Dark Knight Rises” from coming completely to life for nearly two thirds its ponderous running time.
It’s natural enough that he feels that way. As a result of the assorted horrors and upheavals of “The Dark Knight,” four years ago, he’s lost the love of his life, he’s been vilified by the fickle citizens of the city he champions, and he’s withdrawn into the life of a hermit as billionaire Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), hobbling around his mansion with a game leg and a fairly ratty goatee.
And it may well be that aficionados of the series will feel that the elegiac mood of this third installment is appropriate in the context of the trilogy as a whole (particularly considering that the Wayne disposish was never sunny at the best of times), just as they may immediately recognize the way this film’s sprawling, seemingly random plot developments have their origins in 2005’s “Batman Begins.”
More casual fans, though, may feel surprised to find themselves feeling confused and emotionally uninvolved (dare we say bored?) while waiting a long, long time for the plot to cohere and for the hero to snap out of his apathy and start kicking some Bat boo-tay.
This despite the fact “The Dark Knight Rises” has all the spectacle a $250-million budget can buy, including a dazzling opening sequence in which a CIA jet is commandeered by attackers descending on ropes from a giant cargo plane (shot as a real-life stunt sequence, with minimal computer-graphics whitewash).
The good news is that Nolan does, eventually, find a way to bring “Dark Knight Rises” to life and that he concludes the film, and the series on a satisfying note. However, he waits so long that the 12-hour, ticking-time-bomb deadline Batman faces, while racing to disarm the five-megaton nuclear device threatening to blow up Gotham City is comparatively unsuspenseful.
In the meantime, he allows Wayne to sulk before fatalistically suiting up again as the Batman (while his faithful butler Michael Caine wrings his hands and begs him not to), when it becomes clear Gotham is again being threatened by a super bad-guy.
A crucial difference this time is that he no longer seems driven by his old compulsion to avenge his murdered parents by terrorizing criminals. He feels old, tired and unmotivated, even when a couple of romantic interests materialize: Wealthy Wayne Enterprises board member Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) for the Bruce Wayne side of his persona and sexy cat burglar Silena Kyle (Anne Hathaway) for the guy in the bat-suit.
Actually, the biggest difference, in comparison to “The Dark Knight,” which had Heath Ledger’s Joker as special guest villain, the menacing tone of “Dark Knight Rises” is set by Bane (Tom Hardy) a muscle-bound criminal with a voice-muffling face mask and a persona that’s every bit as taciturn and phlegmatic as Batman’s. Which is not surprising, since Bane and Batman both had their early training by way of the League of Shadows, a deadly criminal organization that apparently prized dour impassivity above all.
Bane is a fearsome sort, to be sure, but a bit on the dull side, never raising his voice or changing his expression while murdering people with his bare hands — not even while doing his best to break Batman’s back with an Atomic Knee Drop in their first mano-a-mano encounter.
You can destroy stuff as spectacularly as you like in a movie like this, blow up bridges, football stadiums, even threaten to set off an atomic bomb, but if the hero doesn’t get excited about it, or the villain, or somebody, why should we?