I must first make something clear. There is a current movement in blockbuster cinema that has high aspirations. It dares to be different and give its audience good, intelligent stories told in a serious way with superb technical skill and understanding of the power of cinema. Christopher Nolan, the British director of the two previous Batman films and other standalone movies such as The Prestige and Inception, is at the forefront of this movement. I salute him for trying to do something interesting and complex with the genre of the mainstream action movie. I respect what he is doing. And it’s because I respect it that I have to say he is still quite far from succeeding in making a truly brilliant film. He is heading in the right direction, but in my opinion his Dark Knight trilogy is a flawed mixture of exceptional talent and messy plotting. The Dark Knight Rises, the epic conclusion, doesn’t do much to stop this.
I know some people are still understandably touchy about plot spoilers, so I will try to be brief in explaining the premise. The film sees Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) return as the Dark Knight to fight further terrors in Gotham. This time the face of the threat isn’t the Joker, but Bane (Tom Hardy, pictured left), a terrifying anarchist who talks through a mask that covers most of his face.
The opening of the film explains where we are up to in the world of Gotham and who the new faces are (although I like to refer to this bit as Inception 2: The Reunion). As well as Tom Hardy, we also have Joseph Gorden-Levitt as a kind-hearted police officer, and terrific French actor Marion Cotillard as a woman determined to bring clean sustainable energy to the city. Series regular Michael Caine, as Alfred the butler, pops up for some emotional scenes and does them rather well. We are also treated to the slick and frisky delights of Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) although that name is never used.
The most interesting aspect of the film is its unashamedly right-wing bias. The film presents a world where the alleged bliss of capitalism is protected by a billionaire vigilante who fends off the lunatics of the far-left. It’s refreshingly unsubtle with its politics and commands them with confidence and an admirable style.
On a narrative level, this film is even messier than The Dark Knight, and that film really was in need of a script-tighten. Written by Nolan and his brother Jonathan Nolan, with involvement from David S. Goyer, it’s far too long and borders on the pretentious. Powerful scenes rest on a shaky foundation structure, and at times that structure doesn’t hold. Around the middle things start to drag. I have to confess, in some scenes I was very close to not caring who mastered fear or toughened themselves up through pain or gave power to the people. It all felt too much. This house of many cards is a very fragile one.
Having said that, there are haunting references to the French Revolution, some deliberately evocative of Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities. These are terrifying, and I don’t think I will be the only one who sees them as an unintentional reminder of London’s flirtation with anarchy in the August riots of last year. I know it didn’t ever get as bad as that, but there are some scenes, particularly those where innocent members of the public have their homes trashed, that feel disturbingly familiar.
The acting from the glittering cast is faultless, and the particular standout is Joseph Gordon-Levitt (pictured right). He gives a beautifully controlled performance of a man who knows what direction he wants to strive in without knowing exactly how to get there by himself.
In the end, I was very glad I saw the film. There is so much talent on display here it would be very naive to sneer and label it as dreadful due to its weaknesses. But at the same time, I’m uneasy about calling a film as imperfect and troubled as this one as masterpiece. Many feel ready to hand it that title, and that is of course their choice. But for me, when watching this picture, I saw difference and inspiration, but not brilliance or perfection. I know there will be many who disagree with me, but I firmly believe The Dark Knight Rises shows glimmers of something truly amazing. Sadly, that something doesn’t quite steal the show and those glimmers, although bright and appealing, remain just glimmers.
The Dark Knight Rises (2012), directed by Christopher Nolan, is distributed in the UK by Warner Bros. Pictures, Certificate 12A.