DIRECTED BY CHRISTOPHER NOLANSTARRING: CHRISTIAN BALE, ANNE HATHAWAY, TOM HARDY, MICHAEL CAINE, GARY OLDMAN, MORGAN FREEMAN, JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT with CILLIAN MURPHY, JOSH PENCE and LIAM NEESON
I liked ‘the Dark Knight Rises’ in much the same way that I liked ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II’ and I trust that by saying that I mean no one any discredit. I had always wondered if J.K. Rowling had thought things through to completion before she even began with the franchise – it’s a mystery that has so far been unexplained. But I know for a fact in the case of Christopher Nolan that nothing was preordained. The script to the third film was ‘cracked’ as he puts it; the ends were tied. And it all comes down to how well he could do it.
So how well has he done it? We shall have to look at the source material for that, regardless of the fact that the screenplay is original and penned by Nolan along with brother Jonathan. The film introduces three characters from various phases of the Batman spectrum as published by DC comics, but the focal point as far as I could see was in the introduction of Bane as a physical counterpart to a fairly weakened Batman. Bane seems to have first appeared in a comic called ‘Knightfall’ where he’s famous for having broken Batman’s back – it was a moment’s half-smile to see the scene repeated on screen, rather religiously.
Bane (Tom Hardy) breaks Batman’s back, Selina Kyle has his. Nolan has always done a wonderful job of giving comic characters enough human features to inspire empathy in all. Even in the most apathetic character of his – the Joker – he could bring about understanding, if not get us fit our feet in his shoes. Selina, played by Anne Hathaway enhancing the shades of haughtiness we saw in ‘Havoc’, is as capable of vulnerability as Batman wears on bat-suit sleeve. Bane, we see, is capable of some of his own as well. All these people are humans behind their masks where not all who are unmasked are as human as we might see them to be. We had Ra’s Al Ghul (Liam Neeson) and Dr. Jonathan Crane (Cillian Murphy, who returns for a rather pointless, but exciting, cameo) in ‘Batman Begins’ as examples. In ‘the Dark Knight’ we had Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart). That we have yet another in ‘the Dark Knight Rises’ is all I shall say at this point in time.
Why I felt the need to consult source material was to show the ropes of responsibility that seem to have tied Nolan to the wall as he wrote this screenplay. For all you know, the ropes could be his own, where he wouldn’t want to do injustice to the film from two angles very dear and extremely competent – the previous two films on the one hand, the comic books on the other. There are two loose ends that he’s tied together with fond recollection and a lot of nostalgia inspired by means of spirituality that goes back to ‘Batman Begins’. There’s also a vague rekindling of the Joker’s famous social experiment from ‘the Dark Knight’ that doesn’t work as well the second time around.
Nolan, thus, looks over his shoulder with a perpetual eye on the past as he makes his way ahead. The result is a heavily-directional pile of sequences that do little but propel the story forward. One of the most fundamental of reasons as to why I liked ‘Batman Begins’ was the power of its scenes where every single one of them stand out. ‘the Dark Knight’, I thought, was a close match, and it is in this aspect that ‘the Dark Knight Rises’ is a little bit of a letdown. I’ve always seen Nolan to be a man capable of bursts of genius alongside constant action so that the bar-chart doesn’t hit a low anytime. But ‘the Dark Knight Rises’ is a little too active for its own good. It’s like he shot a lot of scenes and found a way to fit them in on the editing table.
Of course this doesn’t imply a complete lack of glory. Batman contributes to ample heroism in the limited screen space he has (Bruce Wayne dominates, even though not as convincingly as he did in ‘Batman Begins’). Selina Kyle does justice to a cameo stretched to the limit with one-liners that thrive on Hathaway’s grace. Bane has his moments in that, as I mentioned before, he’s almost a sort of body double; someone who could match Batman blow-by-blow. There is suspense that’s kept alive right up to the end and there is ambiguity, some cheeky stuff as well, which Nolan has proven, time and again, to be capable of. And then there are scenes that cry for attention as though they’ve been compelled to exist – like the one snapshot that’s supposed to sum up the spirit of the film on the whole, which looked posed and arranged than natural. That didn’t stop me from screaming myself hoarse at it, though.
I disapproved of Nolan the last time he tried his hand with a big haul of actors (‘Inception’, to be specific). This isn’t to say he didn’t manage to ‘pull it off’ but to say that he does just that. In ‘the Dark Knight Rises’ we have too many characters with too little time – to an extent that one of them has to sleep with Mr. Wayne in a show of desperation. If it’s not fair on part of the characters, it’s even worse on the actors’ front. Aside from regulars Michael Caine (whose Alfred, this time, lacks the usual spice of sarcasm on a melodramatic high), Morgan Freeman (as Lucius Fox, who looks too composed for one put in a spot) and Gary Oldman (Jim Gordon spends too much time on a comfy hospital bed as the rookie runs around), we have Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Det. John Blake who interns with the Batman before recruitment for a permanent job. And we have Miranda Tate, a pioneer of Fusion Energy at Wayne Enterprises, a role that Marion Cotillard, I thought, shouldn’t have been cast in.
If there’s one thing I’d give Nolan total credit for, it’s that he knows his action choreography. Ben Affleck ('Gone Baby Gone', 'the Town') is the only other name that comes to mind when I think in those terms. ‘the Dark Knight Rises’ has more than usual – some too dull at times to put on the same pedestal as the man behind them. I could deal with that, though. This is, after all, a two-and-a-half star movie that gets three for the show. Except I’d give it four because I love Batman like that. And for Hans Zimmer and for the love of cheese.