UPDATE – Our thoughts are with the families and friends of the victims of the Denver theater shooting. We were saddened by this tragic event.
If “Inception“ found Christopher Nolan debating whether to surrender, Tarkovsky-like, the real world for the deepest levels of imagination, “The Dark Knight” Rises finds him already having taken the plunge.
Where would you rather be as a musclebound cross between Darth Vader and Lord Humongous, Warrior of the Wasteland sinks Gotham into a nuclear-tipped French Revolution? When peasant kangaroo courts manned by maniacs belt out ice-water justice to balding stockbrokers? Is there a better place than under the covers in the shadows of Wayne Manor (where we find Bruce Wayne in Howard Hughes-like seclusion)?
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With the gloomy worldview expressed in “The Dark Knight Rises,” we might well look for Chris Nolan to be peeing in mason jars right there next to him.
If The “Dark Knight Rises” is indeed a mirror on the times, then it reveals the director’s misgivings about the current wave of populism sweeping into the world. In their “Batman” trilogy, the Nolan Brothers—director Christopher and screenwriter Jonathan—have found the public untrustworthy, insufficiently thoughtful, too open to manipulation by disinformation. The villainous Bane, leading the people in a reign of terror against Gotham’s wealthy, replaces a civilization based on stabilizing lies with lies of his own. The film makes an overt reference to the French Revolution, Charles Dickens and A Tale of Two Cities. But it plays a little like Animal Farm.
Why does Bruce Wayne love Gotham, anyway? Why is this wretched hive of scum and villainy worth saving? It seems like a lot of trouble, a classic co-dependency. Gotham is the bachelor billionaire’s crazy girlfriend, constantly skinnydipping with the enemy, never able to turn his rubberized head without her slipping back into anarchy. The people of Gotham are worth saving, Batman seems convinced, but perhaps only in theory, only so far as to soothe his need to be the hero. Every martyr needs an audience to save.
How should we react when Gotham (and allegorically, our world) turns upside down once again? What would Nolan have us do? It’s obviously not to follow a strongman like Bane, the brutal trickster, and his illusion of imprisoned “liberation.” It isn’t the aloof out-for-herself Catwoman (a foxy Anne Hathaway, at the top of her considerable talent), disconnected from the world around her. As a hero, Batman offers stability and good intentions. What does Batman deliver but noblesse oblige, restoration of a dysfunctional status quo, and a delay until the next relapse?
As an action movie, “The Dark Knight Rises” is quite successful, involving in the moment, although not quite as memorable or darkly humorous as the best of its predecessor, “The Dark Knight.” The scale and the drive are consuming (even if Hans Zimmer’s score is too heavy-handed). The story is thick, layered but understandable. I might have cut a couple of characters (Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s beat cop comes to mind), but it doesn’t detract too much from the proceedings. Bloated and pompous, true, but “The Dark Knight Rises” is rewarding. Disguised as entertainment, its best moments feel like a foreboding prophecy of the present.
Read other reviews by Kevin Bowen: BRAVE, ROCK OF AGES, THE DICTATOR, MOONRISE KINGDOM