This Week’s Popcorn: “The Dark Knight Rises”

…after about two hours

By Michael S. Goldberger

Special to the Observer


Via the character of Bane (Tom Hardy), director Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises” consternates our filmgoing experience with one of the evilest villains in recent memory, second only to Anthony Hopkins’s Hannibal Lecter. I mean, he ate people. Cannibalism! Sheesh! Bane is pretty much content to just terrorize and kill his victims.

You’ll meet him and his repulsive ilk as you thumb through all the other pretty pictures that, after much ado, finally congeal during the movie’s last third into a mighty fusion of plot, philosophy and special effects. Until then, like the world before it finally formed, this is a miasma of confusion, disparate elements, unsettling darkness and foreboding.

Indeed, there is much muttering, the dialogue often made indiscernible by a mixture of mumbling and slurred accents. Adding to the disconcertion is the deafening roar of Hans Zimmer’s raucous score as it competes for our ears with the audio assault of the accompanying F/X. But when finally the fog lifts, this is one heck of a superhero yarn.

Granted, there are many elements that must be inserted into so voluminous a storyboard, as well as commercial considerations that pay the rent for such an ambitious project. Still, filmmaker Nolan, who co-wrote and directed the meticulously complex “Memento” (2000), has shown that he is doubtlessly capable of far better, more concise storytelling.

Some reasonable restraint, a general tightening and an obedience to the less is more theory of artistic pursuit might have gone a long way to making this a great movie instead of just a pretty good one. As any decent stage director will attest, one must go up into the cheap seats to ascertain if everything is being communicated to the theater patron.

That’s assuming you don’t want the lines muffled and aren’t looking to heighten the overall uneasiness quotient with a little sensory deprivation. Surely a deft hand in the editing room, where dubbing and a judicious manipulation of the volume control can do wonders, would exponentially enhance “The Dark Knight Rises’” production values.

Said technical shortcomings enumerated, it behooves to note a fine cast, especially Tom Hardy’s Bane guy. If sheer bad could affect a movie’s rating, this certainly would be an R instead of just a PG-13. Happily, Christian Bale does a good job of matching the dastard cuss’ forays into evildoing, evincing a very capable, if worrisomely reluctant, champion.

Supporting those dipoles, Gary Oldman is swell as Commissioner Gordon; alluring Anne Hathaway is exotically capricious as Selina Kyle/Catwoman; and Joseph Gordon-Levitt is award-worthy as Blake, a no-doubt-about-it good cop. Providing the icing on Mrs. Haversham’s cake, the family retainer no hero can be without, is Michael Caine’s Alfred.

The epic tale is told through a revolving exposition of characters, each ostensibly taking a turn on the script’s psychiatrist couch, wherein tales of abuse, misuse and all manner of base cruelty are plaintively divulged. Reaching a cataclysmic pitch, the disquiet finally fulminates and manifests in a politically astute monograph detailing the siege of a city.

Shades of Nazi occupation during WWII, most of Gotham is crippled with desperation, guilt, doubt and fear. Even the federal authorities, blackmailed by the invaders, have their hands tied. And just to further obfuscate matters, the fatalistic cloud that hangs heavy over the metropolis makes it near impossible to tell the good guys from the bad guys.

Meanwhile, back at Wayne Manor, where Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne has essentially placed his Batman outfit in moth balls, the title character suffers his own siege…an emotional funk as only a true superhero can experience it. To rise above the personal demons that torment and attempt to save the day, or not? That is the question.

It doesn’t get much bleaker than this. Intentional or not, director Nolan has brought all the apocalyptic doom and gloom of an Albrecht Dürer engraving to the silver screen, replete with just about every confounding enigma relating to human existence. Thus the film plays on two levels: a surface, adventure saga, and something esoterically medieval.

Only a country film critic, I’d be interested to hear what a panel of Harvard sociologists and theologians might make of this profoundly curious attempt to strike the most despairing of notes. What’d really be great is if the director answered, at least in part, his Delphic inquiry. But alas, poor Yorick, we won’t be finding out the meaning of life here.

In the end it turns conventional, and we merely take another dip into the Batman legacy, getting a hint of the future in the bargain. Well, at least there’s a future. That’s something. And so is this…a mainstream film that plays like a Wagnerian opera. Viewers seeking their fill of Sturm und Drang will find that “The Dark Knight Rises” to the occasion.

“The Dark Knight Rises,” rated PG-13, is a Warner Bros. Pictures release directed by Christopher Nolan and stars Christian Bale, Anne Hathaway and Tom Hardy. Running time: 164 minutes