I am super pleased to introduce Oliver Wood as a guest reviewer. Oliver is a freelance writer with an interest in philosophy and literature. To date he has been published in BBC Homes & Antiques, Beyond magazine, and Exposed magazine. He is always on the lookout for exciting new projects to work on. Find him on Twitter.
With the ability to attract those who enjoy breezy entertainment, and those who appreciate cerebral drama alike, director of The Dark Knight Rises, Christopher Nolan, is that rare thing in Hollywood: a director capable of bridging the too often impassable worlds of movies and film. Every sort of fan seems to like him. The Criterion-collecting, DVD extras-obsessed, student of film studies level one, and at the other end of the spectrum, the type who has no idea who Nolan is, but will have paid for and seen at least three of his films. As reported last week, there are also those committed enough to send death threats to any reviewers refusing to give this film anything less than a 5 star-rating. “Fandom” doesn’t quite seem like the right word here — perhaps “insane” would be closer to the mark.
Regardless of the mental health of some of Nolan’s (or Batman’s) more eccentric devotees, what will probably be of interest to most people is whether this, the third installment in the new Batman trilogy, works as something on the same level as Inception, a film that might not necessarily require thought, but a film that requires a great deal of attention. To answer this question, it is probably necessary to outline the plot in the The Dark Knight Rises first. Beginning where we left off, with Batman’s lover dead, and Batman himself forced into hiding by the police, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is now a virtual recluse unable to escape his past. As is ever the case in these things, he is brought out of hiding to face his demons — in this instance, a villain played by Bane (Tom Hardy) who can only be described as Charles Bronson, if Bronson had asthma and had read some Marx. This is no vaudeville, gurning-and-waving-prosthetics-at-the-camera performance though; on the contrary. Bane is menacing in a way that it is difficult to remember a “comic” villain ever managing before.
Without giving too much of the plot away, once Batman emerges from the protective allure of his Bat-cave, The Dark Knight Rises effectively becomes an exercise in keeping as many balls in the air as possible. Bane wants to terrorise Gotham with explosives, Catwoman/Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) wants to prey on the leftovers, Morgan Freeman wants to do “Morgan Freeman” somewhere amongst it all, and Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) apparently want to turn the whole thing into a Baltimore crime-drama. These are not levels though. No one is dreaming. But it’s easy to forget: with Hans Zimmer on board providing the pounding score, the whole thing at times feels like a DC-themed level in Leonardo DiCaprio’s subconscious. In many ways, this is to be expected. Inception was the film where Nolan appeared to get it all right: finding his strongest support from critics and fans alike; so it’s hardly surprising that he would try to recreate some of that success here.
If there is anything like a theme underlying this otherwise mainly conventional plot: man wants to kill entire city, other man wants to prevent him killing entire city, The Dark Knight Rises is the classic allegory of rebirth. The journalist Tom Wolfe once said that superheroes were part of America’s mythology, and that therefore, Americans had no need for ancient myth. If that’s true, Batman here is quite obviously a PVC-armoured phoenix rising from the ashes; not the most authentic replacement for a phoenix, but nevertheless embodying the very same spirit of renewal. There’s also some attempt at political commentary too. “It’s not my money, it’s everybody’s money,” a cop says as Bane terrorises the Gotham stock-exchange. “But there’s no money in here, there’s nothing to steal,” pleads one of the traders to Bane inside. “So why are you here?” He growls back. Ah yes, who’s the real terrorist here — the hulking sociopath in his Vader mask, or the banker in his Armani suit and tie? Sometimes Nolan’s political insights aren’t as penetrating as his mythological ones.
Even if this is not the epitome of a “thinking person’s film,” does The Dark Knight Rises force you to pay attention, and do so intelligently? The answer to that question is mostly yes. Nolan hasn’t quite yet learned how to make a film that is equally as thoughtful as something like The Following on a big-budget scale, but via Inception, he has learned how to give you something a little bit more than just “slick entertainment.” There’s something in there for both types of movie-goer. The only possible complaint is that, at the moment, he’s still slipping the masses a bit more for their money than the art house crowd. The gap does appear to be narrowing though. Yet what is probably most notable of all here, beyond all the talk of demographics and profit margins, is Nolan’s increasingly effortless ability to weave together these huge narrative epics. Sometimes watching this film feels like watching three different movies concurrently. But somehow Nolan manages to keep it all together. The Dark Knight Rises might not be a film that we’ll want to revisit once the Blu-rays have come out for Christmas, but as an important footnote in Nolan’s career as master-orchestrator, it may be a film worth remembering.
Written by Oliver Wood
Oliver is a freelance writer with an interest in philosophy and literature. To date he has been published in BBC Homes & Antiques, Beyond magazine, and Exposed magazine. He is always on the lookout for exciting new projects to work on. Find him on Twitter.