The Dark Knight Rises

These days, if you want to make an epic film, it had better have some element of fantasy. The Dark Knight Rises, which weighs in at sixteen minutes shy of three hours, is the Monolith of the summer — huge and loud, massive in scope, every elegant shot bearing the aroma of very serious money. Logically it won’t hold much water; that’s the price of hitching a big movie with pensive themes to a comic-book-superhero plot — something has to give. But, if I may quote my review of The Amazing Spider-Man from a few weeks back, “we don’t look to Spider-Man for verisimilitude” — nor do we seek it at a movie about a man who dresses up as a bat and fights crime.

Director Christopher Nolan, here finishing the trilogy he started with Batman Begins and continued with The Dark Knight, has been praised for giving us a Batman grounded in “the real world.” Essentially, this means Nolan doesn’t camp it up, though the image of a billionaire orphan — Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) — climbing into a hard rubber suit with pointy ears and pounding on criminals is inherently campy, or at least pulpy. The Dark Knight Rises doesn’t hold back on the pulp. Batman’s adversary this time is a masked beast calling himself Bane (Tom Hardy), who plans to “liberate” Gotham City by triggering mass destruction, entrapping most of the police force in the sewers, and freeing all the criminals. This threat is dire enough to pull Batman, in mopey hibernation for the past eight years, out of mothballs.

I will leave to surgeons and chiropractors the question of whether a man as grievously wounded as Batman is at Bane’s hands could recover so quickly and definitively, with crude second-hand help from a kindly inmate out in the middle of nowhere. It’s all about will power, I guess. Due to recent events, The Dark Knight Rises will probably gather a patina of spooky nihilist darkness it doesn’t deserve; the hero at one point growls “No guns!,” and he clearly stands foursquare against chaos and destruction. Batman’s other adversary and sometimes ally, Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), has no such compunctions about guns, but uses one in a key moment in a way pretty much anyone could support. Hathaway, fortunately not saddled with the nickname Catwoman anywhere in the film, is the best thing about it — slinky, sardonic, bitterly pragmatic but harboring some sliver of hope.

The movie will eat up half your afternoon, but will do it so smoothly and at such a flawless pace you likely won’t notice. Nolan gives us and the studio our money’s worth, putting it all up on the screen. He and his brother/cowriter Jonathan jam enough material for three movies into one; we don’t come out hungry for more — we emerge thoroughly sated, as we do after Thanksgiving dinner, but with our senses quickened a bit. Nolan sticks the landing and hasn’t botched the trilogy, and that in itself is satisfying, though the obvious element missing is the freakily memorable Joker of The Dark Knight. Bane is sportively evil, but the masked Tom Hardy works under a terrible handicap Heath Ledger didn’t have. He can use only his eyes and his heavily processed voice, which, despite the sound editors jacking Hardy’s and everyone else’s dialogue up to 11, is comprehensible only some of the time.

Technically, The Dark Knight Rises is a thick leatherbound volume with gilded pages, though flipping through it yields a story about a big bad bald man doing eeevil things until a vigilante with pointy ears comes to the rescue. The movie is and probably always will be the ultimate expression of the comic-book fanboy’s need to have his passion vindicated, solemnized, given the gravitas of a classic. I enjoyed handling the volume and drinking in the gorgeous pictures, but I wouldn’t recommend a close read of it. As pure cinema, this is a rich banquet, and Nolan does his damnedest to make it move and sparkle and awe. The sound design rattles your ribs; it’s like being at a fireworks show where the grand finale booms so hard it takes out some nearby windows. Hundreds of people clog the streets of Gotham City, desperate to restore order or maintain chaos. Nolan paints on a vast and glittering canvas. I just wish it meant more.

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