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Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

The most disappointing thing about The Dark Knight Rises is how similar it is to every other superhero movie out there, including the first film of this trilogy, Batman Begins. This film’s immediate predecessor, The Dark Knight, was a departure from the formulaic sameness of the summer blockbuster playbook, and a huge step up from the initial offering. In The Dark Knight, the terrors caused by a psychotic madman known as the Joker served as an only slightly implausible allegory for the very real evils that man is faced with. However, The Dark Knight Rises serves up as its antagonists an unbelievable and frankly ridiculous army of super-soldiers lead by a cartoonish bad guy with no connection to anything in the real world.

The film’s numerous problems begin with Bane. He is a super-strong mercenary with an obscure breathing problem requiring him to wear a mask that alters his voice. He has a loyal following despite being kicked out of the League of Shadows, an organization that has not gotten any less implausible since the time of Batman Begins.

Look, I know what I’m complaining about sounds stupid: I don’t think a comic book movie is realistic enough. But that in and of itself would not be the problem, except that with The Dark Knight it felt like Christopher Nolan had intentionally placed his movies in a higher plane. “Rises” thus feels like a regression into the realm of just like every other superhero flick.

Even in comparison to the better escapist movies of the superhero genre, The Dark Knight Rises suffers. The cast is large enough that even with almost three hours in running time there is not enough screen to go around. Gary Oldman is barely in this movie, and precious time is wasted on Matthew Modine’s character. Anne Hathaway and Marion Cotillard are lovely to look at, and both are damn good actresses, but neither is given the kind of character that they can really sink their teeth into. The best actor in the movie might be Joseph Gordon-Levitt, whose turn as a crusading Gotham police officer is the most grounded thing in the film by far.

Bane’s absurdly convoluted plan is reminiscent of the very worst aspects of the Bond villains. Batman’s redemption is cheap and unearned, as well as over-reliant on Zen mystical claptrap. The film’s conclusion is surprisingly tidy. At no point does the film ever really take Bane or his threat seriously, leaving precious little reason for the audience to do so.

In short The Dark Knight Rises is a massive disappointment, as Nolan has retreated from the heights of The Dark Knight to the safety of the popcorn business.

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