Dark is the Knight: Donald Clarke on the hyper-fans, p6 Plus, his verdict on the movie,
Despite some tremendous action sequences, Christopher Nolan’s overly stuffed and ponderous third Batman epic is, finally, just too dazzling much, writes Donald Clarke
A SENSE IS growing that Christopher Nolan is slightly embarrassed by Batman.
In Batman Begins, his first take on Bob Kane’s benevolent thug, the director was able to delay the vigilante’s appearance for a good hour. With The Dark Knight –a numbing slice of pop-existentialism that almost deserves its stratospheric reputation – Nolan devoted more attention to deranged clowns and looming cityscapes then he did to the supposed hero.
The Dark Knight Rises is something else again: a beautifully made, often dazzling melodrama that features very occasional appearances from some bloke in Kevlar fetish-wear.
Nolan has shown great ingenuity in shuffling the title character towards (quite literally) the shadows and making the film that he wanted to make. Taking in conspicuous nods towards A Tale of Two Cities, The Dark Knight Rises comes across as a reactionary treatise on the perils of revolution and the virtues of ruthless law enforcement. It’s also a delicious celebration of a very particular cinematic style: the sweep from grey helicopter shot to blue interior so beloved of Michael Mann. All of this is fascinating to behold. But one does yearn for a tad more forward momentum.
The picture takes place eight years after the events of The Dark Knight. Harvey Dent, the late, deranged district attorney, is still a hero to the people of Gotham, and Batman, blamed for his death, has retired to contemplate vilification. Bruce Wayne, the avenger’s alter ego, feels no need to return to action when he encounters a glamorous (ahem) cat burglar named Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway). The activities of Bane (Tom Hardy) are, however, another matter.
Batman can forgive the villain for wearing the sort of sheepskin car coat favoured by rugby fans during the 1970s. It matters little that his often infuriatingly inaudible voice suggests Gore Vidal with a bucket on his head. But Bane can’t be allowed to overthrow the city and turn it into a personal fiefdom. Soon (well, not that soon, actually) Batman is back on his bike.
The new film can’t hope to move through cinemas without enduring comparison to its admired predecessor. Sadly, it comes up short in most categories.
Bane is a much less interesting villain than the mercurial, energetic Joker; the character’s complex backstory does nothing to distract from the fact that he’s just some bulky bloke in a wrestler’s mask. Whereas Nolan found new things to do with Harvey Dent, Hathaway’s Catwoman offers no fresh spins or reinventions. Some set-pieces appear staged specifically to surpass those in The Dark Knight: we blew up a hospital, now let’s blow up an entire football stadium.
It can’t be denied that Nolan has a knack for sombre atmosphere. Wally Pfister’s cinematography, with its twilit restrain, infuses even the most absurd events with a heavy seriousness. Christian Bale, back as Batman, could not keep a straighter face if he’d been injected with plaster-of-Paris. Hans Zimmer’s score is sometimes bombastic (and, in the final sequences, seems to be quoting It’s Good to Be Back by Gary Glitter) but it adds to the film’s Wagnerian sweep.
It is, however, hard to escape the impression that the project was allowed to career wildly out of control. Over two-and-a-half hours long, The Dark Knight Rises spends so much time burrowing around in uninteresting corners that the central peril ends up getting lost in the mix. It’s always nice to meet wise old Tom Conti in a middleeastern cave, but we have a Batman film to be getting on with.
Or do we? It’s been reported that Nolan regards this film as the last in a trilogy. As it happens, he seems, even before we reach the halfway point, to have washed his hands of the grim enforcer.
There is great technical dexterity on display. Some of the action sequences are magnificent. But The Dark Knight Rises feels like the work of a man desperate to be elsewhere as soon as possible. We will follow his progress with interest.