Wednesday, August 1, 2012
The only thing I feel during a Christopher Nolan movie these days is my bladder swelling. The Dark Knight Rises is so clunky and mechanical it feels like a tinker engineered it out of dead hunks of steel: stopped-clock images, mascot characterizations, hospital-form dialogue, Rube Goldberg emotions, lifeless cityscapes, conveyor-belt music, accountant editing, and bumper-sticker politics. The thing moves because every breathing moment is lopped off with a guillotine. This isn’t the techno montage of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo but a frenzied hurry-up-and-wait technique—bureaucratic filmmaking at its most punctual. With robotic enthusiasm The Dark Knight Rises asserts love and fear instead of evoking them, and it takes three tries for its hero to make it to the final act because that’s what they tell you in screenwriting class. Its greatest joke is that the Scarecrow’s psychotropic mask and the Joker’s chaotic menace are succeeded by a dom-bear’s gag ball. The film’s so dead I can’t tell if it’s supposed to be a joke or not that higher-ups keep calling Joseph Azrael-Levitt’s Jump-Street do-gooder a hothead: He’s the most calmly insubordinate cop in pulp history. This is a film about villains hurting Bruce Wayne where he lives, and demagogues riding populist outrage into military dictatorship, and an empowered lower class storming the Bastille, and an underground resistance, and a busload of orphans, and two of the sexiest men in Hollywood, and it has all the emotional power of a bank. And they say Nolan doesn’t pick sides.
The countless guardians of the quarter-billion-dollar blockbuster treat plot holes like they're silly—and they are: How does Bane eat?—but if we accept that the plot is creaky, and it seems to me that it's all plot, then maybe it's not nit-picking so much as challenging the film on its own terms. The Dark Knight Rises may be ambitious and interesting to talk about—so are the Palins—but Batman on the big screen will earn my rapt attention as effortlessly as men’s swimming; where’s the accomplishment in that? What is fascinating about the Dark Knight films is the scope. Batman Begins is cops and robbers, The Dark Knight introduces hospitals, courtrooms, and boardrooms, and now we have a Gotham sports team and an orphanage and a stock exchange and a sewage system. The Nolans are building a city, a cubist portrait of Chicago and Pittsburgh and Los Angeles and more. Leave Batman in the pit. This is about Gotham—symbolically, of course. The unwashed masses are kept almost entirely off-screen, waiting for the next leader to follow for no good reason. The only thing that connects all these interlocking institutions is narrative—see what I mean!—but as a grand, sweeping tribute to the civic organism, The Dark Knight Rises has a certain overwhelming force.
If you look close, there is some organic matter oozing out the sides of the deadening aesthetics, and not just the reliable charms of Christian Bale’s expressive physicality and Gary Oldman’s coiled twitchiness. Nolan’s a cutter with workmanlike images, but two actually approach the fear that everyone keeps talking about. The first is the bilious sight of Jim Gordon on his side breathing into a ventilator in a hospital bed draped in shadows, a disturbingly broken image of a vulnerable Gotham. The second is when Batman descends into the sewers—no, not during the screwball-blamedy montage but the part where Nolan actually takes his time—and Selina drops the portcullis on him. Even anticipating the iconic Knightfall panel that awaited me, I was nervous. Bane looming on a one-way bridge, Batman looking unsure, Selina transfixed, and me knowing how serious her betrayal is: It’s aliiiive!
Anne Hathaway’s snarky Selina Kyle is as thin as everyone else but so much more vital, and Tom Hardy’s miniature hulking performance sells an entire romance in an eye movement (which is more than you can say for a bedroom shot of Bale and Cotillard). The splash-page of Scarecrow holding court atop his towering throne of desks is—at last!—shockingly expressionistic: How did that comic-book image get in this comic-book film? Bane, Catwoman, Scarecrow, yes, this is a film of the villains—excluding the big bad—figures of a Robin-Hood class rebellion that’s not unappealing (helped by the subliminal fact that Bane sounds like I’m the one wearing the mask). Eventually everyone is drafted into a bipartisan third act that sells them out and reduces Gotham to a gray-bodied Pollack with almost no sense of loss. The Dark Knight Rises wants us to take pride in our noble hero for refusing to kill, but it damn sure wants us to cheer when Selina does in his stead. It's supposed to mean something that Bruce Wayne is penniless, but he saves the day thanks to his rich heritage. Bane gets the rawest deal of them all—except perhaps for poor Michael Caine—arriving as a patient mastermind of anarchist revolution and departing an average Somalian warlord with almost no personal discretion who is forgotten as soon as he flies off-screen. What a waste.
Posted by Brandon Nowalk at 2:33 AM