If you're one of the few people who hasn't yet seen “The Dark Knight Rises,” you might want to listen to the review that I recorded for Spokane Public Radio. You can access it here. But if you just want to read, here is an edited version:
Even when you disagree, it’s good to read the opinions of critics whose intelligence and taste you admire. Doing so forces you either to defend your position or modify it in the face of superior logic.
If only logic were the key to explaining art. Take Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. Begun in 2005 with “Batman Begins,” the series reached its zenith three years later with “The Dark Knight,” featuring the late Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning turn as The Joker. Some critics I admire are falling all over themselves to praise Nolan’s finale, “The Dark Knight Rises.” “Masterful filmmaking by any standard,” Kenneth Turan crowed. “A film of grand ambition and epic achievement,” Richard Corliss trumpeted.
Not a bad effort, I say, struggling … not … to … shrug.
Clearly, Nolan can make a movie. “Memento” and “Inception” are mind-numbing in their Philip K. Dick-like explorations of how memory and/or the subconscious shape perception and, thus, our very sense of existence. And building on the revisionist history that Frank Miller applied to Batman back in 1986, Nolan’s Batman trilogy approaches near-epic status, both in philosophy and style.
“Batman Begins” is the genesis of Batman’s vigilante quest. “The Dark Knight” shows what happens when vigilantism is confronted by ruthless evil: The ensuing battle costs Batman virtually everything – his love, his spirit and nearly his life. Now, with “The Dark Knight Rises,” another personification of evil – one with roots in Batman’s past – wants to finish both Gotham and its protector. Only this time, the job would seem to be easy: The man behind the Bat mask, millionaire Bruce Wayne, is a shadow of his former self, living in Wayne Manor, his fortune dwindling, his energy sapped, with only loyal Alfred – again played by Michael Caine – by his side. The Batman, as people say, is gone. Maybe for good.
But when he decides to confront a masked villain named Bane, Batman has to decide not just whether to fight but exactly how to do so. His decision sends Alfred packing – unfortunate, because that forces the irrepressible Caine to exit until the very end – but reunites him with Police Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldham). Question is, will an aging, battered Batman be enough? Hmmm, I wonder.
Despite the rave reviews, I’m not completely taken with “The Dark Night Rises.” Tom Hardy’s villainous Bane is frightening enough. But unlike Ledger’s brilliant turn as the garishly painted Joker, Hardy is disadvantaged by a facial contraption that not only masks his expressions but muffles his dialogue. With Caine mostly missing, Joseph Gordon-Levitt – the film’s connection to a potential future series – is a bit too muted. Only Anne Hathaway, as a pre-Catwoman, proves to be an surprisingly adept action star.
Nolan’s strength is in how he keeps his film moving. Propelled by superb pacing and the thrum of an insistent musical score, “The Dark Knight Rises” ultimately hits a level that makes even Christian Bale’s growly performance seem animated.
Of course, Bale’s most important performance came in real life when he showed up in Aurora, Colorado, to comfort the survivors of that city’s horrific mass shooting. For that action, if nothing else, I echo the praise both of Turan and Corliss: “by any standard,” that is “an epic achievement.”