Starring Christian Bale, Tom Hardy. Written by Christopher Nolan and Jonathan Nolan. Directed by Christopher Nolan. PG. 160 min. Opens July 20.
Epically scaled, impossibly expensive, intermittently rousing, ideologically incoherent: Yep, it’s another one of Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies. In almost every respect, The Dark Knight Rises outdoes its already canonized predecessor, not least of all in its confused politics. Like gas-mask-wearing antagonist Bane (Tom Hardy), the film tries to make big points about haves and have-nots in a commanding but muddled voice.
The loose equation of Bane’s elaborate terrorist plot—which, in the spirit of franchise one-upmanship, sees The Joker’s city-razing shenanigans and raises them one hijacked atomic bomb—with Occupy Wall Street iconography and rhetoric is at best opportunistic. At worst, it’s glib and deeply cynical. There’s enough distracting and, for the most part, brilliantly accomplished spectacle that analyzing the film’s politics feels futile. The script implies that the ghoulishly violent reprisals visited upon Gotham’s One Percent are simply the inevitable response of the economically repressed.
There’s some satisfyingly melodramatic comic-book storytelling here, including the fullest physical and emotional arc yet for Batman himself (allowing Christian Bale to exercise his well-honed masochistic tendencies). But there’s also some rather clumsy handling of space and time, including an action sequence that shifts from morning to night in the blink of an eye.
Series newcomers Anne Hathaway (as Catwoman, although she’s never referred to as such) and Joseph Gordon-Levitt (as a valiant beat cop) effectively tune their performances to the gloomy house style, and Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, and Michael Caine give things the requisite actorly shading. (You know things are serious when Caine pulls the old breaking-voice trick.) Denying the sheer size and impressiveness of much of The Dark Knight Rises is a mug’s game, and yet it’s the can’t-miss quality of the proceedings that gives one pause.It’s a slam dunk, but what sorts of points is it scoring?