Dark Knight Rises (DKR) is everything you’ve come to expect from the grand master of eccentricities, Mr. Hollywood blockbuster du jour, Mr. mafioso of exposition, Christopher Nolan. It is long-winded and cluttered with the usual crippling redundancies, overdone explanations leave little to the imagination or curtail simple discovery while story is relegated to a cardboard box stuffed with convoluted action sequences and plodding melodrama. It’s hard to root for this film, lacking the freshness of part 1, devoid of the bravado of Heath Ledger‘s doomed muse in number 2, leaving us with caricatures bopping about in staccato pace looking for better dialogue and meaning, lost talent in so much malingering. Perhaps I’m being too hard on a comic book movie, too critical of Nolan’s routinely celebrated hokey mysteries given his considerable popularity and repeated success at the box office. Perhaps I’ve succumb to my own expectations that somehow DKR will rise above its obvious shams and perpetrated airiness and this has spoiled an otherwise ample departure from other diminishing returns at the theater – but I think not and here’s why.
I could write an article on the hokum of PG13 movies and I probably will. PG13 has come to represent the bastardization of the film industry in order to secure the coveted 12 to 18 demographic whereby all films make all sorts of mass money possible – and necessary. It’s the end justifying the means, you have to spend a lot of money to make a lot of money and who cares if what you’re making isn’t going to be remembered down the road. In the dumbing down process in order to receive the MPAA‘s stamp of approval, films are routinely defanged, declawed and disemboweled. It sounds like a bloody mess and mostly it is. PG13 is the stall at the race track that corrals the thoroughbred, prepares the exciting bout of raw talent unleashed to follow but unlike the momentary imprisonments at Palio di Siena, Churchhill Downs and Belmont Park the unyielding metal protrusion does not fling open at the shot of the start, no champion bursts out of the gate to reach its fullest potential, allowed to impress with sure spirit unhindered. Maybe you have to remind yourself that you’re watching a PG13 movie in order to watch a PG13 movie where sex has been replaced with savory violence, blood and death sanitized for mass consumption where more and more preposterous happenings become a black hole swallowing our better judgments. I suppose whittled down verisimilitude is the island we’ve marooned on where one liners and landscape solutions can be populated with dull wit and airy imaginations. The worst part is that we’ve done it to ourselves – us, the denizens of humdrumity – prescribed MPAA guidelines and all too eager filmmakers lining up in order to suggest intimacy and sensuality but never fully commit to the consequences of their onscreen choices, the living and dying, loving and hating. Dark Knight Rises is, grand, I’ll admit that kind of entertaining but it’s so very fleeting, good replaced by mediocre replaced by ‘what just happened and why?’. This is bulging budget overpowering the senses in the “more is always more-better” school of modern cinema, but dazzles are never enough nor extensive sets the source of lasting celebrations, larger than life characters born of myth, fantasy and adolescent hormones destined to be replaced by the next great effect. It might be an uphill battle, all this criticism and blame, gnashing teeth and bitterness but I’ve never taken the easy route before and why start now?
Surely the worshipers at the altar of Christopher Nolan and well wishers aplenty will rejoice in my “see it” declaration, but it comes with stern warnings – beware all ye who enter, thy senses much burdened will come. There are many reasons you have to watch this film, call it finishing the trilogy, closing the door on Nolan’s heavy-handed posturing, whatever. Maybe you can spare the sting by seeing it at home. Just get it over with. It’ll begin to fade almost immediately. I suppose there’s something in it if you’re desperate to get away from your everyday hells and Dante-infernos, better DKR than actual bombs and martyrs, given we’ve so much of that in recent times. I don’t want to seem like I’m straddling the middle ground of wishy-washy reviews but at least it will look and sound great on your home living room screen. Surely those looking for more of the same back slapping will have skipped ahead to the comments field, preparing a fiery response, finding my criticism ghastly, probably sacrilegious. But I’m prepared to make a good fight of it just the same – starting with the obvious: Nolan’s reliance, however convincingly, on overpowering us with excesses instead of story, character and dialogue. It is Nolan’s drug of choice that clearly, undeniably undermines so very much, his addiction to exposition that stuns the viewer like a lead pipe to the temples, over and over until dazed and confused we begin to twirl, half believing the wonderment. And there we remain for the duration, befuddled, no question left unanswered, all loose ends tidied up so the universe of good triumphing over evil is upheld and the inevitable sequelizing gets tacked on another trite ending. DKR is not the worst comic book movie or end to a trilogy in recent memory but the fact that it’s over might just be its greatest achievement.
The Dark Knight Rises is the final film in Nolan’s trilogy, as long-awaited and hotly anticipated as any other comic book property in the last decade. In an era when comic book movies are the majority to everything else in the minority, it is perhaps easy to see how mediocrity could rise to such prominence. Perhaps I am taking the genre too seriously, I’ve read, or that when one sits down for a comic book movie it is the norm to be disappointed by the absence of sex, sexuality and intimacy. I suppose we should expect our female characters to be reduced to one liners and slinky black latex outfits but cut off at the waist as to hide those curvy curves, cut off in dialogue in order to make room for one more minute of slow manness – what is it about Nolan that he meanders so much on risk and ruin in place of the bedroom? I’m reminded of a willy Elvis Presley cut off at the waist for national television. Have we really gone backwards in time to suggest less but prove so much more in our blunt edges and lackluster messages?
It’s impossible to get anywhere near these characters or take away from the franchise a sense of fulfillment, wonder or awe. Everything is spelled out in such obvious and heavy-handed preparations that one cannot help but feel disappointed in the end, let down for having such high hopes. Nolan has taken the problem of exposition and made it the highlight of his storytelling – characters that quite literally stop all forward plot momentum to pontificate on what we should be feeling, what we should be thinking. The only thing left to consider in a Nolan film is questions of how long it will take to escape a prison well or how long a bad guy is going to drone on and on in order to give the good guy enough time to escape, disarm a bomb, learn how to fight better or just heal broken bones. If only story and dialogue had been given as much attention as spectacle, if the importance of how things looked from beginning to end was spared the same situations only to be solved the second time through in order to justify the next special effects fly through. How does one bring on board one of the most talented actors (Tom Hardy) rising in prominence today and then make him nearly indistinguishable, reduced to a cardboard sign with a voice over any considerable lesser known actor could have pulled off?
I could spend an entire article on the ills of the MPAA and the PG13 rating system and the directors who have gotten drunk on the Kool-Aid. Obviously it makes dollars and sense, the fact that the 12-18 year old demographic is the largest number of moviegoers means these films stand the greatest chance of making lots of money. Not just enough money or some money but the most money imaginable as though the entire system depends on it. What it amounts to is exaggerated value, billion dollars today means trillions next year, another record despite the crappy film title. The trouble with the blunt tooling of the PG13 rating is that it all but disemboweled by any credible efforts to explore realistic emotional and physical characters, situations and relationships. There is no sex in a PG13 movie. None. Go ahead, go back and take your favorite PG13 movie and look for any sex, sexuality or intimacy. None. Zip. Perhaps there are beautiful people in perfect bodies and enticing curves but the illusion of intimacy is not intimate any more than the illusion of violence without the horrors of war is realistic or appropriate. What does violence without consequences say to children or anyone for that matter? And what of intimacy that is reduced to a wink and a grin? You should be far more outraged than you are.
Ultimately Dark Knight Rises will be remembered for its smashing success rather than anything specific about the film, story or filmmaker – maybe his love of the dark and pretty pictures in between the vacuous caverns of dull dialogue. The review aggregators and opinion makers will show high marks and you can guarantee that Nolan will make more PG13 movies. Never mind that DKR is almost entirely devoid of clarity and coherency, muddied redundancies and ridiculousness for the sake of ridiculousness. I suppose in the end Nolan has made a comic book movie after all is said and done, a breezy afternoon delight almost certainly forgettable, destined for the tattered covers and torn paper pages of the printed comic books of our youth lost in our stomping through lives. At the end of the day when the credits start to scroll and the music queues it’s time to go, time to return to your everyday world, remind yourself that what is fleeting and airy can’t be wrapped in a bow or taken home to-go any more than run-of-the-mill stories capture our hearts and minds down the road. I’m already struggling on what else to write about this movie that won’t be replaced by just about anything on t.v. and does.