The Dark Knight Rises

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I’m not much of a comic book guy.  As a kid, I remember enjoying some of the popular comics, like Spider-Man and Superman, though I rarely purchased them; I also remember having a couple of Iron Man comics, but my experience with Batman was mostly limited to the Adam West / Burt Ward series, or his adventures as a member of the Super-Friends.  Over the years, I’d heard plenty about the “Dark Knight” series of comics, but had never seen one.  And if memory serves, the only Batman movie I saw starred Michael Keaton – I was one of the people who believed that anyone who didn’t think he’d make a good caped crusader was ignorant of some of Keaton’s more serious dramatic work.

I walked into the theater Friday night with high hopes.  I’d heard good things about Christian Bale, and of course Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine and Gary Oldman are all known quantities.  I deliberately avoided reading any other reviews, because I knew I’d be writing this one.

I walked out of the theater disappointed and disturbed.  And with some fresh insights into the world around us as well; because I think The Dark Knight Rises says a lot about who we are as a society.

First of all, for the entire two hours and forty-five minutes, it feels like the story gets in the way of the action.  There’s no time for empathy, we’ve got to blow up some stuff.  There’s no room for range with the actors, they’re too busy fighting.  As a result, this Bruce Wayne’s life is filled with shallow, superficial relationships, mostly because taking the time to develop any of them fully and get the audience invested in them would have taken away from time that could have been spent on explosions.  It appears that director Christopher Nolan assumes that everyone in the theater knows all the backstory and subtleties of the characters, so he chooses not to waste precious screen time on such trivial things.  As a result, characters get ridiculously close to Wayne without having established a reason why such a reclusive figure would suddenly open his arms, and his company – not to mention his bed – to virtual strangers who seem to have done little to earn his trust.

I couldn’t help but think about the Aurora tragedy as we sat to watch the film; for whatever reason, we sat closer to the screen – and to the exit – than we’d ever sat for a film before.  And the more I watched, the more I found the movie saying about the kind of world we live in.  However, it’s a message I don’t think the movie intended to deliver.

Just as Nolan threw away true acting for the sake of more pyrotechnics, so do we as consumers of news programming.  Do you remember the horrific events in Japan from March of last year, with the earthquake and tsunami?  Remember the wall-to-wall media coverage of the carnage?  Do you also remember what knocked Japan off the front page, and out of the top spot in the 6 o’clock news?  It was the Charlie Sheen meltdown.  The news media made it clear that like Bruce Wayne’s bond with those close to him, our relationship to the people we’d sworn solidarity with in Japan was shallow and superficial, and it ended the moment the media found a new, shiny object to look at.

This isn’t a new phenomenon.  It also happened in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks of 2001.  We were all New Yorkers… for about three days.  That’s about how long it took for Washington types to realize that President Bush was gaining massive public and international support for his handling of the immediate aftermath, and got back to the important work of dividing the nation into left versus right.  Soon after, we all forgot that we were New Yorkers and went back to giving each other the finger in traffic.

There is much sadness, to be sure, in what’s come to be known as the “Dark Knight Massacre”, but there’s also irony.  An incredibly violent movie about a madman run amok and killing innocents, which is littered with empty relationships and lacking in any kind of empathy or compassion, becomes the scene for an incredibly violent act, perpetrated by a madman run amok killing innocents, being covered by a news media that could care less about real empathy and compassion, simply waiting for the next shiny object to appear before they pull their news trucks out and leave Aurora in a cloud of indifference.

As for the movie, while I won’t go so far as to issue any spoilers, I will say this: In the interest of working in more high-speed chases, explosions and fight scenes, Christopher Nolan gave up pretty much everything else a movie could have, including resolutions to its major plot points that are worthy of the time invested building them up.  There’s a scene toward the end where a major character is stabbed by an unexpected assailant; and no one in the theater had invested enough in the characters, or their relationships, to express any kind of surprise at all.  It’s almost as if the audience, like the filmmaker, was simply waiting for the chance to see something else blow up.

Is it a “big” movie?  Definitely.  Is it something you should wait for on DVD or Netflix?  Actually, no.  Because this is a movie that kind of demands a big-screeen big-sound experience.  Does it make me long for Michael Keaton’s Batman?  Hells, yes.  Even Adam West’s Batman would be better; at least his stories were well told.

Related:  Should the “Dark Knight Massacre” Change the Way We Parent?

  • “The story is dense, overlong, and studded with references that will make sense only to those intimate with Nolan’s previous excursions into Batmanhood.” – Anthony Lane, New Yorker
  • “There was an opportunity here for Nolan to show us another way, to (again) stretch the boundaries of what is possible in a superhero film. Instead, alas, the latter half of The Dark Knight Rises retreats toward conventionality.” – Christopher Orr, The Atlantic
  • “I’m not arguing that Rises should be Singin’ in the Rain. But its Wagnerian ambitions are not matched by its material. It hasn’t earned its darkness.” – Peter Rainer, Christian Science Monitor
  • “The biggest surprise may just be how satisfying Nolan has made his farewell to a Dark Knight trilogy that many fans will wish he’d extend to a 10-part series, at least.” – Bob Mondello, NPR
  • “Others will see it differently, but for me this is a disappointingly clunky and bombastic conclusion to a superior series — Nolan’s biggest and worst movie to date.” – Tom Charity, CNN.com

There are 48 reviews for this movie on RottenTomatoes.com – Click here to read them all.

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