The Dark Knight Rises With Sound & Fury
THE DARK KNIGHT RISES is a loud, furious, intense, chaotic, messy and ultimately exhausting end to what is undeniably a pretty amazing trilogy that has redefined superhero cinema in a way that makes all the Marvel efforts seem juvenile. Christopher Nolan's film is grandiose in every sense of the word and despite it's extended 2 hour and 45 minute running time it still feels incomplete, filled with narrative loose ends and unfulfilled thematic threads.
The film begins 8 years after the previous story and Gotham City is undergoing a period of peace thanks to the unexplained 'Dent Act' which was passed following the death of Harvey Dent. One of the major initial problems with the film is the fact that the 'Dent Act' is never wholly explained. It seems like a pretty radical policy that (according to information I gathered from outside of the film) denies parole to anyone caught committing a crime connected to a larger criminal enterprise. The result of this militant policy is a peaceful city with jails packed full of inmates who have long sentences for misdemeanour crimes.
The big bad in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES is Bane who represents a more communistic ideology. Bane – whilst still entirely evil – wants to free Gotham City from this fascist system which he deems is controlled by the rich and priviledged, let's just call them the 1%. It's amusingly analogous to the Occupy movement and the second half of the film plays out like some kind of bourgeois nightmare where the working class proletariats rise up and take over the city.
Unlike the previous film, Nolan is unsure or unable to entirely clarify what he truly wants to say with THE DARK KNIGHT RISES. The fascist, right-wing undertones to Batman's character have always been present and this was something Frank Miller, being incredibly conservative himself, really pushed to the forefront. Bruce Wayne is the 1% and the circles he moves in are, to some, horrifyingly bourgeois. Nolan uncomfortably sits on the fence in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES. He admirably subverts the seemingly noble ending of THE DARK KNIGHT, clearly highlighting the negative repercussions of such a blatant lie to the people but then he also goes on to present Gotham City as a collection of criminals, orphans, and rich people with not much middle-class colour in between. It's an oddly unsettling portrait of a city that feels at times like a republican wet-dream. While Bane's idea of unrestrained liberty is actually underpinned (and undercut) by a generic, evil, 'lets blow up the city' plan, the film falls back on the right-wing idea that people need to be controlled and who is best to control the masses than the rich and privileged.
Nolan is entirely aware the politics of the Batman universe lean to the right but never seems comfortable letting them clearly play out. He keeps trying to make the bad guys unreasonably 'evil' and for a trilogy that has valiantly championed the grey areas between good and bad this final film ends up blindly black and white. It's a disappointing thematic cop out for a series that initially promised a subversive and deconstructive take on the superhero mythos.
But let's forget the muddy, underlying politics for a moment and look at the formal characteristics of the film. Nolan presents this final episode in the trilogy as a relentless barrage of noisy intensity. This is really quite a full on film, and not the least due to Hans Zimmers frequently overbearing score. The is loud, big and over the top and for the most part it's an amazingly gripping experience. Despite a very slow first half the final act is Nolan at his bloated, big-budget best with some sensational, trademark cross-cutting between action.
Much like Brad Bird with MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: GHOST PROTOCOL, Nolan greatly believes in the immersive capacity of the IMAX format and on pure spectacle, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES is easily the most exciting film of 2012. Much of the film was shot on IMAX cameras and the film is constantly jumping between regular scope format and the full IMAX frame. If anything, it should be a lesson to general audiences in how much better the definition of IMAX film is. This is a must see IMAX film for this reason alone (and of course the sheer visceral thrill of some of these amazing IMAX images with Hans Zimmer's 'turn it up to 11', pounding score is Hollywood entertainment at its finest).
THE DARK KNIGHT RISES is by no means a great film – in fact in many ways it's quite a bad film - but it certainly is a great end to one of the best mainstream trilogies we have seen in decades. The connective tissue between the earlier films is rich, offering much pay-off for fans from simple visual recalls to the first film to satisfying character revelations (watching all three films back to back should prove to be an immensely satisfying experience). Nolan also packs his film with copious amounts of sound and fury, which may ultimately signify nothing but still offer one of the most kinetically exciting cinema experiences of the year.