The Dark Knight Rises
“Guns are too quick,” says Heath Ledger’s brilliantly skewed Joker in The Dark Knight. “You can’t savour all the…little emotions.”
As off-key a mind as his was, he harmonised perfectly with what the public wanted from that earlier movie. In a world that took itself so very seriously, The Joker undermined everything. Which made him so magnetic, so watchable, so scary.
In Christopher Nolan’s epic follow up, the seriousness has not shifted one bit, but The Joker, he’s long gone. Where all was steely grey and dark royal blue, now we have black. Just black. The main guy, he wears black. The chick distraction, she wears black, the big bad dude? Black mask. Even Wayne Manor seems to have stopped paying its utility bills. And the soundtrack that accompanies all of this? A thick portent of black, a soundscape mired in gloom and shadow.
I won’t give any of the plot points away. If you have a passing association with the canon, even if you’ve only played Arkham Asylum through the once, then you won’t want to hear a skeleton structure because you will guess certain developments and character intros. It echoes the earlier instalments in this new trilogy in that, again, we take a while to coalesce various strands into a viable whole. This is a pretty large canvass we’re looking at.
Which is fine, I guess, because if there’s anyone who can do that, it’s Nolan. Plus, he just knows how to do sweeping cityscapes. He just knows. Gotham looks extraordinary; no re-imagined Burton-esque gothic indulgences here, it’s very obviously NYC, but shot through with a slick modern beauty that is quite breathtaking.
And yet. And yet.
The movie struggles, sometimes it struggles manfully and majestically, but it struggles nevertheless, to find a centre. Another madman? Tom Hardy’s Bane is an odd choice. Whereas Ledger came alive behind his mask, Hardy projects nothing beyond a vague wrestler’s menace. His voice is frankly absurd, with a laughable non-specific accent that takes you out of the screen and into your own concerns straight away. Perhaps snap and guile would do it? Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman betrays the hard yards the franchise has covered to this point in pushing back against the just-another-comic-book-super-hero expectations, because she is just another comic book super hero. She looks fab, but she’s still a cartoon, a 2D blob of silly who’s there to do one thing late on that could have been re-worked. And so that leaves Bale’s re-donning of The Batman’s cowl, and as we all know, he was splendidly, not to mention easily, sidelined in the second movie.
No, the heart’s not there. Oh, a dark heart would be fine, perhaps with dashes of green and purple, but at least it’d be a heart. With this, a brutal ballet of cars and choppers, bombs and guns, the most dangerous thing on show isn’t one of the caped-up egos, it’s a nuclear reactor. It’s telling.
Constantly, the music reminds us that we’re in a dark world, BA-BA-BA-BA-BA-BA-BA-BA-BA-BA-BA-BA-BA goes Hans Zimmer’s intrusive and repetitious thudding rhythm, and after just a few minutes you want to turn to him and say, “Yes! OK! I get it Hans. Give us a break!” I bit more of the Piaf motif, so brilliantly and sparingly used in Inception would have worked fine here, but all the while it feels like being smacked over the head by a black rubber dungeon truncheon.
Nolan can craft, of course, there is one brilliant scene right in the centre of the movie where Catwoman is trying to flee. She is apprehended by Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s cop, Blake, and interviewed. Just that. But it is exceptional. Framed to perfection, lit like a dream and played in downbeat, careful tones. I won’t tell you what they talk about, but Hathaway’s final phrase is heartbreaking. It’s the best scene in the film, and it’s the best scene because it has soul. No action, no CGI, no masks. But you can savour the little emotions.