The Dark Knight Rises diminishes in quality the more time you spend away from it. I remember upon leaving the cinema feeling it was fine – that there were huge problems with it, sure, but Christopher Nolan had more or less succeeded in creating the awesome spectacle he had intended to. The Dark Knight Rises is nothing if not grand – in an attempt to outdo The Dark Knight he has piled on a huge cast of players, an entire army of antagonists led by Tom Hardy’s Bane, a score even more seat-rumbling than Inception’s and more wheeling shots of Gotham’s skyline than you can shake a stick at. But the effect is somewhat blinding – you end up overlooking the small details because you’re constantly having the epic sweep shoved in your face. Spend some time thinking about the film afterwards, though, and the cracks start to appear, and eventually send the whole thing crumbling to the ground.
This time around, The Batman is fighting Bane, played by a-little-harder-to-understand-than-everyone-else Tom Hardy, a terrorist who wants to liberate the people of Gotham from the fat cats at the top and create chaos and burn Gotham to the ground or something. There’s also Anne Hathaway as a sexy Catwoman and acolyte of Bane, Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a young policeman who seems pretty mellow even though everyone’s calling him a hothead, Michael Caine crying all the time, and Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman and Marion Cotillard, too, in case the cast wasn’t already bloated enough. There’s so much going on that any detailed character development gets thrown out in favour of broad brushstrokes, and Nolan only creates a few dramatic hooks for each character for us to navigate by. That’s not a bad thing, necessarily – it’s how Robert Altman wrote his big ensemble dramas, and I bloody love them – but Nolan lacks the screenwriting chops to make his characters really sing, and has to leave it up to his actors, of which only Hathaway and Gordon-Levitt truly shine.
Despite the too-large cast, there’s still one character that’s curiously absent: the people of Gotham everyone’s fighting for. Supposedly, Bane declares war on Gotham’s upper classes over its citizens, but the citizens themselves are nowhere to be seen, and we never learn what’s really happening on the ground to ordinary people. Instead, we’re asked to care about all the poor suffering rich people at the top and the brave policemen who are powerless to stop such evil anarchist oppressors. The film’s script has been clearly influenced by the Occupy movement, but Nolan seems to be on the wrong side, turning activists into terrorists and ignoring the 99% completely, resulting in a film that seems so shockingly right-wing to me that I’m surprised so many critics have overlooked it.
And that’s not the only part of the script I found troubling. Once again, Nolan treats his female characters with utter disdain. Though he doesn’t treat her quite so badly as he does in Inception, Marion Cotillard is once again given shockingly thin characterisation to work with, resulting in her feeling completely superfluous. And while Selina Kyle is probably Nolan’s strongest woman to date, the way he treats her in the film’s final few scenes goes some way to nullify all the empowerment she displayed up till then.
Mostly though, the plot is just a little garbled. Despite it being a key theme in a lot of his films, Nolan has trouble with delineating time and place, so it’s very unclear how long it takes for event to happen – people appear in places that feel like miles away from where we last saw them, and at one point, four months seem to pass in which nothing happens. The dialogue could have done with a few more drafts too: when Bane threatens Batman with “I see you came back to bury your city,” he replies with “I came back to stop you!” which is just about the worst zinger I’ve heard in a long while.
But these are problems that Nolan has always had, and it’s not what people go to one of his films for. When he shoots for the operatic, maximalist action set pieces that have become his trademark, he succeeds admirably. My only problem is with the idea that he’s crafting something better, or more intelligent, than other blockbusters around. It’s not that he isn’t smart – it’s more that he can’t help but make films that are constantly underlining their intelligence, to the detriment of any emotional involvement. Last year’s Super 8 was just as grand and operatic, but instead of rooting itself in supposed braininess, it rooted itself in the fragile emotions of four kids, and was far more engaging for it. Christopher Nolan wants us to be awed by The Dark Knight Rises, and you will be. Personally, though, I’d much rather care about a film than be awed by it.