On the strength of Mary Ann Johanson's 4-star review of Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises in the Monterey Weekly, http://www.montereycountyweekly.com/news/2012/jul/19/dark-knight-rises/, I did something for the first time since the releases of Gran Torino and Mystic River, I bought a ticket to see a non-arthouse film. Given Johanson's expansive rave, I was expecting not only a cinematographic tour-de-force of but also scathing social commentary decrying the overlordship of New York, er Gotham, City by financial robber barons.
Instead, I suffered through a bombastic, repetitive, over-long, and occasionally incoherent fascist fantasy. I have not seen the first two Dark Knights, so at least some of my confusion may be due to unfamiliarity with details in the previous films. To be fair, I'll concentrate here on my problems with Dark Knight Rises that could not result from ignorance of its predecessors and conclude with a critique of its retrograde politics.
The always good Joseph Gordon-Levitt - is given little to do but stand or drive around looking bewildered, bemused, or distraught. Scenes involving the film's most compelling figure - Anne Hathaway's Selina Kyle/Catwoman - always devolve into fast-cut, fast-mo, fight sequences that leave the viewer dizzy but unenlightened.
Exceptional actors portray the main characters and they do look good muttering, scurrying about, and appearing concerned while momentous music rises on the soundtrack, but they never elicit any real sympathy or recognition in the viewer. Some might argue that this is all besides the point in a new-fashioned effects-driven blockbuster. But why should we care about dazzling explosions and breath-taking escapes if we are indifferent to those getting blown up or cheating death by a hair's breath?
There are a number of chases involving, cars, motorcycles, and bat vehicles rushing through city streets but all are unsatisfying. As today's filmmakers are wont to do, Nolan substitutes IMAX-rumbling effects for the nearly unbearable tension that truly great directors created 40 or more years ago in famous chase scenes - all filmed in New York City. Examples of the latter include: Gene Hackman's Popeye Doyle chasing a sniper under the elevated train tracks in William Friedkin's The French Connection, as well as scenes in Philip D'Antoni's The Seven Ups, and John Frankenheimer's The French Connection II.
Perhaps in order to sustain the movie's dark tone and save money on lighting as well, Nolan makes a very serious goof, the villains storm the just-opened Gotham stock exchange in broad daylight, escaping the police cordon established outside within a few minutes on motorcycles. After disappearing into a tunnel with half the police force in hot pursuit, the baddies emerge seconds later into . . . the dark night. Where exactly did the sun go? Does anybody care?
For me the above problems render The Dark Knight Rises mediocre but not malignant, its toxicity stems from its obviously reactionary sensibilities. Uber-villain Bane and a number of his accomplices hail from Uzbekistan so they are not only not American but almost certainly Muslim to boot.
In one instructive scene, Bruce Wayne learns that his charitable foundation no longer supports an orphanage because the multinational weapons manufacturer Wayne Industries has not shown a profit in years. "No profits means no donations," Wayne's wise and kindly CEO tells him. In other words, to maintain the safety net, we must ensure the flow of continued profits to the 1%. In other scenes, the need to develop sustainable energy sources is voiced but none of the heroic characters embrace this position as they drive, fly, and hover around in carbon-fuel guzzling vehicles.
Nolan presents the political structure of Gotham City wherein the rich and powerful govern as benevolent, uncorrupt, and backed up by tough caring cops. The one example of official corruption in pre-Bane Gotham is Police Commissioner Gordon's tortured and apparently justifiable decision to maintain as pristine the public image of a now dead District Attorney who did so much to clean up Gotham's streets by locking up the criminal element without observing all the niceties of due process.
In a barely-veiled attack on Occupy Wall Street, Bane attempts to win over Gotham's populace by demonizing Wall Street and the superrich and promising to return power to the people. Before Bane's coup, however, Gotham is shown as clean and tidy with nobody apparently living in impoverished conditions. Afterwards, in a city quickly littered with flotsam and detritus, a hungry little boy is surrounded by thugs eager to wrest from him an apple he apparently stole. There's even a "ticking time-bomb" scene in which Batman must torture Bane in order to save millions who will be killed if he does not identify his accomplice.
The film's disdain for Occupy Wall Street is most obvious when several hundred uniformed police officers confront felons Bane released from Gotham's Blackgate Prison. The felons are armed with some of the newest gadgetry wrested from the Wayne Industries warehouse as well as all manner of automatic weapons and high-tech armored vehicles. The police are on foot and without faceguards, shields or artillery beyond their sidearms, yet with Batman's help these brave public servants prevail.
The moving images of a mass of police confronting fellow Gothamites is eerily similar to the real-life dramas played out in the streets of Manhattan and around the country over the past year when mayor's directed police chiefs to roust out Occupiers in city's all across America. Only, in real America, unlike fictional America, the police were the ones with high-tech weaponry, covered faces, metal shields, and the backing of those with money and power while the protesters were nonviolent, unarmed, and defenseless.
The Dark Knight franchise has already generated millions, perhaps billions, in profits. Maybe, that's part of the reason that Johanson and lots of other critics have given it such high marks. It's tough to swim against the tide. Regardless, I think I'll wait for the next Eastwood movie before again venturing to a mass-release motion picture.