Perhaps the strangest thing to me about The Dark Knight Rises is that it’s not nearly as depressingly nihilistic as its predecessor. In fact, I found it far more entertaining than either of Christopher Nolan’s previous Batman movies. It actually has some sense of fun hovering about it. Now, I know that’s a dirty word in the realm of the hardcore fans who seem to take pleasure in these films being dour for their own sake. That’s something I’ve never subscribed to as a plus in any genre — and, frankly, it’s not something I find in any great film that I can recall. That’s not to say I think this is a great film or a profound one. It is, however, a good film and an entertaining one — with certain significant limitations.
Some argue that The Dark Knight Rises is great because it “tackles” great themes. More correctly, I’d say it references those themes by way of current events. In its own way, the film is very much like comedies that are supposed to be funny for no other reason than that they’re full of pop culture references, except this is the dramatic version. The problem is that merely citing — or dragging in — topical issues isn’t the same as tackling them. By itself, the references don’t make your film profound, only topical in the old “ripped from the headlines” sense. Here, they actually feel less like they’re “ripped from the headlines” and more like they’re grafted onto the story. What does it actually say about these elements? Whatever potential depth there might have been is quickly nullified by having less to do with reality and human nature than with the machinations of certifiably demented criminal masterminds. By the time it gets to “storming the Bastille” and Dr. Jonathan Crane (Cillian Murphy) presiding over a kangaroo court, the film has crossed over into the entertainingly absurd — and that’s probably just as well.
What we have here is, at bottom, an entertainment. It’s a big entertainment — and a ponderously long one — with reasonable intimations of a kind of pop culture Wagner opera. That’s not a bad accomplishment. And most of Nolan’s choices — including limiting the amount of screen time given to Bale’s Batman doing his Clint Eastwood impression — are good ones that actually smack more of Inception than his Batman movies. There are some false steps, yes. Nolan should never attempt to shoot a dance sequence. He has neither the flair, nor the grace to pull it off, which would matter less if it wasn’t an important scene. But more often than not, he evidences a lightness of touch and a humanity that serves the film well. Here, you actually care about Bale’s Bruce Wayne for reasons other than the fact that you’re supposed to care. They’re actually on the screen and inherent in the story. The same is true of most of the film’s main characters. If Nolan has accomplished nothing else here, he has made one of the more human movies of this type.
Some of the criticism that’s been leveled against The Dark Knight Rises frankly baffles me. I suppose it’s a testament to how subjective these things are, but I don’t see how it’s possible to think this is grimmer than The Dark Knight. Some, however, do. Similarly, I had absolutely no trouble understanding Bane’s (Tom Hardy) modified voice. (I’m not sure I think it was a good idea — it sounds too much like a generic “spooky voice” from a horror movie — but I understood him.) Did I think he was a good enough villain? For purposes of the film, yes. Unlike Heath Ledger’s Joker, Bane doesn’t overwhelm the rest of the movie or the actors. That’s a trade-off I’m good with. In the end, this is a movie I liked — one, I can actually imagine watching again, and that’s saying something. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some sensuality and language.