SPOILER ALERT in the basic tonal, “what did I think of it,” “I liked this storyline and that character” kind of way. I’m not blowing any secrets or anything.
My favorite thing about The Dark Knight Rises was Bane’s voice. That’s not a joke. It’s not a backhanded compliment, given that TDKR is my favorite of the three Christopher Nolan Batman movies. (Not the highest bar to clear, admittedly, but still.) No, Bane’s voice is legitimately wonderful. Theatrical, grandiose, mocking, filled with evil good cheer, ending every sentence on AN UP NOTE! As a friend of mine put it, since Tom Hardy’s mouth is obscure for the duration of the film by Bane’s mouthpiece mask, it’s entirely possible all his dialogue was ADR’d by Brian Blessed. It’s an over-the-top supervillainish delight from start to finish. I’m going to start using it EVERY DAY! I’m going to order VEGETARIAN BURRITOS THIS WAY!
Take this flash of joyous weirdness as a sign that in The Dark Knight Rises, Christopher Nolan has almost entirely jettisoned the flaws that marred, well, every other Christopher Nolan movie I’ve seen. There are no massive, gaping holes in the plot: The doomsday weapon makes sense, the tasks each player takes up on the road to the climax make sense, the reasons people are or aren’t able to do certain things throughout the course of the film make sense. The character motivations are rock solid as well: For once, Batman’s professed goals and his methods line up, the more superfluous elements of the villain’s plan are adequately explained and justified, and you’re never once required to swallow outrageous out-of-character behavior by anyone in service of the needs of the story. Nor are you ever suddenly required to invest a ton of your dramatic interest into someone you actually don’t care about — no random MTA employees narrating the path of the doomsday device, no boatfuls of commuters and criminals upon whom the climax rests, no making us pretend to think Harvey Dent is the second coming of Jesus Christ. Best of all, the tedious, dorm-room-bullshit-session dueling speeches about morality and the nature of heroism are gone. The villains are motivated by fanaticism and, even better for a superhero vs. supervillain story, straight-up revenge. The heroes are heroes because they try to stop people from murdering other people. There’s no need to gussy it up any further than that.
Everyone looks and sounds great, too. Bane especially: Tom Hardy is a gorilla, he’s got a fabulous winter coat, and jesus I really couldn’t oversell that voice if I tried. Christian Bale looks like he’s been running a 101-degree fever for five years. Anne Hathaway looks like the perfected T-1000 to the Kristen Stewart/Krysten Ritter prototype models, and her Catwoman’s wit, competence, and mission-to-mission, fight-to-fight success ratio make her basically the Batman you kinda wish you’d had throughout the whole series. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s weirdly-prominent-but-okay-I’ll-roll-with-it young cop is just so handsome in his dress blues and detective suit I could die. I love the way Gary Oldman wears that mustache. There’s funny cameo after funny cameo, including two that brought down the house (one unintentionally, I think); my favorite was Officer Jack Bass.
Would you believe there’s inventively, coherently staged action, too? The opening sequence involving an airplane was astonishingly loud and intense, the kind of thing that will send too-young children bawling and screaming from the theater, but it’s perfect if you’re the kind of adult who’d kind of like to see what powerful, well-trained human monsters would do in a crazily dangerous environment like that. There’s a brief Batman attack seen from the POV of his victim that made me laugh out loud, it was such a good idea. As I said, Catwoman’s fights are some Bourne-level shit. The terrorist attacks are Stockhausen-style works of death-art. All of the car/motorcycle/etc. chases are vastly more spatially coherent than the truck sequence from The Dark Knight, and therefore gripping enough that they don’t require the presence of Heath Ledger and a bazooka to get over.
Do I have quibbles? Oh boy, do I. It remains really bizarre how little agency Batman has vs. the other heroic characters—it’s his name on the building, after all. We’ve never really gotten the sense that he’s actually unusually good at any given aspect of his job; we see lots of people who are better at each of them (detective work, fighting, technology, inspiring people, etc.) While it’s reductive and mistaken to look at Bane as an anti-Occupy allegory — his populist rhetoric is a transparent, acknowledge sham, and more than that it’s a mixture of Occupy anti-1% stuff and Dubya Bush “not conquerors but liberators” schtick — it’s still the case that, in the wake of how American law enforcement violently cracked down on Occupy from coast to coast, there’s something preposterously reactionary about scenes where an army of fully armed policemen charge screaming and guns-blazing into a crowd of civilians, and this is presented as heroic. Even when we “know” on an intellectual level that the civilians are almost all Bane goons and freed gangsters, it’s the image that matters. (That’s to say nothing of the way the film presents a working-class revolution going straight to looting and kangaroo courts, do not pass go, do not collect $200.) The shift in quality between IMAX and non-IMAX scenes was distracting at times, though Nolan’s genuinely gorgeous and immersive cityscape shots — one after another after another — were worth it. Hans Zimmer simultaneously overscored and underscored the thing, his melody-free horns and strings a constant, blaring mosquito buzz in the ear. There were two boy-soprano music cues too many.
But nothing made me roll my eyes or want to leave, which is more than I can say, again, for any other Christopher Nolan movie I’ve seen. It was solid, (can’t believe I’m about to say this) unpretentious fun. I was entertained for the entire two hours and forty minutes. BANE VOICE!