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Whether appearing in cinemas in 1940ís serials or transmitted into television sets as live-action pop art or cartoons, Batman has always had a viewing audience.  That audience evolved when the somewhat stale comics were completely revamped in 1986 with writer/artist Frank Millerís revolutionary tome, The Dark Knight Returns, which plumbed the depths of emotional turmoil that brought the Caped Crusader into being and made the hero relevant again.  The Dark Knight Returns ushered in new expectations for an edgier, more realistic Batman.  Tim Burtonís 1989 Gothic opus cast Michael Keaton as our hero with the right snarl and gravitas, but played it safe with a TV-campy Joker.  That silliness only increased after the successful Burton franchise was unwisely handed to director Joel Schumacher, who vamped and camped the series right into the trash bin.  It would be eight years before Hollywood would attempt to reignite Batman on the big screen.  Director Christopher Nolanís Batman Begins was dark, lush and serious; giving comic fans and audiences a tormented hero, thrilling action and sharp storylines.  From that successful origin story, Nolan returned with The Dark Knight, which featured Batmanís first contretemps against his most famous foe, The Joker, this time rendered (by the late Heath Ledger) as the truly terrifying psychopath the villain was meant to be.  Nolan staged an epic battle, waged not only with boomtastic action, but played on a darkly psychological level, embracing the post-The Dark Knight Returns nihilism.  The Dark Knight was benchmark in comic book superhero movies.  Now having watched the end of Nolanís Batman trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises, I can emphatically say he really shouldíve quit while he was ahead.

Picking up where The Dark Knight left off, we have come to bury Harvey Dent, the good guy lawyer turned rotten inside and out by The Joker.  In the last film, a Faustian deal between Batman and Gotham City cop Jim Gordon sets blame on the Bat for Dentís misdeeds, hiding his homicidal Two-Face identity from the vulnerable public.  The bargain for the cityís soul never sat right with now-Commissioner Gordon, who watches as Gothamís greatest hero is vilified and he battles his own conscience to keep the secret.  Meanwhile, in the cityís outskirts, the once-flash playboy, Bruce Wayne, has become a hermit inside his own palatial mansion; his business and social interests giving way to a deep depression and Howard Hughes-like isolation.  The only good to come out of the great lie is that crime in Gotham City has all but ceased since Dentís death.  Of course, this being the home of Batman, it would be foolish to think that peace would last forever.  A new contender for the Big Bad throne presents himself in Bane, a very large, clean-shaven fellow, more comfortable behind an elaborate half-mask from which he commands loyal troops ready to die at his order.  Because itís Tuesday, he wants to destroy Gotham City and appropriates one of Bruce Wayneís own gadgets to do so.  Obliteration of Gotham isnít enough for Bane; he likes his destruction total and isnít happy (Can he smile under that thing?) until heís turned the entire city into an anarchic hub of chaos and annihilated the newly-returned symbol of law and order, Batman himself.  A small group of the righteous fights against hopeless odds, including Commissioner Gordon, an idealistic young cop and Batman stan called Blake, and another costumed creature, far more shapely than Bats or Bane called Selina Kyle, a jewel thief turned conflicted anti-heroine.

The Dark Knight Rises is by far the worst of the Nolan trilogy and surprising in its ineptitude.  There was promise with the inclusion of great characters like Bane, well-known to the younger generation of Batman comic fans, the eternal siren, Catwoman, and some other surprises I wonít spoil.  The story was written once again by the team of Nolan and David S. Goyer, who did so well on the previous installment.  With so many good ingredients, what on earth could have gone so terribly wrong?  The Dark Knight Rises is so flat, lackluster and half-hearted that midway through, one canít wait for it to be over, which it wonít be for about three hours.  We are given a ton of bombast without a drop of soul or intelligence.  Terrible things happen to people and I could not care less for any of them, and clearly, neither could the filmmakers.  The richness of the comic book personalities has no place in this film, as character development is left to long-winded diatribes that flow like wine from the lips of every single person onscreen.  Everyone has a tortured backstory and everybodyís gotta unload it at awkward, inappropriate moments.  Itís exposition theatre.  I can practically picture Syndrome from Pixarís The Incredibles in the back row of the theatre, shaking his head and muttering about monologuing, because itís here in spades and guaranteed to make the most ardent Batfanís eyes glaze over with its overwrought dullness.  So much blathering about why each character was so darkity-dark, how they each related to Batman, why they either believe in him or want to kill him, and by the end of all the speechifying, I simply couldnít give a toss.  The movie is top-heavy with emo for wrongs real, perceived, and purposely trumped up (Who really cares about why a law was enacted that got crime off Gothamís streets?).  Some enterprising drug consultant would make a killing if he set up a Xanax franchise in Gotham City.  Sir Michael Caine as loyal butler Alfred sobs his eyes out, practically having a nervous breakdown because he feels he failed to protect the Wayne legacy.  Still, even that embarrassing display wasnít enough to convince me to care about Bruce, Alfred, or anyone else.   Besides the horrors of the awful dialogue, even the basic standbys take a hit: While Nolanís prior episodes have moved away from the many of the expectations that preceded a ďcomic-book movie,Ē one must still excel in the action department, and even this is diminished in The Dark Knight Rises.  There are a few good physical moments, specifically the hand-to-hand combat, which is really choreographed well, including Catwomanís high-kicking fight alongside Batman, and most notably, the big Bane/Bat match, which (spoiler alert!) does feature ďthat sceneĒ which immortalised Bane to comic book fans.  Whatís a drag is how ugly and uninspired Batmanís gizmos are.  I looked forward to the Lucius Fox/Q-gadget moments in the previous films.  I understand that Wayne Enterprises has undergone a lack of funding, but thereís no excuse for the mind-bogglingly awful-looking flying thingy called ďThe Bat.Ē  I canít tell where it starts or ends, or which is back or front.  Thereís no ďOohĒ moment as with Batman Beginsí streamlined tank Batmobile, or the cool factor of The Dark Knightís Batpod motorcycle.  Said Batpod is revamped for this film and looks worse aside from having Catwoman splayed over it; spandex-covered bum raised high and firmly presented to the audience.  Batmanís new costume seems to have been inspired by an all-weather tire.  The graceless, stumpy-looking suit looks like it was made out of a tractor wheel.  In a moment of sheer foolery, a character almost does Batman in by stabbing him with a three-inch blade despite his being encased in the awkward armor.

How sad that so many members of the excellent cast give their all to this vain cause.  In particular, Joseph Gordon-Levitt stands out as the fresh-faced young officer who motivates Bruce Wayne to roll on the tire suit once more.  Gordon-Levitt nearly achieves the impossible and almost makes his lengthy, leaden expositional screed compelling.  Anne Hathaway does well selling the action as Catwoman (Far more convincingly than this yearís other black-spandex-clad superchickie, Scarlett Johansson as The Avengersí Black Widow), but despite the Julie Newmar-inspired, hourglass-cinched lurex catsuit and auburn highlights through her long hair, Hathaway canít carry off the raw seductiveness and utter felinity of Selina.  Though she tries, thereís just no chemistry between her and Batman.  Which brings us to the star himself; Christian Bale is over it.  Depression in the storyline aside, Baleís portrayal of both the Bat and alter-ego Bruce Wayne is so completely lifeless that heís actually boring.  Weíre spared that weird, gargle-with-razor-blades voice effect from the second film, but Bale still snarls in an attempt to keep his identity secret, even though somehow everyone and their hamster knows who Batman really is.  And while weíre on strange voices, maybe it was a sound issue in my cinema, but I missed about a third of Tom Hardyís dialogue whilst he was speaking from behind the mask as Bane.  It often seemed like Hardy wasnít actually saying anything at all while the voiceover was going, but when I could hear him, his singsong British accent seemed odd from a guy raised in a prison on a South American island.  Maybe I should count my blessings that whatever I missed mightíve included Baneís own big expositional monologue.  All Hardyís acting must be done with his eyes as the mask takes up so much of his face, making him look like a young, roided-up Anakin Skywalker with his Darth Vader helmet off.  It seemed like a waste of a good actor to limit and disguise him so much; it couldíve been anybody under there.  Also, this Bane is just a really buff guy, as opposed to the chemical reason for his super strength given in the comics, but as with any real development for any of these characters, itís not delved into at all.  Everything about the direction of The Dark Knight Rises feels perfunctory and only half-hearted: Thereís not one eye-popping action sequence or memorable line like, ďSome people just want to the world burnĒ from the second film, though goodness knows, itís not for lack of trying considering the monolithic, speech-heavy script.  Thereís only one surprise of note involving an appearance from a recurring character I wished had stayed around to give that sceneís spark to the rest of the movie.  Another killer is the wholly-unnecessary one hundred sixty-five minute running time.  A forty-five minute clip would have made for a much better or at least less grueling film.

The lack of energy and inspiration throughout The Dark Knight Rises makes one wonder if perhaps director Nolan simply got tired of the franchise he helped build, or didnít feel he could live up to the excellence of the previous chapter and so didnít even attempt it.  Either way, there arenít too many excuses one can make for this dull, empty, unfocused mess that is a sad end to what was a wonderful ride.


~ The Lady Miz Diva

July 19th, 2012


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