“Oh, I’m sorry, is Bane’s voice too muffled? Too hard to understand? Fine, well now he’s God and he narrates directly into your cochlea. Are you happy now, you complaining pieces of sh*t?” – Christopher Nolan to fans, 2012.
Fanboys who whined about not being able to understand Bane’s voice following the release of the first IMAX trailer are probably sorry they ever spoke up, because Chris Nolan decided to crank it up to the point where it’s so much more prominent than everything else that every scene Bane’s in feels like he’s narrating a dream sequence. It might be cinema’s first ever case of spite editing. (This scene from Freddy Got Fingered comes to mind).
Anyway, I don’t say this as the first point in my review just to be funny, I say it because there’s a reason why Nolan fans treat his detractors like heretics who should be burned (like, literally, more than a few commenters suggested critics who gave TDKR a negative review should be burned, or die in some type of fire). It’s because Chris Nolan’s relationship to his audience is like that of a vengeful God. Enjoying The Dark Knight Rises requires putting messiah-like trust in Nolan that he’ll eventually reward us with paradise, as long as we don’t get too hung up on all the plot holes, technical issues, and leftover genre tropes that seem out of place in the ultra-serious movie reality that he creates; that if we just follow him through all the ridiculous twists and turns (virgin birth? really, bro?), we’re eventually going to reach some kind of catharsis. And the thing is… you do. I left the theater with a big smile on my face. But that doesn’t mean I don’t look back on half the plot points and think, “Wait, what the f*ck?”
As we begin the story, Gotham is safe again, and Batman is living like a Howard Hughes recluse after taking the fall for Two-Face, so as not to undo all the important work the guy did as the crusading district attorney Harvey Dent. The details are a little fuzzy, and I’m not sure they’d fully make sense even if I’d seen The Dark Knight yesterday, but the gist is that the city’s safety is partly built on a lie. That’s the basic theme of TDKR (wow! a theme!), and it’s actually a pretty prescient one: can you withhold the full truth from the public if it’s only to protect them? Even if your motives are good, can you keep your duplicity from eventually coming back to bite you in the ass? I know it’s a Batman movie, but I don’t think it’s too poncey to say that the theme of the film reflects the growing pains the world is going through right now, where the old guard still believes some things need to be secret in order to maintain security, while the new school are transparency absolutists (think Wikileaks). Bruce Wayne’s protegé of sorts, a cop (and fellow orphan) played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, knows Bruce’s secret, and believes in the concept of the dark knight. His biggest question? Why does he need the mask? Get it? Blogging.
Much in the manner of Prometheus, the film is gorgeous, and the big ideas are mature and ambitious, but on a micro level, it’s a mess. Nolan is like the Mussolini of action movie directors, where he’s clearly operating on the assumption that the ends justify the means, and he has a particular way of opening a plot hole without really explaining it, taking it for granted that you’ll go along until he circles back to it later, and half the time explaining it by way of opening up another huge hole. It’s Bane who brings batman out of retirement, when it’s discovered that he’s been amassing an army of orphan boys in the sewer (also my indie band, etc.) who serve Bane to the death with absolute loyalty. Suicidal loyalty is kind of a big plot point that they never even try to explain, to say nothing of the size and complexity of Gotham’s sewer. There’s an insanely convoluted origin story for Bane involving Ra’s Al-Ghul, The League of Shadows, and some kind of Tibetan pit prison that’s so bizarre, far-fetched and cryptic that it’s almost a religious parable, but for all the digression, it never comes close to explaining the motives of any individual bad guy. But Chris Nolan wipes his dick with motive and shoots in IMAX like a boss.
Like I said, it’s a film about big ideas, which is nice, but for a film about big ideas, they sure do solve a lot of their problems through kung fu (I mean, I like kung fu, but come on). The first act cleverly hints that Batman isn’t going to be able to save the city by beating people up anymore, only to devolve into the usual superhero/supervillain showdown, which Batman can win against all odds if he just believes in himself again. It’s the same old story where the screenwriter seems to think the key to any physical feat is finding an apt metaphor. “Do it, Rudy! Think of the linebackers as your withholding stepfather!”
Not to say TDKR isn’t allowed some silliness, it is a superhero movie after all, but Nolan sets a high bar for himself by building such a self-serious tone. That’s why I love the playfulness of Spider-Man 2, Sam Raimi isn’t afraid to ride the line between good and bad. Nolan isn’t playful, yet we still get scenes where gangs of cops and crooks charge at each other like a battle in Braveheart even though they’re all carrying firearms. Don’t just run straight at each other, stupid! Find some cover and shoot, that’s the whole point of a weapon that fires projectiles! There are many characters that could only act the way they do in TDKR if they were conscious of their own cinematicness. (Is that a word? Well now it is, f*ck you.)
And as brilliant with visual composition as Nolan is, boy does he suck giant donkey nuts at sound mixing. I have to assume the reason that people initially couldn’t understand Bane was less a function of his silly (in a good way) accent and Darth Vader goatse mask than it was of a muffled sound mix and a wildly overbearing score. I get that Hans Zimmer is great and all, but as long as I’m here in this movie theater, I’d kind of also like to know what the characters are saying, you know? (Did he just say something about a fire rising? The f*ck does that mean?) The acting is already pretty great (Michael Caine damn near brought me to tears with his Jedi mind tricks). I don’t need to be relentlessly skullf*cked by the pounding music to understand the emotions. It’s so loud at points that it’s hard to be present in the story because it feels like a flashback.
But for all the confusing digressions, silly tropes (really? the hero shaves off his hobo beard AGAIN?), technical flaws, and unexplained motives, Nolan ends strong on scene that sings, and offers a nod to his original themes. If you stand back and don’t dwell on the small stuff, it’s pretty good. Just have faith and don’t question it, or else Christopher Nolan will turn your dick into a pillar of salt.