“When Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept for there were no more worlds to conquer.” Hans Gruber may have misquoted Plutarch but his lament seems perfectly suited for Christopher Nolan. If “Inception” was his Battle of Issus grinding the might of the old Hollywood blockbuster beneath his heel then “The Dark Knight Rises” is Nolan’s Hydaspes and the mutiny of his army in its bloody aftermath.
Now that Nolan’s Batman trilogy is finally complete, it resembles an over bloated empire at the end of its tenuous supply chain. Negative reviews have heralded death threats from over-zealous fans and a midnight massacre at a screening in Aurora Colorado has eclipsed the tragedy of Heath Ledger’s death that dominated the release of “The Dark Knight.” Cursed or not “The Dark Knight Rises” will be forever entwined with James Holmes and his heinous crime but as a film it is a ponderous beast of burden.
Set eight years after the “The Dark Knight,” Gotham City is experiencing its Halcyon days free from organised crime and caped crusaders alike. Commissioner Gordon is a man hemmed in by the lies from “The Dark Knight”, a man aching to spill his guts and tell the truth about Harvey Dent and Batman. His sacrifice is rendered even more worthless as the Mayor will dump him in the spring, a rejection of Churchillian proportions, the peacetime slaying of a wartime hero.
Meanwhile a Byronic shadow stalks the corridors and balconies of Wayne Manors. Bruce Wayne is shattered both in body and soul, a Howard Hughes-esque recluse practising archery amongst his priceless antiques. Kleenex and bottles of urine may be absent but the cruel heartache and despair is ever present. Wayne is the ghost of loneliness; his only connection with the outside world is his butler Alfred and even this bond is dissolving in acid. As Byron writes in “The Corsair”:
That man of loneliness and mystery,
Scarce seen to smile, and seldom heard to sigh.
Betrayal from within is best partnered with threat from without. Enter Bane, the bastard hybrid of Darth Vader, Humungus and Buster Bloodvessel. Bane is as erudite as he is imposing, a Marxist psychopath ready to bring Gotham’s ruling classes to their knees. “There can be no despair without hope,” his words a dagger prising open Wayne’s Pandora’s Box. Bane is Batman’s Clubber Lang moment, Alfred his Mickey warning his charge that he can never win. Like Rocky, Batman is also shrouded by arrogance and pursued by age suiting up for one last fight.
If only “The Dark Knight Rises” had a fraction of the wit or verve of “Rocky III,” that leanest of blockbusters. Whilst Stallone’s film zips about, fleet of foot but heavy on pathos, Nolan’s movie lumbers from set-piece to set-piece like a blinded Cyclops enraged by its inability to cling on to past glories. New characters like Selina Kyle, Miranda Tate and John Blake are crowbarred into the story, narrative chintz rather than the cool clean lines needed to exalt this trilogy to the crowning glory of Olympus.
Punches fall short, bones never crunch and squibs never burst. The irony of a billionaire fighting to save the status quo is intriguing when explored but the Occupy Wall Street/Mitt Romney allegory is sluggish and tacked on and the post-apocalyptic Batman setting rushed in from “Invasion U.S.A.” and “Escape From New York.” Nolan is haunted by one of his lines, “Structures becoming shackles” as the blockbuster format has finally dragged him back down to earth with a Byronic thud:
He knew himself a villain—but he deem’d
The rest no better than the thing he seem’d;
And scorn’d the best as hypocrites who hid
Those deeds the bolder spirit plainly did.
He knew himself detested, but he knew
The hearts that loath’d him, crouch’d and dreaded too.
Lone, wild, and strange, he stood alike exempt
From all affection and from all contempt
Nolan like Batman may have overreached himself on this occasion but he too should retreat into the shadows and take stock, reinvent himself with a minor work. Take water with his wine once again. Although none of that really matters to the victims and their families who went to see a comic book movie in a Century 16 cinema on 20th July 2012.