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Having shunned the spotlight for years, billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) prepares to suit up once more to take on a new threat, muscular terrorist Bane (Tom Hardy)
Something is rotten in the city of Gotham. An uneasy peace, founded on a tenuous lie, has allowed business as usual to flourish. And by business, we do mean business: big business, as in "protecting the interests of", cued up visually as the film opens with a dapper crowd being served canapés by waiting staff on an appreciably different rung of the ladder. Later, Anne Hathaway's cat burglar Selena Kyle silkily promises: "You're all going to wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us."
Holy Marxist dialectic, Batman! Is this seriously the first radically anti-capitalist movie to make millions of dollars worldwide? Of course not. We're not supposed to be on the side of the bankers here, sure, but a plot that starts off with ideas around taking back power from the few and putting it in the hands of the many is hamstrung as political commentary by the fact that this redistribution functions simply as a villain's smokescreen in a genre that demands the villain be, well, villainous. The big bad's eventual motivations are murkier and more difficult to comprehend, and not just because Bane sounds like a drunk Furby.
Much has been made of Bane's distorted speech; it isn't always easy to hear what he's saying (and that's obviously no accident - Nolan has cutting edge technology at his disposal; do we really think the sound mix was a Poundland job?). This communications breakdown is ironic given he is leading a coup based on the mass support of the common man-turned-criminal - he is truly a macabre people's terrorist. Most rabble rousers rely on their ability to communicate simply and fluidly; perhaps Bane's appeal as a boss is that his followers are able to project what they want onto him, hear what they want to hear. They're certainly not there for the competitive health plan; he's hardly gentler with his employees than his enemies.
The Dark Knight Rises is most interesting both at a great distance - the big ideas, the sweeping cityscapes, the operatic themes of family and vengeance - and also in extreme close-up. Selena Kyle, Bruce Wayne, Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) and John Blake (Jo Gordon-Levitt) are wonderful characters I would loved to have spent more time with, just hanging out, hearing them talk, watching them interact. The film is on stickier ground with the mid-range stuff: the minute-by-minute mechanics of the plot and the oddly not-quite-thrilling-enough action sequences (the best bits in the fight scenes are close-up character moments).
There's also the nagging sense that we don't care too much about what's at stake. It doesn't feel like the filmmakers or audience are willing Batman on to save poor old Gotham - there's more tragic spectacle to be had in its destruction. Perhaps the film's inherent nihilism erodes what ought to be this sense of huge jeopardy - a whole city in peril - replacing it with something a lot closer to Selina Kyle's express desire to watch Rome burn. A film for our times, then.
A thorny thicket redeemed by its willingness to at least highlight big problems. It's all rather a long way from a chap in brightly coloured tights armed with shark-repellent Batspray - man, things have got bleak.
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