Fear, paranoia and chaos have been the key thematic elements in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. Riddled within Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and most clearly in The Dark Knight Rises, Nolan relies on contemporary political turmoil to fuel his narrative. With The Dark Knight Rises, fear, paranoia, chaos, and agony are saddled with concepts of male hegemony, social-class consciousness, and the apocalyptic woe associated with September 11. It’s without a doubt the most narratively dense and structurally misguided of all of Nolan’s work. But it’s because of its faults and messiness that the picture possesses impressive heft. I enjoyed both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight as pieces of blockbuster entertainment – but the scope of The Dark Knight Rises and the weightiness of material that it tackles make for one of the most interesting large-scale Hollywood picture in some time.
The Dark Knight Rises structures its narrative from the previous film’s fallout – Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) is dead and utilized as a symbol of fallen justice. His death brings about social reform. The structure of Gotham City is intact, though this is observed through the lens of people in privileged positions. The white male hegemony operates as if it were peacetime. Nolan wisely introduces various working class elements early on, as Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character represents a slightly more socially conscious class type. Anne Hathaway’s character operates largely under class-minded objectives. Criminality and the nature of permanence within our current social order haunt her character much in the same way that Batman became a symbol of lawlessness following The Dark Knight.
As the picture finds some semblance of narrative footing after its first hour, we’re introduced to the picture’s more obvious Occupy Wall Street elements that have been address ad nauseam in other reviews, whereupon revolt and justice is passed against the city’s elite class. The Dark Knight Rises suffers greatly for its lack of subtlety, but this in itself is complimented with impressive visceral elements, including a brutal hand-to-hand combat sequence with the physical force of the picture, Bane (Tom Hardy). There’s not much to the Bane character beyond his physicality – he serves more as a proxy to lay out the obvious themes of the picture.
I’m a bit surprised in myself for enjoying the picture as much as I did. It possesses a lot of the same dunderheaded mechanics of The Dark Knight, where so much of its material is on the nose. And this is a problem with The Dark Knight Rises as well – with characters like Bane and Catwoman incessantly endorsing the elimination a social class system, I’d say the picture may suffer from being too obvious. But the messiness of its first hour, along with Nolan’s most controlled and viscerally engaging action sequences, makes for the most interesting Batman film since Tim Burton’s Batman Returns.