As promised, a long time ago. Full reconsideration under the break. Short version: It’s a flawed masterpiece.
My first blush take on The Dark Knight Rises meshed reasonably closely with my second-day reaction: That it was a sprawling, epic marred by some editing problems which pushed parts of the story off-kilter and kept it from being the movie it should have been.
Having revisited DKR
a few more times again my overall view has shifted. All of the editing problems still bug me, but they’ve been overwhelmed by the power of everything else Christopher Nolan did with the film.
For starters, there’s the intellectual energy. Once again, Nolan has some very interesting things to say about our liberal order. It’s not just our decadence that concerns him, but the limitations inherent in the City of Man. Then there’s the enormous scope. By the time DKR rolls credits, you feel like you’ve finished a James Michener book on Gotham City. I think Nolan could have handled the pacing better–particularly in the first act. But once the train is on the tracks it’s incredibly powerful. Every time I’ve seen the movie I’m still (1) Totally captivated by the Talia al Ghul reveal and (2) Totally gut-punched by Batman’s farewell to Selina Kyle.
But what’s really grown on me over time is the movie’s thematic beauty. There’s the visual stuff–the idea of ascending (or descending) through holes, which recurs throughout. But at a more literary level is the thematic echoes between Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle which are the underpinnings of their romance.
We all understand why Selina Kyle eventually allows herself to fall for Bruce Wayne. (And the execution of that moment, done with nothing but Anne Hathaway staring into the camera for three beats, is wonderful.) But what does he see in her? At the masquerade ball, Selina tells him wearily, “Once you’ve done what you had to, they’ll never let you do what you want to.” Which is precisely the situation Bruce has been in with Batman since TDK. Bruce Wayne wants to be Bruce Wayne, but everyone around him (save Alfred) keeps begging him to put the cape back on. Everyone around him needs the Batman. And he’s so warped by this that, when he gives up being Batman, he doesn’t know what to do with himself. He sits in his mansion and waits. Either for death or to be called back into harness.