The Dark Knight Rises
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Opens July 20
“There’s nothing out there for me,” says homebody widower Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) early in The Dark Knight Rises, raising the possibility that the vocally challenged superhero might just stay in and catch up on his programs on demand instead. No such luck: in the allegory-friendly world of Gotham, plummy-voiced S/M-geared type-A anarchist Bane (slablike Tom Hardy) and mercenary thief/treacherously-self-sufficient single-lady Catwoman (ever-diligent Anne Hathaway) require urgent attention. Plus, the fickle People sort of think Wayne is a shit or a loser, though an increasingly amusing mystery of Nolan’s absent-minded, ambient storytelling is where exactly the entire city’s population is when not rioting.
Not that it matters too much, as Nolan mobilizes IMAX, its squarishness suggesting a yawning floor-to-ceiling window on another reality, to muscle forth his third, last, and weakest Batfilm. From the aerial stunt of the ridiculous but diverting plane-to-plane hijacking against emptied-out landscapes, to Gotham’s vistas of street battles, to the format’s energizing effect on close-ups, The Dark Knight Rises shows the blockbuster auteur still capable of appealing visual bombast where other summer fantasies just scan as busy. Yet his handle on storytelling is tenuous, getting its only charge from Wayne’s enforced exile in the Temple of Doom-scored prison that birthed Bane, while laugh-test-failing scenarios play out interminably involving Catwoman’s desire for a clean credit report and Bane’s caging of the entire police force underground before their pristine, video-game- logic re-emergence.
Where the terrorizing of the previous installment had a sense of gamesmanship and Heath Ledger’s nerve, Nolan (co-writing with his brother) feels like a panderer here, turning a trading floor into target practice and unleashing pillagers on “Fifth Avenue.” Looping his fingers in low-neck leatherwear like a Chamber of Commerce ribbon-cutter, Hardy’s masked menace is upstaged by the all-enveloping audio quality of his distractingly dubbed voice. As for moody Wayneman (incessantly guilt-tripped by caretaker Michael Caine), Bale, trying for battle-weary, inspires something closer to boredom.
Meanwhile, in China, and the international art world, another hero hiding in plain sight rises... or rather, rose for a while, until an inevitable state clampdown put a damper on things with beatings and imprisonment. Alison Klayman’s Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry is an at times weirdly unreflective documentary about the ballsy artist (and Guardian contributor) that lends itself easily to praise by self-congratulating audiences, stoked by the universally digestible outrages illuminated and triggered by his activism. Awkwardness is tucked in here and there—Ai’s usefully cute child with a mistress, or his faulting of his father’s labor-camped generation for not pushing things far enough—but Klayman seems more interested in making this latest artist doc go down smooth with strummed chords, cats, and encomiums, than in explaining the Chinese artist-activist tradition or precisely delineating the country’s political picture.
Embraced by the West as an identifiable, English-speaking face of Chinese struggles for freedom of expression, Ai the performer is matter-of-fact and canny about image-making. The film’s scary tacked-on denouement—Ai was imprisoned during postproduction, and emerges chastened, on screen at least—suggests social media as life support: a disappeared activist has to live to tweet the tale, which perhaps means tweeting to live.