It’s official. The Internet doesn’t give a flying shit about the Syrian stalemate, Mitt Romney’s alleged financial misconduct, escalating climate change or the looming Summer Olympics. Right here, right now, it’s all about Batman. The Dark Knight Rises, the third and final chapter in Christopher Nolan’s monumental franchise, opens in wide-release at midnight tonight. Anticipation has reached a frenzied pitch. Everywhere I click are articles, interviews, reviews, trailers, production stills and memes galore. I’ll never understand how this particular incarnation of the Caped Crusader managed to capture our popular imagination so completely. Or, in some unfortunate instances, inspire such vitriolic fanaticism.
Batman Begins, which launched this newfangled spin on the 70 year-old vigilante icon, was a modest success. It was dark without being depressing, and inflected with just enough comic-book camp. But it was the sequel, which preyed upon post-9/11 anxieties, that propelled the series into the pop-culture stratosphere. I’m one of the film’s few detractors.
That’s not to say I don’t appreciate Nolan’s craftsmanship, or Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning turn as the Joker. But The Dark Knight is as schizo as its anarchic villain. Moments of singular cinematic showmanship are punctuated by stretches of unreasonably clunky plotting, and even clumsier execution. Despite his best efforts, Nolan has never been much of an action director. Which is fine, I guess. But what I can’t suffer is his humourlessness and bloated moralizing.
Regardless, The Dark Knight’s arrival resonated with critics and audiences alike. It was a box-office juggernaut and a cultural touchstone. Its grim grandiosity and pervasive gloom played as a direct counterpoint to Marvel’s fleet-footed escapism (Iron Man, Thor, Captain America). It was the film we needed, but not the film we deserved.
My anticipation for The Dark Knight Rises is based exclusively upon the promise of a definitive conclusion, not just another episode in Batman's endless adventures. I trust Nolan will drawn his weighty themes full-circle, and deliver some technically proficient IMAX set-pieces. But how will audiences react to this finale, especially in the wake of The Avengers and its infectious optimism? Is there still room for ambiguity in escapism? Or will months of lofty expectations be dashed by changing appetites? The Bat broken by his own hype.