It’s difficult to reflect on the experience of seeing “The Dark Knight Trilogy” Thursday night in the AMC Theaters at Spokane’s River Park Square without pausing to acknowledge the tragic shooting that happened at a screening in Colorado.
As an uncomfortable footnote, a plastic burning odor resulted in the complete evacuation of River Park Square around the same time as the Colorado incident. Thankfully our evacuation was the result of an overheated AC unit and not something unspeakable.
Listening to the news the next morning nearly eliminated my desire to talk about “The Dark Knight Rises” experience. But you hug your kid, get dressed and be thankful you even get to discuss the strengths and shortcomings of a superhero movie. Some people don’t get to do that today.
With that out of way, let’s talk about Batman and how “The Dark Knight Rises” completes Christopher Nolan’s groundbreaking trilogy.
6 p.m. – Screening of “Batman Begins” um… begins
All things considered, the capacity crowd was pretty excited at the start of a 7-year-old movie we’ve probably all seen several times before.
It’s amazing how well Nolan executes the origins of Bruce Wayne in “Begins” considering the backstory is one of the most familiar in all of pop culture. Nolan’s choice of Christian Bale as Wayne is probably best justified in “Begins,” especially since his character takes a backseat to the Joker in “The Dark Knight.” Bale is the definitive Batman – brooding, angry and strong enough to endure the evil that will face him in subsequent installments.
8:45 p.m. – Screening of “The Dark Knight” begins
The second film begins with the still-sensational bank heist scene that introduces the world to Heath Ledger’s iconic Joker. It’s an especially simmering sequence on the big screen, maybe because the air conditioning in the theater hadn’t been running for the past two hours.
Argue about plot holes and the fallacies of Joker’s schemes all you want, “The Dark Knight” is Nolan’s masterpiece—a thrilling crime epic that constantly builds dread without losing that sense of comic book fun. Ledger’s Joker is THE performance of the last decade, and the best scenes in “Dark Knight” are whenever he opens his mouth.
11 p.m. – Joker blows up a hospital and AMC Theaters is “on fire”
Just as Joker presses the detonator, I noticed a strange burning smell in the theater. A few people stood to leave, then a few more. With little desire to be burned alive, I was one of the first to exit to the lobby, where theater employees told us to head down the escalators and wait outside.
I exited the grand lobby of River Park Square and walked out onto the sidewalk just as several fire trucks arrived at the scene. A dozen or so firefighters dashed up the escalators, and one of the trucks began to raise its ladder to the very top of the building. A firefighter got halfway up the ladder before he was called down. The word spread that an AC unit in our theater had overheated and started a small fire on the roof.
I would argue the AC was never on in the first place, but at least we all knew why we’d been sitting in a 90 degree auditorium for four hours.
The crowd cheered the firefighters as they came down the escalators before a mad rush of teenagers stormed back up to the theaters. Batman waits for no air conditioning.
It’s a quarter to midnight before they restart the final minutes of “Dark Knight.” Other theaters showing just “The Dark Knight Rises” will start on schedule at 12:01 a.m. We had to wait until about 12:30. But after a 45 minute delay, our complete trilogy experience remained intact.
The Dark Knight Finally Rises
In terms of scale, Nolan has outdone himself with “The Dark Knight Rises.” Whereas Batman fought individual villains in previous films, this time he’s faced with the full-on Occupation of an entire city. This is no mere superhero movie; Nolan has much more on his mind about class inequality and the nature of authority in our post 9/11 society.
“Rises” opens eight years after the events of “The Dark Knight.” Batman is in exile, having taken the fall for murders committed by former Gotham City savior, Harvey Dent. Bruce Wayne hides in his mansion, still emotionally and physically crippled by his battles with Joker and Two-Face.
A hulking terrorist in the form of Bane (Tom Hardy) forces him back in action, as does an encounter with crafty cat burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway). Saying much more about the plot of this 2 hour and 45 minute epic would be to spoil the massive scope of “Dark Knight Rises.” It’s easily the biggest movie this summer, making that alien invasion at the end of “The Avengers” seem like a minor skirmish.
The movie does a lot of things right – notably introducing new characters to the universe without their arcs feeling too rushed or out of place. Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a young Gotham City police detective and Hathaway as the allegiance-shifting Catwoman are the film’s major standouts. The regulars from the trilogy – Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman – all give strong performances, but the sheer size of the plot mechanics force them all, Bale included, into long stretches of absence.
Hardy is convincing as the masked and muzzled Bane, but the character pales in comparison to The Joker (probably not a fair comparison). It doesn’t help that his mask removes all personality from the versatile actor’s face, or that his obviously manipulated-in-post-production voice never really gels with the action on screen.
“Dark Knight Rises” has a wild, tension-soaked final act. But for the first time in his career, Nolan seems overwhelmed by his material. There’s too much going on, too many character arcs to satisfy and too much effort into wrapping all the films into a cohesive trilogy. There’s a satisfying conclusion, but the tonal cohesiveness of “The Dark Knight” is missed in “Rises.”
Even if it doesn’t quite hold together, credit must be given to Nolan and his team for attempting something so expansive. There’s a lot of social commentary here, and unlike what some pundits might be babbling about on talk radio, the movie doesn’t take a simple left or right stance.
Most unsettling is how “The Dark Knight Rises” is about the kind of terror that struck a theater in Colorado early Friday morning. As Alfred so succinctly says it in “The Dark Knight,” some people “just want to watch the world burn.”
“Dark Knight Rises” is a response to that kind of thinking, and maybe in between the Bat cycle chases and flying contraptions, there’s a definitive answer in there.
After 10 hours in a movie theater, some sleep might help with the reflection.
Tyler Wilson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org