“The Dark Knight Rises” is the concluding chapter to Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, the movie series that resurrected the moribund Batman franchise. Having given us the excellent “Batman Begins” and the legendary “The Dark Knight Rises”, the bar was set high for the grand finale, so one can hardly blame Nolan for wanting to give us something grandiose and epic for the final chapter.
And to a large extent, he succeeds. There’s plenty of Batman angst here, a sprawling cast of characters, a worthy adversary, and the city is certainly in peril. Yet the movie is so serious it’s smothering, there’s a dearth of action, and the “epicness” occasionally crosses the line into bloat.
There’s a very well made movie here, but I didn’t enjoy it half as much as I had hoped to.
“The Dark Knight Rises” picks up 8 years after the events of “The Dark Knight”. Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has been in retirement from being Batman since the night that Harvey Dent died. Thankfully, Gotham has been safe and secure since then, barely needing his services. In the wake of Dent’s apparently tragic death, the city passed the “Harvey Dent Act”, an act of legislation that somehow facilitates prosecution and which has led to the incarceration of thousands of Gotham City criminals. Wayne himself has been living as a recluse, earning a Howard Huges-esque reputation for himself. He’s never seen in public any more, and Wayne Enterprises has begun to flounder.
When Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) is attacked, Wayne gets word of a new menace to Gotham. He breaks out the body armor, pays his first visit to Lucious Fox (Morgan Freeman) in years and begins his search for the mysterious Bane (Tom Hardy). What he finds is a man raising an army to finish the mission of Ra’s Al Ghul… destroying Gotham. What he also finds is that he’s finally met his match… Bane is a man he cannot best physically. As Wayne is forced to recuperate from his unsuccessful confrontation with Bane, the terrorist conquers the city, cutting it off from the outside world and holding it captive with the threat of an atomic device.
While Bane is certainly Batman’s match, there’s one person he’s no match for, and that’s Heath Ledger’s Joker. With his face hidden behind the breathing mask, and his borderline goofy voice, Bane is simply not a captivating villain. Great heroic movies depend as much on the villain as they do the hero, and here we’re given a poorly motivated gym rat in a gas mask. By the movie’s end there are some reveals that illuminate the character to a greater depth, but for the most part, we have little idea why Bane is doing what he’s doing, and we get no sense of an acting performance because Hardy’s face is completely obscured by the breathing apparatus.
Faring much better is Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle aka Catwoman. She’s feminine, felonious and formidable without being comically feline. Unfortunately her character and her relationship with Bruce Wayne (which would have made for a great centerpiece story) get more than a little lost in the mix.
Because there is an enormous mix going on here. Not only does Batman face Bane and Catwoman, but Comissioner Gordon has a story-line, as does Joseph Gordon Levitt’s character. Alfred and Lucious are both given ample screentime, of course, and deservedly so, but there’s also got to be time for the Wayne Enterprises board, Marion Cotillard’s character, Bruce Wayne’s attempt to build a fusion device for clean, renewable energy, Cillian Murphy’s reappearance as Jonathan Crane, Nestor Carbonel, Matthew Modine, there’s trapped cops, orphaned kids, etc etc… this movie sprawls and not in a good way. Clocking in at almost three hours, there are numerous subplots and story strands I would happily see edited out. And not simply for brevity’s sake, either. There are a number of things here that just aren’t that great. While “The Dark Knight” was long, too, it still felt tight. Everything in it felt important. That certainly isn’t the case here.
At the end of the day, I would have been more ok with it, had the action supported the movie better. There’s no 18 Wheeler flip here, there’s no jump from a Hong Kong skyscraper. There is a very memorable fistfight between Bane and Batman, and “The Bat” (the name for the flying Batmobile) is cool, but there’s just not enough within the endless runtime, and it’s just not memorable enough for me. Factor in clichés like chasing down a ticking bomb and out-maneuvering heat seeking missiles, and you have a lot of letdown in terms of the action sequences here.
The production values are still as high as they get. There are a couple of really fun “reveal” moments that I wont spoil here, too. The acting is still top-notch, it seemed they filled every role with a talented actor. Also, of course, by this point in the series, you care about these characters very much. There were some very touching moments between Alfred and Bruce, for example. And finally, if you’re a fan of super hero movies, it’s always great to watch the characters you know and love in live-action up on the big screen. So, there’s still a lot of quality elements within. Yet I can’t get around the fact that I spend a lot of the runtime mildly bored, and would have liked to have seen this movie spend its considerable resources in a much, much better way.
B+, but that’s a very disappointing grade considering the pedigree.