When Christopher Nolan placed his deft hand upon the comeback-seeking Caped Crusader, he staged a miraculous revival that made most fans forget the asses and nipples of Joel Schumacher’s 1997 farce “Batman & Robin.” Two films later, many wish for the director to continue shooting the franchise to glorious heights for years to come. However, he has decided to move on, closing his re-imagined saga with “The Dark Knight Rises,” an operatic tale that, despite its frequent stumbles, is a fitting farewell to the beloved superhero.
Eight years after the events of “The Dark Knight,” Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is a recluse, having given up the Bat suit so that his beloved Gotham City can reach milestones when it comes to combating crime. Interrupting his “retirement” is the cat-like thief, Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), who — along with the looming threat presented by the masked terrorist Bane (Tom Hardy) — prompts him to become Batman to protect the city once more.
With “TDKR,” it appears that Nolan is quite determined to end his trilogy in the most ambitious way conceivable. He sets off to do just that, continually stretching the film’s scale over the course of its near three-hour-long runtime. “Go big or go home” seems to be the man’s motto, and the film may as well be an epic in every sense of the word.
For the most part, he pulls it off. The peril that the citizens face is entirely unprecedented, and Bane manages to torment Gotham in its entirety — marvelously captured in many breathtaking citywide long shots by cinematographer Wally Pfister. What Bruce has to endure this time around is a journey that dwarfs his previous exploits, and Hans Zimmer’s memorable score falls and rises in perfect synchronicity with the character.
Of course, it takes patience and time to actually get to the good stuff. The first act, which drags on for too long (feeling like almost an hour), is horrifyingly clunky and messy: it incongruously hops from scene to scene with almost no seamless transitions in between and is almost lifeless. While “TDKR” eventually picks itself up and runs at a good, almost breezy, pace afterwards, it takes a great effort to weather through the hard slog that the film initially is.
It is inevitable, almost unfair, for “TDKR” to be compared to its predecessor. Let’s face it: it’s definitely nowhere near as terrific as “TDK” is. There’s more emphasis on scale than atmosphere here, and what results is increased excitement at the expense of that unsettling mood in “TDK,” which is what made that film so tense to sit through; “TDKR” is more of a superhero film, methinks. Contributing to the film’s lack of dread is Bane, an unfortunately one-dimensional villain that’s scary, but not terrifying. Despite Hardy’s best efforts (especially in manipulating body language), you’ll know all you need to know about Bane after about an hour, and he becomes uninteresting for the rest of the film.
Bane is just one of the hosts of new characters to the saga, and the way Nolan utilizes them all turns out to be a mixed bag. Hathaway’s Selina is a sultry scene-stealer, always injecting her scenes with spark. John Blake (portrayed by a great Joseph Gordon-Levitt) serves as a nice parallel to Bruce, and his own journey is entertaining to follow. Marion Cotillard plays Miranda Tate, a Wayne Enterprises executive who drops in and out of the story like many of her fellow characters, including Deputy Commissioner Foley (Matthew Modine), Selina’s accomplice (Juno Temple) and even good ol’ Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine, who gets quite emotional). Given the come-and-go screen time that some of these new additions get, it would be much more ideal to cut out the minor characters completely or to combine them with other characters. That way, the story could move along faster (especially in the first act), or more time could be dedicated to reinforcing the film’s political and social themes, which are left uncomfortably hanging, and building up to the big twist that comes.
There’s a fair share of surprises in “TDKR,” but most are either not developed well enough or seem as though Nolan is pandering Batman fans. A couple of characters from past films appear and do very little or nothing to advance the narrative, and there’s a little reveal regarding a character’s name towards the very end that feels like a cop-out (and came very close to killing the ending for this critic). But above all, there’s the climactic twist, which won’t be disclosed for the sake of not spoiling, and only has the fraction of the bombshell effect it needs simply because the character that it involves is not adequately developed enough throughout the course of the film.
And yet, in spite of all the pitfalls “TDKR” encounters, it’s still a film I recommend because of how it portrays Bruce and brings his story to a conclusion. The emotional arc that he lacked in “TDK” is appropriately at the forefront here and — with Bale’s excellent, multifaceted performance — helps make “TDKR” a fine example of a classic hero’s journey of what happens after he falls. When placed alongside “Batman Begins” and “TDK,” the film is a fulfilling finale to the titular character’s arc.
In a sense, “The Dark Knight Rises” is to “The Dark Knight” what “Return of the Jedi” is to “The Empire Strikes Back” for the “Star Wars” franchise: it’s a shadow of the film it could have been, but it closes a saga in an emotional, memorable and an overall neat manner.
Rating: 4 out of 5