On the surface, the conclusion of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy is a solid super hero action epic, but underneath there’s a bunch of irksome issues.
The film is most effective in its slow building first half (after a pulse-pounding plane hi-jacking opening sequence, mind you), in which we re-connect to the characters (and meet a few new ones), but the second half is so bloated with bombarding spectacle, and competing storylines that I was more overwhelmed than entertained. The disjointed pacing doesn’t help either.
In the eight years since the events of 2008’s THE DARK KNIGHT, Christian Bales’s Bruce Wayne has retired his caped crusader alter-ego, and is living in self-imposed exile in Wayne Manor. The Commissioner (the grand Gary Oldman) is wracked with quilt over the cover-up that framed Batman and made a hero of the deceased DA Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart seen in quick-cut flashbacks).
New blood in the form of Joseph Gordon-Levitt as an idealistic police officer, and Anne Hathaway as Catwoman (okay, she’s never called that, but c’mon!), Matthew Modine (!) as the conniving Deputy Commissioner and the fetching Marion Cotillard as a Wayne Enterprises board member, are very appealing, but act more as exposition-delivering cogs than credible characters. However, Hathaway slyly steals her early scenes, and Gordon-Levitt’s weighty approach to his role is right in line with the gravitas the film is going for.
With his face mainly covered by a mechanical mask, Tom Hardy is the villain Bane, who does a great deal of speechifying about economic collapse (sometimes unintelligibly), as he and his minions go about occupying Gotham City, but as impassioned as he and the movement are, it’s just a lot of hot air.
Bale shaves, dons the costume to take on Hardy’s Bane, but ends up getting his Bat-ass kicked. Then he’s imprisoned in a pit that is impossible to scale (we see flashbacks that show that Bane was the only one who was able to climb out). This is the expected ‘hero gets their mojo back’ part.
Too much of the movie goes through the motions - Michael Caine as Butler Alfred is there to once again be a soft-spoken worrywart, Morgan Freeman smoothly does his “Q” thing providing Batman with the latest in Bat-themed artillery, and Oldman wearily slouches through the proceedings - although Oldman does have an energetic bomb-defusal bit during the cluttered climax.
There’s a ginormous amount of death and destruction on display, and enough tortuous imagery to make this come off as “The Passion of The Batman.” Sure, we know our hero will rise and save the day, but he and we have to take a lot of pummeling to get there. The power of Bale’s incredibly invested performance goes a long way, but there are too many patches of the film that he’s absent from.
The CGI-ed devastation of the city is seriously striking. From the colossal caving in of a football stadium to long shots of bridges being blown up - Nolan and cinematographer Wally Pfister impressively outdo their wondrous work on INCEPTION, not to mention just about every super hero movie in recent memory (sorry, THE AVENGERS - you were a lot more fun though).
So, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES is a mixed bag. But even at its overlong length (164 min.), there is enough compelling content to make it worthwhile, if you can overlook all the clunkiness - which I bet most folks can.