(2012)3.5Jeremy WheelerChristopher Nolan concludes his Bat trilogy with a nearly three-hour opus that focuses just as much on Gotham as it does the Caped Crusader. Indeed, the hero spends a good deal of time sidelined in his own picture. Nolan's vision is another grand crime tale, yet he shoots for bloat while going for broke in the final installment -- all without a charismatic villain the likes of the Joker (who carried the previous film) or the one-two punch of Liam Neeson and the Scarecrow, whose mad gas gave Batman Begins a terrifying touch. Here audiences are given Bane, a ridiculously voiced brawler whose menace rings more hollow than not. Thankfully, Anne Hathaway brings some life to the proceedings as Catwoman, while Joseph Gordon-Levitt adds much to Rises when Batman is not around. Fans of the series might be satisfied with what they find in the film, but that doesn't mean that there aren't valid criticisms to be found in this lofty, yet meandering third outing.
The action picks up eight years after the events of The Dark Knight, with the death of Harvey Dent allowing the government to pass the Dent Act, which has helped to clean up organized crime within the city. Batman remains an outlaw; still blamed for the district attorney's death, while the man behind the mask, Bruce Wayne, has turned into a crippled recluse. Only after a burglar (Hathaway) steals his fingerprints does the Bat come out of the cave again, just in time to confront an underground group of terrorists fronted by Bane (played by Tom Hardy), a masked muscleman who takes down Wall Street while also taking all of Bruce Wayne's fortune away from him. Meanwhile, a beat cop (Gordon-Levitt) does much of the detective work on the anarchists while Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) lays in the hospital recovering from his own run-in with Bane. Soon Gotham finds itself cut off from the rest of the world, with both the cops and Batman out of commission to help them, while the maniac Bane stages an event that will level the city if he's not stopped.
So we have a madman who is committed to taking the riches away from the wealthy -- except that doesn't figure much into his final goal. While The Dark Knight was the answer to a post-9/11 world, the third film takes cues from its own modern political landscape, but it ends up being a grab-bag rather than a statement. All of this wouldn't be such an issue if the movie wasn't intended to draw parallels. And just where does Batman figure into all of this?
Good question! The structure of the film puts the main character in a loop of not being a hero, then being a hero, then not being a hero, and then back to being a hero again. It seems that Nolan is much more interested in what happens to a city in the hands of a madman rather than having much to do with the main character. Even without its Batman problems, there are still inconsistencies that are big (jumps in logic connecting two main characters) and small (characters audiences didn't know suddenly being referenced as if they are important), making it seem that the director's original vision was even longer. Emotionally it remains cold, even when characters are blubbering with awkward tears. On the plus side, Wally Pfister's cinematography is stunning, with all other technical aspects being top form -- especially Hans Zimmer's exceptional score, which pulses through each scene.
To his detriment, Nolan is either unconcerned with delivering bravura popcorn moments -- or he's just bad at it. In the same year where The Avengers wowed audiences with one crowd-pleasing moment after the next, The Dark Knight Rises is intent on being subdued and without humor. The film's sprawling size is equally fascinating and frustrating. Rises is not the masterstroke that many consider The Dark Knight to be. That said -- time constraints aside -- it is absolutely the film that Nolan set out to make. And that remains as important as any criticisms leveled against it.