It all began seven years ago when audiences witnessed a young Bruce Wayne falling through an abandoned well filled with bats. As the story goes, Wayne develops a phobia for the same animal that would come to symbolize the terror that he would inflict on Gotham City’s crime underworld. At the time, Warner Bros. took a number of risks by producing a new Batman film. Not only did “Batman Begins” mark the first new film starring the caped crusader since Joel Schumacher’s dismal “Batman and Robin,” but the studio entrusted the project to director Christopher Nolan — a filmmaker then known more for intelligently written, independent psychological thrillers than for the latest billion-dollar blockbuster.
“Batman Begins” and the near-perfection of “The Dark Knight” signaled turning points in the superhero genre. Gone was the campiness of Tim Burton’s original films. Gone were the complacent characters that lacked any sort of dimension beyond the masks that they wore. And most importantly, gone was the nipple Batsuit of Schumacher’s film. Instead, Nolan’s Batman operated in a city that felt ominously real and familiar in the face of charismatic villains who fought for more than revenge and money. Here stood a series that brought larger themes of corruption, ethics and escalation to the forefront, while still providing the best car chases and explosions to hit the big screen in recent memory.
With a proven track record like Nolan’s, there seemed little doubt that the final chapter in this saga could be anything short of a masterpiece, the crowning achievement of a series that must finish with a bang. As the weeks passed and little details leaked out, the exuberance surrounding the release of “The Dark Knight Rises” grew clearer. Every subsequent poster and trailer suggested an epic conclusion that could quite possibly surpass the previous two films.
Instead, “The Dark Knight Rises” proves to be a film marred by a dragging story line and too many characters, leaving one with just (dare I say) a moderately entertaining experience.
The film opens eight years after the death of Harvey Dent (or Two-Face), who remains immortalized as an everlasting symbol against organized crime in Gotham. Blamed for the murder, Bruce Wayne hangs up the cape and remains in Wayne Manor as a recluse in a city that no longer needs nor wants the protection of an unpredictable vigilante. Both physically and mentally broken, Wayne allows the old family business to fall into disrepair. However, his run-in with the infamous cat burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) shakes him out of this stupor.
Kyle isn’t the only new character in Wayne’s life, but she stands out as the most compelling member of the cast and one of the few additions worth mentioning. Hathaway plays the role with a sarcastic attitude and part devil, part angel smile, bringing to mind the classic femme fatales from the Golden Age of Hollywood. In the process, Hathaway rights the wrongs committed by Halle Berry in 2004’s unmentionable “Catwoman,” while leaving the audience wanting more.
Nolan attempts to balance the various characters by juxtaposing the relationships of Wayne’s life with the enigmatic brutality of Batman’s latest foe, Bane (Tom Hardy). As the decadence of Gotham’s rich is examined through Wayne’s eyes, Bane takes it upon himself to burn the city to the ground and rebuild it anew. Although lacking the charisma of Heath Ledger’s Joker, the mystery shrouding Bane’s past enlivens the narrative with a sense of awe that is deeply missing throughout much of the film. His thunderous voice — a cross between Darth Vader and more Darth Vader in surround sound — brings a unique intensity to the performance that appears all the more obvious in a blaring IMAX theater.
Obvious thematic similarities can be seen between “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight Rises,” while Wayne struggles to move on from his loss experienced in “The Dark Knight.” Nolan attempts to tie all the movies together, often employing cross-cutting between old clips over new dialogue and revelations regarding character back-stories. The effect tends to be somewhat jarring and contrived, leaving one to question the lazier story elements in Nolan’s script.
This leads to the biggest surprise of the entire movie. No, I’m not referring to some shocking plot twist. Rather, the most perplexing aspect of the film is the lack of detail and the sloppiness with which it all seems to be thrown together. Nolan fails to create a sense of urgency and time throughout the film, mainly due to the subplots that have no apparent end. With a running time of two hours and 45 minutes, “The Dark Knight Rises” feels paradoxically rushed yet bloated at the same time.
However, Nolan’s “failure” can hardly be called a failure at all. When comparing it to the mediocre schlock making its way out of Marvel Studios and other summer blockbusters, “The Dark Knight Rises” once again illustrates Nolan’s prowess for creating an excellent action-packed thriller. Yes, “The Dark Knight Rises” fails to live up to its predecessors in almost every way, but when the bar has been set so high, can one really be blamed for falling short?