Director Christopher Nolan goes all out in the bleak, brooding finale to his Batman trilogy. The film clocks in at nearly two hours and 45 minutes and includes four major new characters, several massive set pieces and more than a few plot twists.
This is Hollywood studio filmmaking on an epic scale. And yet the movie, while good and certainly better than most summer fare, is my least favorite in Nolan’s trilogy.
As the film opens, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has been out of the public eye for eight years after taking the blame for the death of district attorney turned villain Harvey Dent.
Gotham, it is noted, is in “peace time” and Wayne’s caped crusader alter ego is not in high demand – that is, until a murderous crime ring leader named Bane (Tom Hardy), who gasps and wheezes in a Darth Vader-esque voice through a mask, decides to unleash his fury on the city’s police and wealthy denizens.
Several other new characters are thrown into the mix, including jewel thief Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), who will become Catwoman, as well as an eager young policeman and Batman believer (Joseph Gordon Levitt and a potential love interest for Wayne (Marion Cotillard).
Surprisingly, Batman makes only a few appearances in the movie, which is primarily concerned with Wayne’s struggle to determine which life he will choose – recluse philanthropist or crime fighter.
The film has its faults: Hardy is an able actor, but the fact that he is hidden behind Bane’s mask throughout the entire movie mutes his performance as opposed to Heath Ledger’s flesh and blood portrayal of The Joker in “The Dark Knight.” And Bane’s motivations for tearing down Gotham’s hierarchy are pretty vague.
While I can appreciate Hans Zimmer’s sturm und drang score, it often drowns out the actors. And while I believe some credit is due to Nolan for incorporating current events – Wall Street greed, the one percent and an economy on the decline – into the picture, these ideas are not fully realized.
On the other hand, “The Dark Knight Rises” is a feat of visual mastery. It looks terrific and its visual effects are well done without being over the top.
In terms of performances, I thought Hathaway steals every scene she’s in and adds a little liveliness to the otherwise grim proceedings.
And Michael Caine – as dedicated butler Alfred, Levitt and Gary Oldman – as Gotham’s police chief – provide solid supporting work.
There are a number of plot twists toward the film’s end, but most of them are handled well and I found two sequences in its final minutes to be particularly clever.
For me, “The Dark Knight” is still the most complete film in Nolan’s Batman series. And while “The Dark Knight Rises” might not be the movie to end all movies for which some fans may have hoping, it’s an ambitious and well-made blockbuster by a director with vision.