The final installment of one of the most successful and intelligent series in comic book movie history finds director Christopher Nolan swinging for the fences. Nolan continues to explore familiar existential themes in this post-911 parable of hope and skepticism.
Review by David Feltman
“I broke you.”
Picking up eight years after “The Dark Knight,” the audience is reintroduced to Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) as a grizzled, semi-retired, semi-disabled recluse. Wayne has been pushed to his psychic and physical breaking points after the Joker’s nihilistic spree and he has the scars as proof. Turning its concerns from super villains to CEOs, Gotham City doesn’t need Batman anymore. Gotham has become nearly crime free with the inspiration of the late Harvey Dent and the lies surrounding his death. Or at least Gotham is crime free until Bane (Tom Hardy) appears to finish the job started by Ra’s Al Ghul (Liam Neeson) in “Batman Begins” and pushes Wayne well past his breaking points.
Pulling from the “Knightfall” and “No Man’s Land” storylines, “The Dark Knight Rises” aims for an epic conclusion from the beginning and so spends most of its time racing to set all of the necessary cogs spinning for the conclusion. The result is a good two-thirds of a movie that is frantically paced to the detriment of character motivation or general explanations.
Why does Alfred (Michael Caine) know so much about Bane without so much as glancing at a Bat-computer? Does Bane want to rule Gotham or blow it up? Why is there a whole SWAT team waiting outside of that bar? Rushing from set piece to set piece leaves the film filled with small questions like these. There’s just too much story to tell without worrying about details. “The Dark Knight Rises” is downright choppy as a result until it settles into cruise control during the climax.
Some of the problem stems from character overload. Anne Hathaway and Joseph Gordon-Levitt turn in fantastic performances as Selina Kyle and Officer Blake respectively and they are a joy to watch on screen. However, the characters themselves simply serve as generic plot devices that move Batman from Point A to Point B. Cutting both of them entirely could have given the Batman vs Bane story the room it needed and deserved.
Aside from this one pacing issue, “The Dark Knight Rises” is an enjoyable film that finds a satisfying conclusion. Whether in “Memento” or “Inception,” Nolan has always shown an obsession with his protagonists’ existential quests for identity. Wayne is a character that has defined himself for two films with a mask. Now Nolan finally rips this mask away to see if there is any Bruce Wayne left underneath. There are plenty of unexpected cameos for fanboys and Nolan surprisingly pulls back at the literal last minute from a real sense of finality. This is definitely the end of Nolan’s time with Batman, but he left plenty behind for another director to work with. Let’s hope the studio uses it instead of subjecting us to another reboot.