There's no easy way to transition into my thoughts on this so I'll just say it outright: I didn't like “The Dark Knight Rises.”
I won't go so far as to classify it as an objectively “bad” movie, but it is not a movie that feels like it had the same amount of thought and attention put into it that its predecessors did. It feels sloppy, a mishmash of ideas that never congeal into a satisfying whole. “Superfluous” is the word that swam through my head as the film trudged along to its conclusion.
“The Dark Knight” ended on the poignant note of Batman taking the fall for Harvey Dent's crimes and becoming a full-fledged outlaw. This opened the door for all sorts of questions about how Batman would handle his job as a crime fighter amid being actively hunted by the police.
Mourning the death of his love, Rachel, and incapable of remaining Batman due to a mixture of grief, sustained injuries and Batman's outlaw status, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has spent the past eight years wandering the hallways of the rebuilt Wayne Manor. However, when Bruce discovers a mysterious cat burglar, Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), has ties to a mysterious terrorist, the enigmatic Bane (Tom Hardy), he decides it's time for the Dark Knight to re-emerge.
Attempt to go beyond that simple visceral pleasure, however, and you're left with very little that satisfies.
The film's script problems are numerous so it's difficult to know where to begin, but let's start with the perhaps the most egregious of its errors: its handling of Batman. The reasoning behind Bruce's disappearance is specious at best, especially when you consider his motivation for doing so. All organized crime is gone? OK, fine, but what about the low-level thugs and criminals? It was that very type of criminal who killed Bruce's parents, so why wouldn't he be out there trying to clean the streets of every last one of them? What about the other costumed freaks that were supposed to be popping up because of Batman? That theme of escalation seems to have been dropped entirely as there isn't a single other criminal of that sort even mentioned in the film.
He's injured to the point of disability? I barely buy that since later when he suits back up, Bruce simply uses a high-tech gizmo that allows him to kick through solid brick. He's too sad by the death of Rachel Dawes? I don't buy that either. Batman, as he's been established for decades, would only intensify his crusade against crime if someone he loved had been killed or harmed in such a way.
But fine, let's accept that. Bruce is only human, after all, so let's allow him some time off. It doesn't excuse how senseless and stupid Bane's plan is. I get wanting to take revenge on Bruce for what he did to the League of Shadows and attempting to finish the complete the work Ra's al Ghul began. But surely he could have come up with a better plan than to arm an atomic bomb that takes…five months go off. There are Bond villains who have more efficient means of accomplishing their goals.
Bane spouts all this talk about wanting to give Gothamites the illusion of hope before destroying them, something that might have held water had we ever seen how his siege of Gotham affected regular people. But seeing as how we never get a sense (or more than a single scene) of how the regular people of Gotham fare over these five months, it's a plan that seems needlessly overwrought and carries little weight.
But fine, let's roll with that. It is a comic book movie (one in a series that has aimed to be grounded and more realistic than most comic book films, but still) and comic book villains are known to hatch plans that are specious at best.
My biggest problem with the film is the way it so poorly handles the major theme established as the backbone of Nolan's entire trilogy: Batman as a symbol. “People need dramatic examples to shake them out of apathy and I can't do that as Bruce Wayne. As a man I'm flesh and blood I can be ignored I can be destroyed but as a symbol, as a symbol I can be incorruptible. I can be everlasting.”
This was addressed in an intriguing way when untrained civilians began running around in Batman masks and hockey pads in “The Dark Knight,” it went completely ignored for the remainder of that film and the entirety of this one. In “Rises” Bane quite literally breaks Batman and exiles him to a prison in India. What a perfect opportunity for someone, say a police detective like John Blake who already knows Batman's secret identity and who knows that Bane has broken Gotham's symbol, to take up that mantle to provide inspiration and hope to a city besieged.
What a great moment it could have been to see Bane when realizes he hasn't broken Gotham's symbol at all, and the response it would garner from the oppressed Gothamites. Instead, one gets the strong impression that Batman matters very little to Gotham. It's almost as though Nolan is making the case against Batman with these films given how often harmful his presence is. Although even that theory doesn't hold much water given how the ending plays out.
Then there's the logistical nitpicks I have. Apparently all it takes to nurse a broken back to full fighting health is a few months in a dank prison with no medicine and a swift karate chop to the spine followed by a week or so spent suspended by a rope swing. Oh, and did you know that the same day a multi-billionaire has his accounts drained thanks to poor financial decisions he'll have his car towed and electricity cut off? Also, who puts a tracking device inside their mother's string of pearls? Apparently Alfred found a bunch of hits when Googling “Bane.”
I could go on, but suffice to say the whole thing feels like a bloated hodgepodge of ideas that never feel sufficiently explored. The film's final 30 minutes or so are when it finally finds a pulse, but everything leading up to that drags at an almost interminable pace.
That said, there are a couple things I unequivocally loved about the film. Firstly, Anne Hathaway is a good actress and I didn't doubt she'd do a good job as Selina Kyle (she's never actually called “Catwoman” by name). What I didn't expect was for her to be such a wonderful fit. Everyone in “Rises” is at the top of their game, but Hathaway delivers a level of energy and gusto that no one else manages to match. I don't think we necessarily need one, but if for some reason they decided to make a solo Catwoman flick during Bruce's eight year hiatus, I'd have no problem plunking down $9 for that. Similarly, Gordon-Levitt does a great job as Blake. His arc is one of the most satisfying in the entire film and provides what little “ground level” mooring exists.
Thirdly, Hans Zimmer provides a score that is some of the best work he's done in a series that has elevated this latter half of his career. Zimmer had a tall task of tackling the music for these Bat-films in the wake of Danny Elfman's iconic and groundbreaking score for Tim Burton's films and he's given Nolan's trilogy a truly unique sonic identity.
What it comes down to, though, is that it feels as though Nolan ran out of things to say about the character, which is why the ending of “The Dark Knight” feels like a potent bit of punctuation while “Rises” feels like aimless exposition. It's rambling on when not much else needed to be said. “The Dark Knight Rises” isn't a bad movie, but it often feels like an unnecessary one in the large scheme of the series.