If it's crap ... We'll tell you
When Christopher Nolan was developing Batman Begins, people scoffed at the very notion of rebooting a franchise. How would it work? Would people take to it, or naturally recoil from filmmakers walking over already well-worn ground? To most people's surprise back in 2005, the director of the mind-bending Memento and company were able to not only craft a superb origin story, ground a superhero in a more realistic world, and make all previous films pale in comparison to the newest interpretation of Batman, but also solidify the idea of audiences accepting reboots.
Fast forward to 2008, and Nolan, the filmmakers, and Warner Bros. release The Dark Knight. A well-written, thought-provoking crime film that just so happened to star Batman. Small gripes aside, the film immediately became the new gold standard for not only superhero films, but for action movies, in general. With a tight narrative and an outstanding performance by Heath Ledger as The Joker, many cried foul when the Academy Awards shunned away from giving out more nominations and awards for the film (including Best Picture). With hype building to astronomical proportions, Nolan and his team have promised The Dark Knight Rises to be last, and greatest, addition to Batman trilogy. Sadly, that's not the case. Caution is given to those who don't want ANY aspect of the story spoiled for them, even accidentally, but I will try to remain as vague and general as possible.
The Dark Knight Rises takes place 8 years after the event of The Dark Knight. Commissioner Jim Gordon, struggling over the lie about Harvey Dent's death, has become tired and conflicted with the hope his martyrdom has offered, Lucius Fox, head of Wayne Enterprises, sits atop of a company losing profits, and Bruce Wayne has become a recluse, incapable of connecting with the world after retiring from his many years of physically crushing work as Batman. Meanwhile, renowned mercenary Bane begins assembling an army to his cause - the destruction of Gotham city. Gordon stumbles across Bane's plan, necessitating Batman coming out of retirement. All the while, a mysterious cat-burgler, Selina Kyle, makes frequent appearances throughout Gotham prompting the question over what her role is in the entire affair.
I was conflicted over whether to review this movie as apart of a trilogy (taking into account the movies that came before) or attempting to review it on its own merit; this was caused due to the large amounts of story plots relying on the previous films and the audience having a grasp on what had happened. In the end, it cannot be ignored that the film frequently asks the audience to appreciate the story knowing the background of the other two films, so it will be judged being within a larger story. The beginning of the story is an interesting set-up as it places Batman in the position of actually hindering the police more than helping them by his mere presence. That being said, however, the character arcs and story of the film are a lot less interesting than what was delivered in The Dark Knight. Bane is a much more direct, simplistic, and, frankly, uninteresting villain than The Joker, Scarecrow, or Ra's-al-Ghul, and because of it, the moral ambiguity that the characters wrestled over in the previous film is exchanged for a build-up of aggregating allies against a new threat. It works within the context of the story, but it's nowhere near as engaging as seeing the characters' moralities tested to the breaking point like showcased in the other movies.
While the previous Batman films moved at a fast pace, The Dark Knight Rises, after the first act, becomes a slow crawl. We see the foundations of Gotham being torn asunder, but the filmmakers never have it come across as something ripping apart the very foundations of civility and driving citizens to madness, especially when it's only really covered in a too-short montage sequence. By the end, when the climactic elements converge into an epic fight for Gotham, the build-up just doesn't seem satisfactorily in place to see this conflict erupt. The characters in this film and their respective arcs feel like the weakest out of the series. Bane is tough and intimidating, but, besides for a detail here and there, he is the least interesting antagonist in the trilogy. Tom Hardy does his best to make his physical presence convey more personality than the script allows, along with almost cartoonishly-jovial voice inflections, but what you see is almost entirely what you get: a big thug with an agenda and little else. Christian Bale returns as Bruce Wayne/Batman, but faces the challenge of rising to face an enemy superior to himself in almost every respect. While Bale's performance as Wayne isn't as compelling or layered as it was in Batman Begins, it's certainly a step-up from his supporting role in The Dark Knight. And yes, Bale's "Batman" voice is more easily understandable, but it doesn't make his growl/speech any less annoying. Michael Caine's performance as Alfred is surprisingly hampered as he plays a much more sedated role as the voice of reason from the previous films - an aspect I wished Nolan and company didn't do as it was a refreshing counter-argument to aspects of Bruce Wayne's crusade against crime.
Anne Hathaway plays Selina Kyle, but her only real function in the film is to balance out the XX/XY ratio and to look cool kicking peoples' butts in skin-tight leather. She attempts to act as vicious yet sensual, but comes off like she's just trying way too hard to be the cold femme fatal (it also doesn't help that she contributes very little to the overall story). Marion Cotillard doesn't fare much better as Miranda Tate who has incredibly little to do for the majority of the film and only seems to be involved near the very end of the story, but even then it's not enough. Joseph Gordon-Levitt's role as John Blake is solid, if a little bland, being the stalwart cop being fed up with bureaucracy and red tape in the Gotham police department. A side-note not particularly relating to any particular character(s) - Nolan also tries to employ a third act twist so late in the game, that it causes more confusion than awe at his mastery of storytelling. It feels like Nolan doesn't know what to do with the story, and the bits that he scrapes together feel rushed and tired.
There's a love story in here so forced and quickly developed that I had thought I missed a scene or two of character development to get to that particular point. The romantic elements are caused by story convenience rather than natural development, and it's painfully obvious; it also can't really be overlooked, as it's a significant chunk of the plot. With The Dark Knight Rises, all of Christopher Nolan's little quirks and beats start becoming more and more obvious: the backstabbing woman, rushed lines of logic, and the need for a third act plot twist (whether or not it's actually built up in a successful way). It's disheartening to see that Nolan, one of the most celebrated directors of our time, afraid of moving past the tropes he's already mastered. The film also saddens me as Nolan's ear for one-liners hasn't improved at all. While Bruce Wayne gets a good ending to his story, most of the other characters have their story threads either wrapped unsatisfactorily or far too quickly. Plot holes and character inconsistencies find their way into almost every situation, and the ending (oh, that miserable ending!) is so hampered by cliches that it's hard to see any positives. Not only are all the important narrative-related aspects poorly-done, but the action scenes are filmed in such a pedestrian manner that a viewer usually gets a goosebumps watching the hand-to-hand fight scenes in spite of the lackluster cinematography and stunt coordination than because of it.
Looks like the curse of superhero trilogies continues as The Dark Knight Rises falls short living up the stellar reputation of its predecessors. The narrative rarely comes close to be as epic and compelling as it looks, and ends the series on a unsatisfactory whimper.