After an excessively drawn-out marketing campaign, “The Dark Knight Rises” has finally hit cinemas worldwide. Following the grand reception of “The Dark Knight,” filmmaker Christopher Nolan was faced with the daunting task of following up what is widely considered the quintessential comic book adaptation. The odds were stacked against the acclaimed director, as second sequels seldom reach the heights of their predecessors. “The Dark Knight Rises” turns out to be no exception. Nolan’s newest doesn’t come close to capturing the magic that made the series’ previous entry so special.
The picture begins eight years after the events of “The Dark Knight.” Gotham City is in peacetime and Bruce Wayne lives reclusively in his manor. Having been blamed for the death of Harvey Dent, Batman has completely dropped off the grid. A need for the hero emerges when a ruthless terrorist named Bane escapes from incarceration and sets out to destroy Gotham. With the help of Commissioner Gordon, Detective John Blake, and a thief named Selina Kyle, Wayne dons the Batsuit once more to protect the people of his community.
Familiar plot contrivances render “The Dark Knight Rises” a merely so-so superhero flick. Granted, suspension of disbelief is obviously required when reading a comic book or viewing a comic book movie. But a big part of why “The Dark Knight” stood out was its gritty realism—the film was less of a fantasy and more of a crime tale. In contrast, “The Dark Knight Rises” embraces the worn-out conventions of the superhero genre. Even worse, Christopher and brother John Nolan’s screenplay is filled with hokey melodrama.
Still, the film is generally passable in the acting department. Christian Bale has always been sufficient as the caped crusader, yet he was never quite as likeable in the part as Michael Keaton. He can definitely sport the Batsuit and meet the physical demands of the role, but Bale’s voice as Batman comes off too forced. The actor is significantly better in provocative performances, a la his work in “The Fighter” or “American Psycho.”
Most of the supporting players give their best. Ann Hathaway makes for a sizzling Selina Kyle (known in the comics, of course, as Catwoman). The banter between Kyle and Wayne marks a high point of “The Dark Knight Rises.” Hathaway’s Catwoman is a clever add-on to Nolan’s franchise, as is Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s John Blake. "The 500 Days of Summer" actor has a juicy role as John Blake, a good-hearted cop who never lost faith in Batman. Rounding out the cast are Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Marion Cottillard, and Michael Caine. All of them put on a good show except for Caine, who is in involved in some of the film’s overly emotional moments.
It’s Tom Hardy’s much-hyped portrayal of Bane that turns out to be the film’s biggest strength. Hardy’s take on the baddie is both unsettling and thrilling. Although Heath Ledger’s Joker made for a superior performance, Hardy’s Bane is still a top-notch movie villain. He makes “The Amazing Spiderman”’s foe, The Lizard, look like a total pushover.
As expected, “The Dark Knight Rises” is a polished product. Cinematographer Wally Pfister’s sprawling shots of Gotham City are impressive and Nolan’s team obviously knows how to stage a solid action sequence. The showdowns between Batman and Bane are particularly well done. Still, the film’s technical mastery by no means makes up for its glaring deficiencies in storytelling.
While it’s not a total misfire, “The Dark Knight Rises” doesn’t offer much more than the standard comic book movie. It has plenty of “oohs” and “ahhs,” but the last installment of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy falls short of a glorious finish. One can only hope that Nolan’s next effort will be a return to form.