What should have been a jaw-dropping, edge-of-your seat conclusion to Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy ends up being an epic letdown. The fundamental problem with "The Dark Knight Rises" is simple -- there isn't enough Batman.
Nolan put out his first Batman film seven years ago, and following "Batman Begins" in 2005 was "The Dark Knight," which hit theaters four years ago in 2008. Maybe it's just that Heath Ledger as The Joker was so good in "The Dark Knight" that anything or anyone wouldn't be able to live up to the second installment.
The film takes place eight years after Batman disappears following "The Dark Knight." He's become a fugitive and lives in exile after assuming responsibility for the death of D.A. Harvey Dent. For some time, criminal activity in Gotham ceased under the anti-crime Dent act, but the arrival of Catwoman (although she's never called Catwoman in the film) and masked terrorist Bane have changed that.
The new evildoers in "Rises" are the mysterious cat burglar, Selina Kyle, (Anne Hathaway) and Bane, a masked terrorist who wants to smoke Batman out of exile by destroying the Cape Crusader's beloved Gotham. But neither of these nemeses have the strength (although Bane is a big guy) to create the energy of past Batman rivals.
Nolan said that it was a tricky balance to give audiences something they haven't seen before. He doesn't achieve anything tricky or balanced as he delivers a post-Apocalyptic Gotham that we've seen countless times before. And while Bane may be interesting in comic books, here he's one part Incredible Hulk, another part Mad Max and a third part Hannibal Lecter. Meanwhile, you'll find yourself asking your movie seatmate "what did he say?" more than a few times as Hardy's Lecter-inspired mask makes many of his lines indecipherable.
The plot is as thick as Hardy's biceps, too, with a lot of characters spilling in-depth details about where they came from, where they've been and why they are here today, sometimes stopping in the middle of a dogfight to tell their story while their foes wait for them to spit it all out; it's not very realistic.
Bale is better as Bruce Wayne than Batman. The actor seems to relish his chance for the more dramatic performances rather than playing the action hero. His most ambitious acting moments are during a stint as a prisoner where the only way to escape is to climb out of a deep well. Taking a page out of countless fighter movies (Yo, Rocky), Bale as Wayne uses any means to bulk up to get the heck out of that prison. Go, Batman, go.
Michael Caine as Wayne's beloved servant and confidante Alfred spends most of his on-screen time with a constant tear in his eye. Dick Van Dyke's Cockney accent in "Mary Poppins" has gone down in history as the worst portrayal, but Caine's in this film may end up taking the prize.
The introduction of John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) as a rookie police upstart has promise, until he's given a sappy backstory about being an orphan at a Bruce Wayne Home for Boys, where Batman's influence helped him want to do good for Gotham.
Probably the best thing about this Batman is its delivery on IMAX, and it is the only way to see this film. Spend the extra bucks as it is worth it. Meanwhile, credit Nolan for not taking the 3-D route, which would have been thoroughly cheesy.
Batman purists will, no doubt, love this film, but if it's summer superheroes in action you're longing to see, this 150 minute epic drama will leave you cold.