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Eight years after the Joker held Gotham City in his grip of terror, the rich have gotten richer, the poor are in Dickensian straits and the city is at a stalemate. With the Harvey Dent Act, the city has reduced crime by stuffing the jails. Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale: The Flowers of War) is now a retired recluse who pines for lost love and hopes to heal a mind and body battered by his Batman stint.
Gotham and Wayne are pulled out of indolence by meaty mercenary Bane (Tom Hardy: This Means War), who sets about blowing up the city, murdering the rich with his bare hands and making speeches. With only two competent and honest police officers in all of Gotham, Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) and Detective Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), the city once again needs The Dark Knight.
Let’s just rip the Band Aid off now: The Dark Knight Rises is by far the worst of director Christopher Nolan’s Batman Trilogy. Nolan had to know that no matter what he created, it wouldn’t match the rapturous reception of The Dark Knight. He’s thrown every plot and character he can imagine into its successor.
Class war, eco power, fan-favorite comic moments, the raiding of a Bastille, cultures of excess, A Tale of Two Cities references, America’s dystopian descent: It’s all there, and none of it is particularly gripping. If Nolan had developed his ideas on class warfare in America and the disparity between the one and the 99 percent, he’d have made a stronger film rich with metaphors.
Visual metaphors are lazy, plot twists are predictable, dialog is pretentious and character development is thin in this over-stuffed flick. Nolan’s films are notorious for downplaying Batman; this one lets The Dark Knight out of the bat cave for only three sequences. Instead, Nolan gives us Wayne’s inner turmoil and introduces a score of new characters to inadequately develop.
The worst is Bane, a beefy non-entity of a primary antagonist. Bane wants to destroy Gotham … or liberate it … or fight the rich … or something. While the Joker promoted anarchy and the Scarecrow reveled in nightmarish fear, Bane’s motivations are as convoluted as his dialog. When his ultimate plan is revealed in a ludicrously obvious plot twist, it’s ridiculous and unsatisfying.
Hardy, a promising talent, had an unfair challenge following Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning role as Joker. Nolan does nothing to improve Hardy’s odds for success. Wearing a mask/ventilator that obscures 80 percent of his head, Hardy has only two emoting options: bulging or squinting his eyes. The mask also has the unfortunate effect of making Bane sound like a hybrid of Kermit the Frog and Darth Vader. Picture a shaved Muppet after years shooting steroids. The result isn’t terrifying. It’s hilarious.
The brightest spot in The Dark Knight Rises is the little black cat. As jewel thief and all around minx Selina Kyle, Anne Hathaway mixes the old school deadpan sass of Lauren Bacall with the more modern butt-kicking abilities of Angelina Jolie. The result is a dynamic, complex performance that deserved more screen time.
All is not lost in this final installment. Nolan does find a way to end the series on a satisfying note, and his action sequences are tight and exciting. Veteran character actors Michael Caine and Oldman carve out impressive performances with their few minutes of screen time. Old antagonists appear for entertaining cameos.
The Dark Knight Rises is a mess of a film with brief glimpses of the brilliance of its predecessor. As Nolan’s other Batman films have taught us, not every superhero story has a happy ending.