Long review follows. Don't like long reviews? Don't read 'em, aka suck it.
And before anyone asks, no, I didn't feel particularly unsafe watching The Dark Knight Rises (i.e. no worries about 'copycat' killers). In fact, I didn't even flash on the whole Aurora tragedy until I was walking out of the theater. Part of that is probably because the theater I went to didn't have any additional security in place, for good or ill.
In any case, TDKR is... a mixed-bag. And I say this as someone who generally likes Chris Nolan's films.
But Nolan has an unfortunate tendency to turn out otherwise good but over-plotted, over-paced, under-emoting films that at some point write themselves into a corner, and only get out of said corner via some bit of ridiculousness that doesn't quite work.
The 'ridiculous' scene in the previous Nolan Batman film (The Dark Knight) was where the Joker, dressed in drag, after gravely injuring Harvey Dent and killing the woman Dent loves, visits Dent in his hospital room and convinces him via a speech to become evil (wow, sign that guy up for the used-car lot or politics).
In TDKR, the ridiculousness is masked-bad-guy Bane (who breathes like Darth Vader) and his crew holding Gotham City and its millions of residents hostage literally for MONTHS via a neutron bomb, either to promote a 'people's revolution' of sorts, OR to kill everyone... they never really seem to make up their minds which. But at least they get the order right, you can't really kill everyone and THEN have the revolution, after all.
This is really symptomatic of the central stumbling block of the film, which is cramming TOO MUCH in. TDKR seems at times to want to be a simple 'bad guy, good guy' hero flick, and at other times a commentary on current events, i.e. the Occupy Movement and the struggle of the 99% against the 1%. Instead, it tries to be both, and everything else besides, and the pacing just gets wacky at times.
Far as the 'Occupy' angle goes, Nolan raises this issue, a very interesting one for a summer film to take on– and one which gives Hathaway's Catwoman/Selina Kyle some of her most cutting lines – and then abruptly seems to drop it, as if he's worried that he's challenging his good-time action movie audience a bit too much.
Too bad, because some of the most intruiging-looking scenes center around this, right down to a 'kangaroo court' set in a place of the formerly-powerful that recalls similar moments right out of Dr. Zhivago and the Communist revolution.
But Nolan knows what most of the audience came to see, which is action. And there's plenty of it. Problem is, it isn't very INTERESTING action, most of the time.
Oh sure, there's exceptions, such as a heck of a two-pronged high-low attack on the bad guy's convoy, run by Catwoman on a high-tech motorcycle and Batman providing air superiority via a, well, Bat-plane. For a few moments anyway, it feels like a scene out of the high-flying finale of The Avengers, the summer movie to beat so far this season.
But most of the rest of the action seem surprisingly perfunctory and rote. It's as if you can almost hear Nolan screaming, "Hurry up, hurry up, HURRY UP with all the punching and shooting, can't you see I've only got 2 hours and 45 minutes to cram all these plots and characters in!!!"
And that's the problem in a nutshell... too many characters, too much story, and a movie that even with its LONG running time seems rushed, to the point where any air or gravitas gets squeezed out of almost every scene.
Early on, before characters and plots start dog-piling on, TDKR has a few fun moments, primarily coming from Hathaway's Selina Kyle cat-burglaring from Bruce Wayne unapologetically ("I steal from those who have too much and give to those who have too little") and yet quite sexily.
But as the plot ramps up and the characters pile up, TDKR runs something like this... perfunctory action scene- emotionless explanatory dialogue, perhaps with an ending quip- perfunctory action scene- emotionless explanatory dialogue- rote action scene, lather-rinse-repeat.
This film just never seems to have room to BREATHE, it's just 'step fast, step fast, lets MOVE IT ALONG, people!!!'.
Then there are the bits of unintended hilarity, as in how Bane's henchman seem to magically and instantly appear to capture various good guy minor characters at multiple junctures during the picture. A real plot time-saver, yes, but geez, if they're THAT good, one wonders why they even need Bane.
Another thing we could've done without are all the self-righteous ppl speechifying at Bruce Wayne accusatorily early on. Yes, yes, we know, Wayne's been on the sidelines for eight years, and the city needs Batman, but when he gets the 'Gipper' speech MULTIPLE times from multiple ppl, it starts to seem like a bit much.
And speaking of 'too much', I can think of at least three superfluous characters right off the bat that added little or nothing to the film- Matthew Modine as a cowardly-but-then-heroic police lieutenant, Michael Caine's Alfred this time out, who isn't really given an interesting or original scene to inhabit (certainly nothing equal to 'Some men just want to watch the world burn'), and, surprisingly, the true 'big bad' of the film (who isn't Bane).
That's most of what's bad. So, what's good?
Bane's supposed origin story. I say 'supposed' because it turns out to not quite be true (and more's the pity), but it and his 'desert prison hell' and how it challenges and educates Wayne are a real high point in the film, maybe THE high point.
Hathaway, aka 'little girl's all grown up now'. Though Michele Pfeiffer's Catwoman remains the gold standard, Hathaway does a more than passable job inhabiting Selina Kyle's black leather tights, and has a believable edge to her, while still coming across as credibly whip-smart and very world-aware. It's a woman's role not a girl's role, and Hathaway is about as good as the script and Nolan let her be in it, which is all you can really ask.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt. He's shown promise already in films like 500 Days of Summer and 50/50 as a lead, and in Nolan's own Inception as a supporting character, but here he confirms he can be more in the center of the mix in a big-budget blockbuster and hold his own. His 'I wear the same mask as you' monologue early on is one of TDKR's stronger moments.
The music. Though Nolan unfortunately chooses to overemphasize the soaring, dramatic score, to the point where it drowns out a considerable amount of dialogue. In fact, between that, Bane's mask-muffled vocalizations, and Bale's continually overdone hyper-gruff 'Batman-voice', TDKR may win the award for the Highest Amount of Unintelligible Dialogue in a Major Feature Film™ this year.
So, to sum up... is it good? Yes and no. It provides much of what you expected and what you came for, but it's missing some of the focus (relative term) and fun of the previous film. And Tom Hardy, while a very credible Bane, is no Heath Ledger. Indeed, how could be be, beneath a costume that covers his face all the time? Bale, at least, gets to be Bruce Wayne half the time.
Finally, there's just no focus or special interest to the ending... Dark Knight was notable for its 'two ships' ending, which posed a very concrete moral question to the audience, and set up the very apt "YOU'RE the one who's all alone!" rejoinder to the Joker's nihilistic antics. Here, there's no such sense of closure, just a standard race-against-time ending and a "he's-dead!-no-he's-not" tug at our heartstrings that somehow seemed better when Tony Stark did it in The Avengers.
It may be fitting that this is the final Nolan Batman film... even as much of an upgrade as he was to the Batman series of films with Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, it feels like Nolan's beginning to run out of gas and good ideas here. A shorter, more focused film would've been a godsend, but Nolan seems wedded to complicated, overlong action films that begin to challenge their summer audiences, but always pull back to 'what's expected' well before all is said and done.
Two and a half stars (out of four). And the ending of course leaves the door open for some non-Nolan sequels.
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