Let's get this out of the way right up front. The Dark Knight Rises, Christopher Nolan's third and final installment of his Dark Knight Trilogy, is a mostly enjoyable film, but even though it is a better film than the cumbersome Batman Begins, the first installment (origin stories are always so difficult) it never reaches the heights that 2008's The Dark Knight reached - in veritable spades. Yes, there are some pretty spectacular set pieces here, and the action, though often a bit too similar to its predecessor, rarely fails to titillate, and the acting (Joseph Gordon-Levitt especially shines) is what one would call top-notch for such an endeavor, but still the film falls short of what this critic has called the greatest comic book movie ever made, the aforementioned The Dark Knight. But even with this being the (probably inevitable) case, there are enough so-called shining moments in this final chapter, enough to overpower the lackluster and rather repetitive side of the film, to make for, if not a great film, at least an enjoyable last hurrah for our intrepid caped crusader.
The storyline, noticeably inspired by Frank Miller's seminal 1986 limited series, "The Dark Knight Returns" (the comic that gave Batman his balls back), picks up eight years after the events of The Dark Knight. Batman has not been seen since that fateful night where, in order to put an end to organized crime in Gotham City, he took the blame for the crimes of district attorney-turned-super villain Harvey "Two-Face" Dent. Bruce Wayne, now limping around as a Howard Hughes-esque recluse, and acting the wounded puppy, pining over his dead love, is forced out of retirement by the appearance of a new deadly force in Gotham, a mystery man named Bane. Wayne/Batman, played here once again by Oscar winner Christian Bale, his voice as raspy as a scary old blues singer, must face his own inner demons before taking on Bane to save Gotham from certain destruction. But enough of the storytelling. We do not want to get too far into any spoiler-like territory. Suffice it to say, we also get Catwoman, played admirably by Anne Hathaway (but hey, she is no Michelle Pfieffer or Julie Newmar even), Commissioner Gordon, played with the usual aplomb of Gary Oldman, butler extraordinaire Alfred Pennyworth, played with the cockeyed verve of Michael Caine, and an array of generic bad guys and underused good guys (give Marion Cotillard and Morgan Freeman more to do dammit!).
But the question still remains, though none of the critic-bashing fanboys out there would say so, of why this film is not as good as it shoulda woulda coulda been. Where The Dark Knight (not to keep, and possibly unfairly so, comparing the two films) rose above the genre and into realms of noir and revisionist western, playing out as if the cinematic love child of Sam Fuller and Sam Peckinpah, and therefore creating a space outside the realms of most super hero movies, comparable to the best in classic cinema, this new film only plays at the basest of entertainments. Sure, with its sometimes awe-inspiring special effects and archetypal characterizations, it does this rather well, but don't we deserve more than just that. Granted, it would be hard to top the last film. With Heath Ledger as The Joker, who many claim to be the best damn super villain in comic book history (in my opinion he comes second to Magneto, but that is another argument for another day), and who according to the director is not mentioned here out of respect for the late actor, it would seem nearly impossible to recreate such villainous chemistry a second time - and with Bane, Nolan does not manage to do such a thing. Sure, Tom Hardy, masked for nearly his entire performance, and speaking through a voice modulator to the effect of Sean Connery doing his best Darth Vader, does a more than admirable job with the character, but let's face facts - Bane is no Joker, and Hardy is no Ledger. But then, this is not the only reason this film stumbles way more often than it should.
Perhaps it is the dragging that accompanies the big chunk of the movie where Batman is, for all intents and purposes, out of the picture. Perhaps it is Nolan's over-reliance on action above story. The two sides of this spectrum seamlessly co-inhabited in The Dark Knight but they are separate yet unequal entities here. Perhaps it is the achingly cliche'd scenes where Christian Bale's broken and battered Bruce Wayne must find his true soul, and therefore the strength to beat the seemingly unbeatable Bane (but this is not to claim Bane is ever truly beaten). Perhaps it is Nolan's insistence on over-explaining every little detail of his film, a troublesome habit that wrecked the otherwise intriguing Inception. Perhaps it is the combination of all these filmic attributes that make this film a lesser creature than this critic was hoping for. But hey, for all these faults, the film isn't really all that bad. Sure, it lacks in some important departments, and tends to feel unreasonably bloated in its middle parts, but there is still a lot of fun to be had. Hardy, though not Ledger, has some pretty fun moments here, and the aforementioned Gordon-Levitt, as headstrong do-gooder rookie cop John Blake, is the veritable highlight of the film in many cases. Not to mention Hathaway in Catwoman's patented form-fitting patent leather skins. Though she is sadly not really given enough to do, especially considering what a classic and interesting character she happens to be playing.
Then again, perhaps this is just me poo-pooing it for not being another Dark Knight. On its own it is no better or worse than most of the super hero movies out there these days. Landing somewhere between The Avengers and The Amazing Spider-Man (to use two of the most recent entries in the genre), though with a much darker-honed epic feel to it, a thing the film does remarkably well, The Dark Knight Rises certainly has its moments. One of these moments, and probably the best for all the comic book nerds (myself included) in the audience, is the final fifteen minutes or so, which efficiently wraps up the final segment of The Dark Knight story by tying up loose ends and giving a reasonable sense of closure to the whole shebang. It is this finale, not to give any spoilers here, that will make any self-respecting fanboy figuratively (and perhaps literally as well) cream in his jeans. Yeah, perhaps it is not the great and epic thing many of us were hoping for (though I am sure all those cream-jeaned fanboys out there would beg to differ), and maybe we should not have even been expecting such a thing, and yes, perhaps it has its upsetting flaws, but it is still a hell of a fun ride for it's nearly three hour run time - and what more can one ask for.