CAUTION: Spoiler-heavy review below. Bear in mind that I saw this film directly after watching the first two films in the series, so my impressions were filtered through a more direct comparison with the others than some film goers might have.
Shortest possible version: The Dark Knight Rises was a good film, and a very good Batman film, but it was hardly the best.
This is a very large film, one might even go so far as to say ponderous. Eight years after Harvey Dent’s death in The Dark Knight, he has been lionized by the citizens of Gotham and the Batman has been made a scapegoat for Dent’s crimes. Bruce Wayne is a recluse, shutting himself off from the world as he wallows in self-pity due to the death of the woman he loved at the hands of the Joker.
Right off the bat, I didn’t like that tone. Bruce Wayne has dealt with pain and loss before– it’s the entire motivation behind his assumption of the Batman persona. It seemed very incongruous. Most of the other characters were right on-target.
The plot revolves around Bane, a terrorist mercenary, attempting to complete the work that Ra’s Al Ghul failed to do in the first film; destroy Gotham to restore balance. In a very complex plot, Bruce Wayne’s fortune is destroyed after the Gotham Stock Exchange is attacked, Roland Daggett’s construction company is used to (literally) undermine Gotham city, and an experimental fusion reactor built by Wayne Enterprises gets turned into a nuclear weapon.
In and amongst all this, Selina Kyle/Catwoman (although never called by that name, as far as I remember) alternately hurts and helps Bruce Wayne and Batman, eventually betraying him to Bane, who breaks his back in a one-on-one fight and consigns him to a prison in Uzbekistan where the only escape is to climb out.
Eventually, Bane seizes the city of Gotham not to hold it for ransom but to turn it into an anarchist paradise. Almost all of Gotham’s police are trapped underground, and Bane has control of a nuclear weapon that will vaporize the city if anyone tries to flee or if the outside world tries to interfere. Eventually, of course, Bruce Wayne escapes from the prison, and Batman returns to Gotham and stops Bane.
While this film was visually stunning, and the acting was excellent, I found it to be oddly disjointed. While the director seemed to be going for “big”, he ends up with “sprawling” instead, and there were a number of plot holes that ultimately distract from the whole:
- Why did Bane take the time to fly Wayne to Uzbekistan from Gotham, right when his plot was coming to fruition?
- How did 3,000 police officers stay trapped underground for five months without a single one escaping? (And how, after all that time, when they finally emerge, are they all clean shaven, their uniforms clean and in fine shape?)
- How did Gotham become completely (and conveniently) isolated on an island? What happened to the “eastern overland routes” that were explicitly mentioned in The Dark Knight when the Joker was setting up his trap on the ferries?
- How did it take five months for the Army to think to send in soldiers with the relief supplies that were being trucked into Gotham? And then when they do arrive, they are pretty well hapless?
Don’t take this to mean that I thought the film was terrible– I don’t. Bane was a good villain (although I found the mask an unnecessary contrivance that ultimately added nothing to the plot or character; in the comic books it’s part of the delivery system of the Venom that gives him his strength) who effectively coveys a sense of menace, and the scenes where Alfred is trying to convince Wayne to come back to the world were top-notch. They did an admirable job of attempting to tie together the first and third films both thematically and through the story and characters, and there were some excellent plot twists and surprises (although some of them were just groaners– Robin? Really?).
EDIT: Added some pics of costumed fans from the midnight showing at the AMC Rockaway theater, where I saw Dark Knight Rises.