**SPOILERS AHEAD!** I’ll be talking about major plot points, characters etc without any particular reserve, so if you haven’t seen the movie yet and don’t want things spoiled, don’t read on.
I didn’t have a great deal of fun with this movie. And let’s get this out of the way: TDKR is not at all interested in changing any essential qualities of the modern studio blockbuster. Foreigners and people of non-normative masculinity/femininity are evil and deserve to be hated, women are not to be trusted, our heroes are square-jawed white men blah blah blah. It’s not really fair to get upset because Batman didn’t portray the egalitarian utopia I’ve always dreamed of when I go to sleep under my White Guilt duvet cuddling my plushie High Horse. But the film’s troubles are not solely because of the inherent silliness of the franchise or the character (although that absolutely becomes troublesome), rather the story of The Dark Knight Rises suffers from having little of the narrative (or even emotional) cohesion of the other two films in a daft but enjoyable franchise.
Batman Begins was a fairly standard hero origin story that had a reassuringly playful edge, particularly through Michael Caine’s Alfred, who noticeably goes awol on some pretty flimsy pretexts about halfway through TDKR. But Batman Begins had a narrative arc that was easy to follow and stakes that were well-explained and always in focus. Ditto The Dark Knight; although the Joker’s pretensions toward anarchy were pretty transparent, it made a very pertinent point about the Batman character: that he thrives in the same lawlessness promoted by his arch-rival, and TDK kept the duel between its leads as the narrative hook.
There’s little of that same clarity in The Dark Knight Rises. The logical closure of this arc was Bruce Wayne’s decision to live life after realising that his caped vigilantism is not only unnecessary but harmful, but if that was the film’s intention it doesn’t entirely commit to it, and instead there’s a messy collection of characters and motivations where the film’s engine should be. If not about Wayne moving on after The Batman, what is the film about?
Part of Nolan’s troubles stem from the fact that Bruce Wayne is possibly the series’ least interesting character. Where most of the supporting cast had motivations and limitations (most convincingly Gary Oldman’s Commissioner Gordon), Wayne was always tough to care about, and both TDK and most of TDKR seem to promote the idea that the Batman is a dangerous luxury. He disappears for long stretches of the film without anyone seeming to notice, and spends most of it literally incapacitated. On a side note, is it ever made clear exactly who knows Batman’s identity? If it’s so easy for Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s jobbing officer to rumble him in his spare time, why does Catwoman seem so surprised when he reveals himself? I was never entirely sure how many of Gotham’s citizens had joined the dots when both Batman and the city’s most notable playboy billionaire simultaneously disappeared and reappeared, and the film doesn’t seem fussed either way.
Of the supporting cast, Anne Hathaway makes a game attempt at making Catwoman more than a cartoony foil, but she really doesn’t seem like much more than decoration and someone for Batman to kiss at the finale. When he tells her ‘I need you’, it’s not at all clear why: she rather cheaply betrayed him, her connections to the Wall Street plot have been summarily chumpkilled and she has none of Batman’s military toys. Marion Cotillard’s Talia Al Ghul is a similarly flaky plot cipher, whose inconsistency is explained by her eventual betrayal and revelation as the film’s actual Big Bad, but it doesn’t explain Bruce’s series of stupid decisions. Their relationship is barely touched upon: they have one steamy night and thirty seconds of personal exposition in a powered-out Wayne Mansion and that is enough for Bats to risk his life to save her. If the film wanted to hang such a heavy plot point on the connection made in that relationship, it really needed to build a stronger hook.
Bane is a thoroughly interesting character played beautifully by Tom Hardy’s shoulders, but he never quite becomes more than a thuggish underling with a vocabulary. Where the Joker used personal and psychological warfare to control organised crime rings, Bane punches stock brokers and steals a nuke. His cobbled-together blend of quasi-socialism and OccupySpeak don’t seem to connect to anything in particular, and the whole occupation of a city of 12m people seems rushed and unreal. It’s one of the bigger plot holes that an island city ruled by a warlord where no one can get in or out on pain of mass execution a penniless and gadget-free Batman simply waltzes in from India without fanfare. Bane uses some similar ideas about masks and symbols but the talk just doesn’t connect enough to give all the explosions purpose, and the impracticality of it all is summed up neatly in the street battle between Bane’s men and the Gotham police, in which the combatants, all wielding firearms, decide to run at each other and have a fistfight instead. Looks good, but dumb as a box of rocks. And let’s not even tackle why they bothered to wait five months before blowing up the city when the bomb was going to go off anyway. Oy vey.
In short, this is a film that doesn’t match up to its predecessors and continually fails to keep its tone consistent. One moment it makes grand statements about economic imbalance and the plight of society’s victims, the next Cillian Murphy’s Scarecrow sentences straw man stockbrokers to death from a set pulled straight from Tim Burton’s back catalogue. Chris Nolan has proven he can make great action movies that do something a little different, but falls short here in trying to keep too many plates spinning. If not for the obligatory Next Time In The Dark Knight Series plotline, the film would have been shorter and more cohesive, but the demands of the next film rather hurt the quality of the present one.
PS: Batman is a very silly symbol.