reviewed by Matthew Schuchman | Monday, July 23rd, 2012

The Dark Knight RisesWarner Bros.
164 min., dir. by Christopher Nolan, with Christian Bale, Anne Hathaway, and Tom Hardy

There will always be people who disagree, but it’s widely believed that The Dark Knight set the bar for comic book films. Surpassing its engrossing nature is a tough battle that may never be won. Wrapping up the directorial duties of this franchise, Christopher Nolan has made a decent ending to his trilogy, bringing much of the story full circle. What he didn’t make, however, is a mind-blowing blockbuster that will have you watching the Blu-ray 32 times the day you buy it.

In the eight years since the finale of the last film, Bruce Wayne has gone into seclusion. Believed by many to be the new Howard Hughes (somewhat deformed, unshaven, living in a room filled with jars of piss), his alter ego has also been in hiding. With Batman taking the blame for the death of Harvey Dent, Wayne — now broken and bruised, hardly able to walk — seemingly wastes away in his mansion. When a new threat arises, Wayne contemplates getting healthy and putting on the suit again. Driven by a cavalcade of new acquaintances, as well as some old ones, Batman comes out of retirement to face the unstoppable force known as Bane.

Resisting the temptation to compare this film to its predecessors is tough, especially since both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight play as more than sequential lead-ups. Each film has its own distinctive style: Batman Begins played off its non-linear delivery, and The Dark Knight was propelled by performance and a mesmerizing pace. The Dark Knight Rises, however, is a much slower and thoughtful piece. It puts the inner battle of all its characters before anything else. Each of the three films were heavy on morality, but this one tries hard to connect all its characters to a single thought. It may not be clear until the end, but they all come from the same place.

There’s action and fighting, but it’s out of a necessity, though well-placed. This is a drama starring a guy in a bat suit, not the beat-’em-up with a tale to tell. Both of the previous two films had scenes that made you want to talk about them all night. This type of fascination is missing here. There’s no jaw dropping, “Ooh, did you see that?” moment. Instead, much like his non-Batman films, Nolan goes for story-driven moments. Unfortunately, these moments are highly transparent and offer little surprise.

The Dark Knight was a film that drew you in. It didn’t seem to matter that there were some major holes and questionable choices made there, but it wrapped the viewer up so tightly that you never noticed until it was too late. When you went back to prove your argument, you just got trapped by its power again. The Dark Knight Rises, however, is a tighter story that brings these chapters of the character’s portrayals to a proper close. Tom Hardy does well to act through the mask, but doesn’t change the game; Anne Hathaway is gorgeous and plays the best ambiguous character of the bunch; Christian Bale is not suited up as much, so people who don’t like his Batman voice won’t complain as much, and everything gets tied up in a tiny bow — that’s The Dark Knight Rises in a nutshell.

Too many characters, a not-so-well-hidden secret or two, and story that doesn’t focus enough on what it wants to say restrict The Dark Knight Rises from being the be-all, end-all smash that The Dark Knight is. There are some major foreshadowing failures throughout The Dark Knight Rises, making those moments more of a letdown than a triumph. It’s still a good ride, with some decent scenery and a penchant for the grandiose. While it’s not the film many will be hoping for, it’s a fitting ending to an era.

Matthew Schuchman is the founder and film critic of Movie Reviews From Gene Shalit’s Moustache and also the contributing film writer for IPaintMyMind.

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