Uneven and disjointed, “The Dark Knight Rises” carries the same spirit of its classic predecessor but not the same body. Christopher Nolan’s conclusion to his epic “Batman” trilogy hits the required storytelling notes one would expect of the prestigious filmmaker. But “The Dark Knight Rises” still feels like a film that was made under the guise of circumstance, and not through the bowels of passion.
Again, this isn’t a shit movie. It’s entertaining with thrilling action sequences, particularly the first fist-off between Batman and Bane. It feels though as if Nolan is performing an act of fan service with his last entree rather than cooking something completely whole and unique. Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is a recluse several years after the events of “The Dark Knight.” Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) has parted ways with his family after his job proved too dangerous. Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) has been cast in the spotlight for her attempts to evade it, a jewel thief who wants nothing more than a modest life. And John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) rises to the occasion as a moral authority, even though he’s just a police authority on paper.
Then there’s Bane (Tom Hardy), a massive brute who could snap the neck of every citizen in Gotham if he so chose but is working under the scope of a larger plan. That plan, disappointingly, is being orchestrated by Miranda Tate, a misnomer for Talia Al Ghul (Marion Cotillard), the daughter of Bruce’s former mentor turned foe in “Batman Begins.” It’s disappointing because the tie-in automatically makes this “Batman” not so much a standalone film but a sequel, an unnecessary continuation of the first film. This is ironic, considering how “The Dark Knight” was actually a true sequel to the first film, continuing the story of “Batman Begins” but still being its own, independent thing.
If anything, “The Dark Knight Rises” shows both the benefits and detriments that can come with universe building. “The Dark Knight” felt like a quasi-sequel because it still had the same characters but in a different lens, particularly Rachel Dawes, who that time around was played by Maggie Gyllenhaal rather than Katie Holmes. It didn’t matter which actor did better, just the fact that a new face was prescribed to an old character breathed an unexpected breath of fresh air into that sequel. That even in our current comic cinematic environment, where things feel like they need to be endlessly connected, referenced and intertwined without anything living on its own, there could still be a movie that was part of a universe but still lived in its own galaxy.
It’s by no means bad, and it’d be foolish to argue that its perceived quality isn’t being hampered by the movie that came before it. But “The Dark Knight Rises” feel more like a comic book movie when Nolan was giving us anything but with his last two flicks. That even though these characters exist on the silver screen, Nolan still wants us to turn back the pages to get the whole unsatisfying story.