Christopher Nolan concludes his Batman trilogy in typically spectacular, ambitious fashion with “The Dark Knight Rises,” but the feeling of frustration and disappointment is unshakable.
With Christian Bale as his tortured superhero starting from 2005’s “Batman Begins,” Nolan has explored the complicated and conflicting motivations of man as well as the possibility of greatness and redemption within society.
Here, as director and co-writer, he’s unrelenting in hammering home the dread, the sorrow, the sense of detachment and futility of a city on the brink of collapse with no savior in sight. There’s so much going on here, though, with so many new characters who are all meant to function in significant ways that “The Dark Knight Rises” feels overloaded, and sadly lacking the spark that gave 2008’s “The Dark Knight” such vibrancy.
It’s been four years since “The Dark Knight” came out but eight years have passed in terms of story. Bale’s Bruce Wayne suffers in self-imposed exile, sulking about Wayne Manor, mourning the loss of his darling Rachel and carrying the burden of blame for the death of District Attorney Harvey Dent. His goal of a peaceful Gotham has been achieved, but he’s left as a man without a purpose. Michael Caine, as the ever-loyal valet Alfred, brings dignity and eloquence to the film as he begs Bruce to carve out his own form of happiness. Fellow veterans Gary Oldman as Commissioner Gordon and Morgan Freeman as gadget guru Lucius Fox are their usual dignified selves, but they don’t register the way they should because the film is so overstuffed.
Several new characters manage to draw Bruce out of his funk in various ways. Anne Hathaway brings some much needed zest to the proceedings as Selina Kyle, otherwise known as Catwoman. The other woman in Bruce’s life is woefully underdeveloped. Marion Cotillard co-stars as Miranda Tate, a philanthropist who hopes to work with Wayne Enterprises on developing sustainable energy. The romance that develops between her and Bruce is utterly unbelievable.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt adds a youthful presence as John Blake, an up-and-coming member of the police force who inspires Bruce to revisit his own childhood as an orphan. Gordon-Levitt is solid as always but there’s not much to his character.
Then there’s Bane, a muscular mass of pure evil who orchestrates an elaborate takeover of Gotham City. The role is a huge waste of what Tom Hardy can do; his character is so one-dimensional, he’s never so much a fearsome figure as a large and hulking one. But he is the instigator of the film’s dazzling opening sequence. That’s probably the most effective of the many set pieces Nolan stages here, although the collapse of Heinz Field during a packed football game also has a visceral quality, with thrills that recall the most imaginative moments of “Inception.”
This is the problem when you’re a visionary filmmaker. When you give people something extraordinary, they expect it every time.
"The Dark Knight Rises" is rated PG-13 and is showing at College 9, UEC Theater 12 and Roxy.