There is a distinct lack of humour about this, the alleged final chapter in Christopher Nolan’s Batman series.
Less a superhero movie than a grim thriller set in an alternate America, the unrelenting bleakness of The Dark Knight Rises tests the endurance and patience of even the most ardent fan. In short, it is over-long, over-blown and vainglorious – a slab of wannabe portentousness.
Nolan and his brother and co-writer, Jonathan Nolan, proffer a scattergun storyline that has at its heart a nefarious plot to detonate a nuclear device that will wipe out Gotham City. Surrounding it are the fraying threads of multiple minor narratives that draw together a multitudinous cast.
Alongside the regular faces are newcomers Marion Cotillard, Anne Hathaway and Tom Hardy, the latter playing a mysterious terrorist named Bane who communicates via a super-tight mask that both keeps him alive and allows him to speak like a bad Sean Connery impersonator.
Hulking man-mountain Hardy/Bane dominates the film. Yet never does he seem to fit into the Batman universe, feeling instead like a refugee from a Mad Max flick. Meanwhile Batman/Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) feels like a secondary player in his own movie. Criminally he is left out of the action for what feels like an hour. The film suffers accordingly.
Most superhero movies – and this one offers itself up as an epic – concertina their thrills and spills into 120 minutes. The Dark Knight Rises drags out its drama for a mind-numbing 164 minutes. At times there are so many characters struggling to make an impact, and failing, that the meal tastes bland and undercooked.
At its most basic, Nolan has crafted a film that is a none-too-subtle allegory for the United States’ war on terror, and the mass neurosis and paranoia that accompanies it. Bane, a quasi-Shakespearian villain fond of dodgy poetic imagery and flowery language, represents every maniac with an eye on causing harm to Uncle Sam.
There are bit parts for Matthew Modine, Tom Conti and William Devane. Liam Neeson and Cillian Murphy fleetingly return to no real purpose or lasting effect. Even the hardware lacks genuine oomph. What emerges is a blockbuster without a beating heart starring a leading man who barely gets an opportunity to be a hero. It all feels somewhat stale, stilted and stagnant.
Nolan is still capable of delivering setpieces, and a scene of Gotham exploding and imploding, the ground giving way and buildings collapsing into dust, is impressively staged.
But it’s not enough to prevent occasional waves of tedium and glances at watches. In his valedictory performance Batman is a tired saviour drenched in anger, bitterness, regret, sadness and feelings of abandonment.
A well-telegraphed finale that seeks to address his emotions and to tie up various loose ends feels tacked on. It is as clumsy as it is risible.
The Dark Knight Rises lacks zip, energy and pace. If this is truly the end for Batman then he is right to hang up his cape.