Review: Batman series ends as epic letdown


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This undated film image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox, left, and Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne in a scene from the action thriller “The Dark Knight Rises.”

AP Photo/Warner Bros. Pictures, Ron Phillips

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.

Maybe that was inevitable. Maybe nothing could have met the expectations established by 2008’s “The Dark Knight,” which revolutionized and set the standard for films based on comic books by being both high-minded and crowd-pleasing. 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. Gotham is under siege in ways that tonally and visually recall 9/11; what is obviously the island of Manhattan gets cut off from the outside world at one point. Rather than seeming exploitative, it’s just one of many examples of the script from Nolan and his usual collaborator, his brother Jonathan, making the franchise feel like a relevant reflection of our times. Identity theft, economic collapse and an uprising of the disgruntled, disenfranchised have-nots against the smug, comfy haves also come into play.

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. The absence of Heath Ledger, who won a posthumous Oscar for his portrayal of the anarchic and truly frightening Joker, is really obvious here. It retrospect, it makes you realize how crucial Ledger’s performance was in making that Batman movie fly.

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.

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 and poorly defined, he’s never so much a fearsome figure as a large and hulking one. “The Dark Knight Rises,” a Warner Bros. release, is rated PG-13 Running time: 164 minutes. Two stars out of four.

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