The 73rd Virgin says... The Dark Knight Rises…and then hits the snooze button over and over. After a fantastic opening sequence in which our new nominal villain, Bane, kidnaps Dr. Pavel directly from a plane in flight; Dr. Pavel is a broadly Middle Eastern nuclear physicist who will become important for about 3 minutes. Bane leaves behind one of his enthralled followers who willingly dies in the crash just as a cover story. But from then on we never have an idea of why Bane would inspire such devotion. He looks and acts like a cult leader but his cult is hazy. He came from a dark place, apparently.
We find Bruce Wayne in eight-year seclusion with Alfred, nursing a bad knee and a busted heart over the dead Rachel and the fact that Batman is blamed for the murder of Harvey Dent. Anne Hathaway offers some early relief as a cat burglar. And her ambiguously lesbian sidekick offers a moment of interest.
Marian Cotillard continues to devalue her currency in the thankless role of Miranda Tate who is generically rich and powerful and speaks of “restoring balance” in a green energy kind of way.
And you have just met the only three females with speaking parts, and the lesbian, not so much. And there are no people of color to be found except one silent Asian cop who we discover belatedly is the partner of Sergeant Everywhere. I'm sure there was a black cop somewhere but damned if I can remember him.
Gary Oldman turns in his George Smiley glasses for his Commissioner Gordon glasses and frumps it up even further. He is the moral center of this movie, such as it is, but not all that rational as we shall see.
Other than a dead orphan in a sewer drain which Commissioner Gordon investigates personally (we will later learn that he has, it would seem, about 10,000 patrolmen available), very little happens for an hour and fifteen minutes. We are re-introduced to a string of not very important characters with even less important personal conflicts.
Bane, at least, is fun. His Sean Connery-meets-Klaus Maria Brandauer accent rattles around in his face mask charismatically. He is a rough character but Tom Hardy's speech patterns have a weird gentility. When he and Batman meet for their first fist fight, his monolog rises to Bond-ian quality.
Eventually Bane and his henchmen take over Gotham City and isolate its twelve million inhabitants by blowing up all but one bridge.
At the same time the police, under Commissioner Gordon's near genius management style, devote their ENTIRE force – SWAT, meter maids, desk sergeants, detectives, all three shifts, undercover narcs, you name it – to invading the sewers to flush out Bane and his crew - except for Sergeant Everywhere (Joseph Gordon-Levitt).
So FINALLY all the players are in place for the big finale. Hold that thought. Instead we spend another interminable chunk of time on 12 orphans, on the plan of succession at Wayne Enterprises, on Batman's recovery in a far off dungeon, on a dead end invasion of Gotham by 3 (three) special forces guys who are supposed to dislodge Bane.
At one point the exposition gets so heavy that Gordon-Levitt has to help the audience along by turning to the others and saying, literally, “and here's the important part”. Thanks, Doctor Science. I'm surprised he wasn't wearing a pair of glasses he could remove as he said it.
A small resistance arises in the city and devotes itself to
Cillian Murphy returns as Scarecrow and nearly saves the second half by humorously setting himself up as a kind of Robespierre, judging various captured resistance fighters. They even have to sit in a French Louis the Whatever chair while sentenced. Murphy appears to be the only actor having any fun, and indeed gets the only funny line, “Death! By Exile!” Exile means that the victims have to cross a frozen river and they always fall through the ice. So when a main character gets exiled along with a large group, what do they do? They all clump together on the ice so they'll all fall through together, I guess. This is before someone drops a flare on the ice as well.
Finally the resistance figures out how to spring the 10,000 cops from the sewer and they deploy in the tactically dodgy formation of 10,000 dudes walking down the street toward 50 caliber machine guns mounted on stolen Wayne Enterprises super cars. Bane says 'open fire” and they do for a while. Then everyone decides to have a fist fight instead. Handy. And then Batman and Bane have ANOTHER fist fight in the gunfire-free street. Until the cops retreat and then it's open fire time again.
I dunno. I suffer from extreme linearity in thinking, so “camp” is always a problem for me, and, I know, this is a comic book, but geez, just SOME kind of internal consistency would be nice.
Anyway, it ends. We get some clues about where the franchise is headed and which characters may arise as sidekicks, post-Christopher Nolan. Nolan miraculously wiped our wounded memories of the awful 80s-90s Batman franchise and gave us good stories and great villains, and Bale was almost perfect in the first two movies, but everyone except Michael Caine and Anne Hathaway seem kind of weary and this story just isn't very good. If there is a fourth entry, I won't be surprised if it's better than this.
For the youngsters who have no idea, Klaus Maria Brandauer is/was a great German actor and the best Bond villain ever in Never Say Never Again. He's hard to find in the 80s on youtube but this is something anyway.