I will admit that my excitement for the Dark Knight Rises was a paltry comparison to my excitement for the Dark Knight. I couldn't have told you precisely what was prompting this reservation, but it was certainly there. I think that after Inception, I was beginning to see the grizzly underside of Christopher Nolan's shortcomings as a storyteller, which had clouded my view on all his previous work. Also, Terminator Salvation shook a lot of my faith in Christian Bale's abilities as an actor.
Also, with Bane as the lead villain, I only imagined that whatever dialogue the two characters exchanged would sound like a rockslide yelling at itself, which it kinda did.
But first let's focus on the head honcho, the big cheese, the one and only (out of half a dozen) Bruce Wayne. I was actually impressed with what Nolan did with Bruce Wayne. Taking inspiration from the Dark Knight Returns comic by Frank Miller, we see a seven years retired Bruce Wayne who is feelings the weakness of age and the loss of both the Batman persona and Rachel. He feels vulnerable, and by the time he dons the cowl, we are as fearful for him as we are excited.
Nolan works very hard over the course of the film to break Bruce Wayne as a person, taking everything away from him. He loses Wayne Enterprises, Bane ransacks the R&D department, taking Tumblers and other various technology, and he is physically broken (Identical to the same events in the Knightfall comic, although nowhere near as severe). He also has to watch during his recovery as Bane sends Gotham descending into chaos.
This all refers back to the title and Batman's inevitable rise. It was a nice change to see Bruce Wayne as an equally developed character for once.
Although never referred to by her title, usually referred to just as 'the Cat' as she is indeed a cat burglar, it was not the Selina Kyle I knew from either comics or films, but in the context of the Dark Knight Rises, I had no issue. Stylistically and thematically, this portrayal belongs completely to Nolan. The line "So that's what that feels like," from Batman when Selina Kyle disappears off a roof, according to what IMDB tells me, is lifted directly from the Kingdom Come comic.
Also ... she looked damn good in the outfit. I'm jush sayin'.
Onward to an interesting introduction. To counterbalance both Bruce's retirement and Gordon's age, we are introduced to a young 'hothead' police officer, John Blake, played perfectly by the ever talented Joseph Gordon-Levitt. I loved Blake and what he was there for. There isn't a whole lot that I can really say other than he was a refreshing new face though ... which kinda makes me sad, cause I love Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and anyone who's seen Brick will know why.
And finally onto the other big guy, Bane. My opinions of this character and his portrayal are divided. The script, for the most part, seemed in line with the comics, the design of the face-mask was interesting, and Tom Hardy's physical presence was imposing but ... and here it comes, he sounded like Darth Vader mixed with Sean Connery. I understand that they wanted to create a "a contradiction between the voice and the body" but it came across as ... at times, incredibly hokey, and at others merely incomprehensible.
I understand that actor Tom Hardy was inspired by Barley Gorman, the Irish-grypsy-bare-knuckle boxer. Still, even though I understand the idea behind it... the execution was ultimately questionable.
The film also brought back the lineup of old faces, including Lucius Fox and Comissioner Gordon, played perfectly by Morgan Freeman and Gary Oldman respectfully. Both characters are as much a part of Nolan's Batman universe as any. Michael Caine's Alfred had a mildly absent role in this film, in line with the theme of breaking Bruce Wayne by taking everything away from him, so even in his absence his presence was felt. Lastly, we had Cillian Murphy return for a brief cameo that I couldn't decide if I liked or ... if it really bothered me. It was fun to see Dr. Crane again, but it felt forced, in a way.
Also Marion Cotillard, while ever beautiful, still fails to wow me in a Nolan film. I enjoyed her in Big Fish, but since then, I've never connected with her performances. Maybe that's just me.
The story of the Dark Knight Rises draws heavily on three distinct Batman comics. We have Knightfall, which introduces the character of Bane, who, in the comics, nearly paralyzes Batman, breaking his back, we have the Dark Knight Returns, where an aged Bruce Wayne comes out of retirement to save his city, and we have No Man's Land, where Gotham is rocked by an earthquake, and quarantined, and divided up by the rouges gallery.
This leads to Nolan walking a fine line, and honestly, moments in the film feel oddly paced as he goes from one bit to the next. It ultimately works, and fits, but it's still odd. Large portions of the film are just ... there, and honestly, I don't recall Batman being that memorable in this film. Where Bruce Wayne excelled, Batman felt ... lessened. At time this worked, especially when Bane comments on Bruce's fighting being akin to a younger man's, with nothing held back. We see Bruce Wayne in the suit for once, but for a film with the 'Dark Knight' in the title, we still don't see much of the Batman, and his rise seems to be rather fast.
Whereas everything in the beginning was meticulously planned out, that damn climax felt majorly rushed, at least to me. The final fight between Bane and Batman was, in my mind, cut short, and could have used more emotional beats to truly be satisfying.
Bruce destroys Ra's al Ghul in Batman Begins. League of Shadows disorganizes, Talia steps in with mercenary Bane as her muscle. Strict business transaction. She wants to destroy Gotham like her father before her and Bane gets to do his whole terrorist bit. There, much simpler, less betrayal of the source material. Everyone is happy.
Also, Bane's death was too fast. As was (shocker) Batman's. Both these are violent, brutal characters that deserved a fight that could only be described as epic. Batman and Bane are physical titans, and their final confrontation should have shaken mountaintops. Instead, Selina shoots him with the batpod in an incredibly anti-climactic moment followed by a cheesy one-liner. And so dies (off-camera) an un-sung villain with a funny voice.
So they catch Talia and cannot stop the bomb that is going to level Gotham. Batman has a flying Bat machine (that is pretty cool, but ... I still preferred the Tumbler in Batman Begins) and flies the bomb out over the bay, where it detonates and kills the Batman. This is established earlier in the film that Fox has not been able to perfect the auto-pilot on the damn thing.
Oh-kay. If there is one thing filmmakers need to learn is that Nuking the Hero is a bad idea. Fans reacted so badly when Indiana Jones did it, they came up with a term for it, Nuking the Fridge. Batman just did that. I have to quote my brother here, "That ending was really gay."
And it was. It was so BIG and FLASHY that it forgot what makes Batman so cool. When Batman fights, even if he's losing, he gives it his all. He isn't a man, he's an idea, a symbol. He does not compromise. He does not quit. AND HE SURE AS HELL DON'T GET NUKED.
That said, it was a twist. He's not really dead. He auto-piloted the Bat out there. He faked his death.
But again, going back to the the themes of Batman, he did something similar in the Dark Knight Returns comic, and it was so much cooler, simply because it was Batman going toe-to-toe with Superman, mano-a-mano, getting bloody, hurt, and beaten up, but still fighting a fight he cannot possibly win (not that Batman couldn't totally kick Superman's ass).
So the cowl goes onto John Blake, the cop. This is why it's hard for me to talk about Blake. He was Dick Grayson, no two ways about it. (Although how he learned of Batman's identity was utterly half-assed). But as a character, he felt like Dick Grayson. And the conversation he had with Bruce about "The batman is a symbol. He could be anyone," my suspicions were confirmed. The cowl would pass on to Dick--I mean Robin--I mean Blake. Which also leads me to the 'You should use your birth name, Robin,' bit was ... I dunno, at the least incredibly predictable.
Also, there was no way they'd end the film on any other note than Alfred's fantasy about seeing Bruce across the restaurant with a wife. NO WAY once that line was said that it *could* end any other way. So Talia, Alfred, and Blake, those three things were blatantly predictable. Now I will not say they were bad, just predictable. There is a difference. The Robin John Blake was a nice touch. Talia was a nice way to wrap-around plots from the first film with the League of Shadows and have Bruce confront his origins. But the Alfred bit ... I don't know. Any comic aficionado should have trouble with the idea of Bruce Wayne leaving Gotham behind. Perchance it's just my love of Batman Beyond that colors my opinion here. Bruce was trained by ninjas. Blake is a cop. Blake is gonna get his ass kicked, is all I'm saying.
Okay, so now that I have rambled incessantly (you guys remember when these reviews were relatively short?)