I don't particularly feel like really setting up this review, I'm just going to jump into it. The Dark Knight Rises is a horrible, horrible movie. After the visionary noir take from Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, the one movie I couldn't miss this summer turns out to be one of the biggest wipeouts in modern movie history. In fact, I would even say it is worse than Batman And Robin. At least it didn't pretend to be something it wasn't.
What's that? You doubt me? You saw it and thought it was awesome? That's great. And for your regular movie goer, I can see why it would be so great. It has a layer of polish and a sinister undercurrent missing from so many movies. In fact, I have absolutely no qualms with the movie's production. The camerawork, the score, the special effects, all that stuff is great.
The problem is the script. A script that Nolan had a heavy hand in, and also selected as producer. The blame for the whole thing going off the rails lands in his lap with a splat.
As long as you keep any ideas of what Nolan is capable of (Memento, Inception, etc.) out of your head, the movie chugs along. Taking place eight years after The Dark Knight, Batman is believed to have murdered Harvey Dent and every cop wants him dead. So Batman is now hiding, not being seen since. Bruce Wayne, his alter ego, is now a Howard Hughes recluse at Wayne Manor and likewise hasn't been seen since.
The death of Harvey Dent has resulted in The Dent Act, which makes it easier to lock up criminals and keep them locked up. Commissioner Gordon is wracked with guilt since he knows the truth. Into this mix comes Bane, a man looking to destroy Batman and Gotham City. Also thrown in is Catwoman in a "friend or foe" role.
The movie is inspirational. The movie follows Bruce's return to Batman as he literally hits rock bottom, figuritively and metaphorically. He loses all his money through fraud, Bane physically hammers him, and he's cast in a pit prison God only knows where (it's exact location is not revealed, although it has no trouble picking up American satellite programs). Bruce eventually learns the important lesson that others are more important than himself and dedicates himself to getting back in full form in time to save Gotham from a weaponized reactor core that will detonate in about 23 days.
The above paragraph illustrates why this movie is so bad. Nolan's first two movies were about the dirty underside of life, how we do not control our fates and destinies, we are at their mercy. There was nothing inspirational about it, it was all about doing the right thing even when you not only do not gain anything from it, but you stand to lose everything from it.
I have commented before that there is often a point where I will either completely fall into a movie and let it take me anywhere or I will fall out and I will not get absorbed by it at all. That moment came early in the movie, where Alfred is explaining Bane and his history to Bruce. As I'm listening to the exposition, one thought wouldn't leave my mind -- how is it that Alfred knows more about the League Of Shadows and its former member Bane than Bruce Wayne does?
This is the first hint of the movie's ultimate problem -- Batman, the master detective, is the biggest fuck moron on the planet. His finances vanish simply by his fingerprints being forged. He trusts Catwoman and is surprised when she betrays him, while I heard a few people in the audience say, "Duh!" He first confronts Bane with no plan, no contingency, no backup, and when it's clear he's not going to win, doesn't even try a strategic retreat. They don't even do like Frank Miller and have Batman rely more on his gadgets to compensate for his being out of practice and shape. The idea of a sequence where Batman, who uses fear and stealth, suddenly is on the receiving end of it, would have made for white knuckle cinema. Instead, Batman just goes full derp.
In the first two movies, Nolan weaved an intricate web for Gotham. There were other crime lords. People reacted in different ways. Events had logical consequences. In this movie, Nolan doesn't even bother. Things happen for no reason or don't make sense, an obscene blend of It's In The Script and ignoring audience expectations. In fact, there are times when Nolan seems to be showing open contempt for his audience. The ultimate plan is to destroy Gotham to complete the job Ra's Ah Guhl didn't get to do the first time around. Back to the well already? The third act fires up with Bane creating a half-baked metaphor of the Occupy Wall Street/The 99% crowds. This would have been a perfect time for the movie to go into the awesome No Man's Land storyline. Instead, it's too short and only gives a minor bit of lip service to why so many bought into it. The people of Gotham exhibit group think -- when Bane reads Commissioner Gordon's speech telling the truth about Harvey Dent, there is no debate on whether this masked madman is just making it up, everyone buys it. There's no resistance, the people exist to be manipulated, the very thing they weren't in the first two movies. The result is the most shallow storytelling experience this side of an Adam Sandler movie.
The movie isn't completely bad, it does do some things right. Bane is an excellent villain. Like Magneto in the X-Men movies, he's not some psychopath, he's intelligent and measured who has made peace with what he is about to do. Some of the banter between Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle is good. There is some humor. And the chase sequence outside the stock exchange when Batman returns is great -- when the lights started going out and the cop says, "Kid, are you ever in for a treat!", I leaned forward in my seat, and when Batman streaked by on his bike, I punched the back of the seat in front of me, thinking, "Yeah! You're gonna get it now!" Too bad the sequence is better at mood than actually creating excitement.
The movie at times feels like a made-for-TV flick. Bane doesn't break Batman's back, he just dislocates a disk. Good thing the prison just happens to have a doctor there who can help cure him. Bruce must learn to fear death. Uh...isn't that the opposite of what's worked so far? When the one guy in the prison who didn't believe in him is chanting "He rises!" along with everyone else, we've gone into Lifetime movie territory, such as Bruce shaking off eight years of rust in 22 days. And the ending in Paris is so cheap and cheesy.
Nolan? I expect MUCH better of you.
The pedigree behind The Dark Knight Rises created expectations. I could have lived with the movie not being equal to Dark Knight if only the script had tried. Instead, it's just a bunch of ideas that it barrels past, hoping that the speed will keep you from noticing none of this makes sense. That technique is great for short stories, but it fails with longform storytelling (compare Trucks to Maximum Overdrive). But with three hours and characters going in directions that not only should they not, but anyone with a brain would not, you leave the theater feeling like you've been jerked around.
Keep your B movie glasses on, and Dark Knight Rises is satisfying. Expect Nolan to do his usual job, and you're gonna be pissed.