British writer-director Christopher Nolan imagines fascinating scenarios and has a knack for presenting them onscreen. At just 42, his credits include "Memento," "The Prestige" and my personal favorite, "Inception." In 2005, he began a "Batman" movie trilogy, starring Christian Bale. Co-writing the screenplays with his brother Jonathan, Nolan reimagined Batman as a tortured soul seeking his place in the world.
Bale, a good fit for the character, has seen Bruce Wayne/Batman through a series of ups and downs, but beneath it all, the character has remained a melancholy presence, separated from most others by his deep sadness and an awareness of evil forces.
In this final chapter, set eight years after 2008's "The Dark Knight," Wayne has retreated from the world, believing everything that mattered to him was lost. In this installment he learns that a man can lose much more than Wayne thought possible, but still find the strength to rise again.
Gotham and Wayne are beset by Bane, a terrible villain played by 5'10" Tom Hardy. Using mysterious special effects, Nolan makes Hardy appear to be a 6-foot-6" behemoth. Bane and his henchmen take the city of Gotham hostage, ruining its financial center and cutting it off from the outside world. Finally, using the Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy) as a hanging judge, Bane gleefully sentences Gotham's most powerful citizens to death.
Bane claims to be "a man of the people," rescuing Gotham's downtrodden, but in truth, he cares for nothing but inflicting pain and destruction.
Sensing that Batman has lost his will to live, Bane banishes the Caped Crusader to a prison located at the bottom of a pit where he believes Batman will pine away. However, Bane fails to grasp that during the eight years Wayne already spent in self-exile, he has stared down hopelessness while mourning the loss of the woman he loved, and of Batman's good reputation since being blamed for the death of Harvey Dent - a bad man whose evil deeds remain unknown to the public.
The pit to which Bane banishes Batman is meant to be a pitiless hell, but Nolan fails to persuade us it is worse than anything Wayne has previously endured.
New women enter Wayne's universe. Catwoman/Selina Kyle, played by Anne Hathaway, uses thievery and her wits to support herself and her younger sister. Wayne senses in her a kindred spirit, but circumstances conspire to turn Selina into his adversary.
While Bane engineers the loss of Wayne's fortune, beautiful philanthropist Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) is poised to become Wayne's savior, promising to protect Wayne's most dangerous, valuable inventions from being used for dark purposes.
Batman's posse still includes his faithful butler Alfred (Michael Caine), super-inventor Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) and disillusioned Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman). However, none of them can protect Batman from his foes, or fully understand his troubles.
Nolan paints a dreary world overrun by terrorists, but one that continues to harbor hope in its darkest corners. His plot capitalizes on the schism between the privileged class and everyone else, but he stops short of condemning the one-percenters.
This muddled viewpoint lost me on more than one occasion. Nolan appears to believe that in both our world and Batman's alternate universe, a new order will rise from the ashes of the old. As I watched the drama unfold, I found it impossible to understand what that new order should or could look like.
While Bruce Wayne/ Batman remains an interesting character, during his half dozen dramatic scenes, Nolan holds him at arms length. Much time is spent discussing what he doesn't want, and the film's pacing pays the price. Alfred is the only one to fully understand Wayne, indeed better than Wayne understands himself - but he nags and harries Batman to the point of distraction.
Few and far between, those action sequences that exist are gripping, but for much of its runtime, the film allows its suspense to flag. While it's good enough to earn its place alongside the first two, "The Dark Knight Rises" is missing the great moments that brought Nolan's previous works into the realm of brilliance.