Tom Hardy (left) and Christian Bale star in the inflated The Dark Knight Rises.
THE DARK KNIGHT RISES directed by Christopher Nolan, screenplay by Jonathan and Christopher Nolan from a story by Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer, with Christian Bale, Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Michael Caine. A Warner Bros. release. 164 minutes. Opens Friday (July 20). For venues and times, see Movies. Rating: NNN
The final chapter of Christopher Nolan's ambitious Batman trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises, is less a movie than a colossus - an unstoppable force crashing into your summer, bent on destroying all challengers.
Everything's inflated for spectacle, with the simplest of dialogue scenes thrumming with nervous energy, and filmed with large-format IMAX cameras wherever possible for added bombast. But where Nolan's first two Bat-films felt nimble and restless, The Dark Knight Rises is encumbered by its own self-importance.
It's been eight years since Batman captured the Joker and took the blame for the death of Harvey Dent to keep Gotham City from exploding into chaos. Now, Gotham having settled into complacence, Bruce Wayne has hung up his cape to recede into the shadows of Wayne Manor, tortured by the loss of his beloved Rachel Dawes. But when a masked mercenary known as Bane (Tom Hardy) rises up to turn Gotham into a lawless hellscape, the cape comes out of storage - and the city becomes a battleground.
And that's where The Dark Knight Rises turns into an unwieldy allegory for the Occupy movement. Except that Nolan isn't content to leave it as an allegory; he has to have characters underline it for us in declarative statements.
Christian Bale's obsessed hero feels like a guest star in his own movie; rookie Gotham cop John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) does most of the detective work. Hardy's jolly line readings provide an intriguing contrast to Bane's hulking physique, but after the shark-like perfection of Heath Ledger's Joker he just doesn't measure up as a heavy.
Anne Hathaway has fun with the shifting moods of cat burglar Selina Kyle (her introduction is a particular hoot), and Gary Oldman, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman still invest their appearances as Commissioner Gordon, Alfred and Lucius Fox with heart, gravitas and wit. But the complex structure requires everyone to spend a lot of time waiting for the story to come together.
When he concentrates on the action - a thrilling mid-air prisoner extraction; Bane's assault on Gotham's financial heart; a massive climax that plays out on more levels than Inception - Nolan is in total control. And he can deliver a final flourish like nobody else. The last 30 seconds of The Dark Knight Rises very nearly had me on my feet cheering. It's just all the stuff in the middle that needs pruning.