It's hard to pick out what's the worst part of this disappointing movie because there are so many to choose from. Should I fault the incomprehensibly Byzantine plot involving a massive conspiracy to bankrupt Bruce Wayne in order to get at a shelved green energy project that could be used as a nuclear weapon? How about the massive gaps in logic we're supposed to ignore like how a city of millions of people can be cut off from the outside world, but the trash never seems to pile up, no one seems to be on the streets other than the resistance (which the bad guys don't seem to notice or do anything about), and the villains, once revealed don't even hew to the beliefs and behaviors that the series laid out way back in Batman Begins? There is just so much to pick on.
The opening sequence involving a plane-to-plane hijacking is thrilling and well done - it could be from a James Bond film - but a harbinger of the illogic that plagues TDKR. Who is the guy the CIA is transporting? Why is he in the middle of nowhere and how does Bane know how to get caught and loaded on that same plane in order to make the hijacking work? The whole movie is a string of single points of failure (i.e. if something doesn't go the way the plot needs it to every step of the way, then the whole plan collapses) and it continues in the very next sequence with the introduction of Catwoman who uses the cover of a cater waitress delivering the meal to where Bruce Wayne is hiding out from a party. She is shown throughout the film to be a clever and resourceful woman, BUT if Alfred hadn't given her the milk run, how else would she have done what she needed/wanted to do?
Even the Big Bad, Bane, is a mess because nothing about him is explained. How does he have legions of followers willing to die for him without question? How does he whack minions at will without the rest of the red shirts looking at Monster.com for a better henchman job? Bane sounds like Sean Connery mimicking General Grievous, the asthmatic alien cyborg from Revenge of the Sith (a similarity I'm frankly surprised no one else has noticed), and as menacing as Tom Hardy is physically, he isn't able to overcome the loss of half his face due to the mask. (No one has the presence to ask how he eats with that thing on?) [UPDATE: Check out the redubbed video I've posted at the bottom of this review. Killer!] We're fed a lot of red herrings as to his origins and when his true position on the bad guy's org chart is revealed, he loses all his prior menace. There are also a couple of weaselly corporate types trying to move in on Wayne Enterprises at his behest, but we don't really get how he controls them, why they're trying to screw over Catwoman, and where they came from either. There's never a sense of knowing who these people are or where they're from.
When the movie starts, it's eight years after the end of TDK and Batman has disappeared from Gotham, but the streets have been cleaned up by Commissioner Gordon and the GCPD. When Bane first makes himself know, Bruce suits up and gets his ass brutally kicked in his fight with Bane and ends up in some prison pit in what looks like India. There is a huge chimney leading to the surface that we're told Bane escaped from as a child and Bruce has to recuperate and do the climb. There is a literal leap of faith involved and the audience is required to leap the plausibility gap that comes from wonder what kind of prison has ANY means of escape like this AND PROVIDES SAFETY ROPES ATTACHED ABOVE THE LEAP POINT?!?!?
Nolan stopped trying to make Gotham City appear like a real place with The Dark Knight with its use of Chicago and all its signature skyline elements in view - remember the monorail from Batman Begins? Apparently neither does Nolan - but he really stops trying here as scenes play out in obviously Los Angeles, obviously Pittsburgh, and obviously New York City. Continuity is told to take a powder as a heist that occurs when the Gotham Stock Exchange opens for trading in the morning leads to the crooks escaping a short time later and then suddenly night falling from one shot to the next and the conclusion occurs in darkness. Why didn't they just have the attackers hole up until darkness instead of making such a huge distracting gaffe?
Finally, because I could go on and on and on and on with spoilers about further dumb details, in BB the League of Shadows had a scheme to destroy Gotham in order to rebuild it as they saw fit. They had anointed themselves to be society's judges with the power to sentence cities to death when they're deemed unruly. For some reason here now they seem to be little more than suicide bombers who won't even be around for the after party after they blow the place off the map. Huh? I've seen it suggested that the League of Shadows is like Al Qaeda without the Islam part, but even a terrorist organization with suicide bombers as a front line weapon has commanders behind the lines to capitalize on victory. Here, it doesn't appear so; they appear to be just looking to vaporize Gotham because that's what they do.
After a half-dozen paragraphs of rambling grousing, you're probably wondering if there is anything good in this bat debacle? Yes. Yummy Girl (or Anne Hathaway as you people call her) steals the movie as the Jewel Thief Selina Kyle Who Isn't Called Catwoman But We Know She's Catwoman with all the funny lines and the only genuine character arc in the who place. She starts off carefree and robbing for the lulz and parroting some trite Occupy class warfare agitprop, but when sh*t starts getting REAL, we can tell that she's having some qualms about her decisions. She's both a critical part of the bad guys' schemes and a dupe suckered into selling out her hunting grounds and then not being paid for her trouble. And she rocks her catsuit well; you can almost see Nolan writing, "And then Catwoman parks dat azz on the Batpod, the light rimming her fine booty." Like this:
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, another holdover (along with Tom Hardy and Marion Cotillard) from Inception, is also distinctive in his role as a street cop who seems to too easily figure out Bruce Wayne's secret identity. In fact, the whole plot thread of him and Gordon double-handedly doing more to get an insurrection going while Batman is still in a hole is another misstep because it shows that other than the very, very end, Batman isn't even needed to save Gotham and before that end, it's Catwoman, not Batman who actually saves the day over and over and over. Got that? BATMAN IS CATWOMAN'S SIDEKICK!!! Oy vey! But for all the big empty explosions and attempts to prop up the slender plot with spectacle, what really kills TDKR is Nolan's poor decision to make Batman a supporting character in a Batman movie.
Michael Caine's Alfred is a different man this time and he gets some tear-jerking monologues, but at a crucial moment, Bruce basically calls him a liar because the plot's need for him to be a self-pitying emo dumbass trumps their entire lifetime together. The only reason for Bruce to be that unreasonable is in order to isolate him, but it's clunky and unbelievable and ill serves the whole series, especially in the literal last moments of the film.
I had rewatched Batman Begins (score: 7/10) and The Dark Knight (9/10) in the days leading up to my seeing this and was planning on seeing it in IMAX, so while I wasn't as stoked for this as much as I was for The Avengers, I wanted to see how it'd all wrap up. I just couldn't imagine it ending so shabbily. In my tweets and forum posts about this review in progress I've received a good amount of, "Everyone else likes it so you're wrong, mang!" pushback and that's too bad because I didn't go in with super-high expectations, but didn't even conceive that Nolan would so botch the end of his trilogy. It's even more frustrating because amidst the bluster and clutter are glimpses of potent themes that are tossed off instead of polished to a high shine. (The way Batman reveals his identity to Gordon is very poetic.)
Rewatching the first two films so close to the third only makes it suffer more because you can see how bloated, yet empty, The Dark Knight Rises is. Batman Begins was an origin story that put us in Bruce Wayne's tortured head and revealed how he wanted to use the League of Shadows training to do good, refusing to go along with his former mentor Ra's Al Ghul in the end. The Dark Knight ratcheted up the stakes by showing that Batman's crazy ying had an even crazier yang in the form of the Joker. It got a little prone to speechifying, but the characters were chewing on meaty philosophical concepts about heroism, honor, duty to society.
All of that is gone in The Dark Knight Reloaded (as I'm referring to it) because instead of truly breaking down Batman in order for him to...wait for it...rise again - they also reuse BB's "Why do we fall?" "In order to get back up." line enough times for the densest viewer to get. the. point. - they take a man who had already quit and atrophied, kicked him while he was down until he was really down, and then set him aside while a whole bunch of other people do the hard work of liberating Gotham, only for him to pop back in for the last reel, a so-so fist fight, a twist that wasn't to anyone who paid attention to the casting announcements and nerd chatter, and then a intended poignant ending that Nolan didn't have the courage to ride all the way home. The very final details involving a character's name is also the worst writing in the entire series; a beat so corny and cheesy it was like a rail car of popcorn soaked in nacho sauce. Really, Nolan? Really?
Just as I docked Prometheus a couple of points from my initial walking out of the theater feeling, I've socked The Dark Knight Reloaded the same way because it's not enough to be meh about it because this isn't just another comic book movie that can be lightly and charitably handled. No, this is the conclusion of a landmark trilogy by a very talented (if very slightly overrated) filmmaker who hasn't made a movie that I haven't liked a whole lot, so just as Olympic judges mark down hard when gymnasts fail to stick the landing, Christopher Nolan has to take his licks for failing here. I feel that it's not even a matter of him believing his own hype and allowing hubris to make him cavalier about his work, arrogantly thinking that the fans will blindly accept whatever he ladles into their troughs. No, I think he and his collaborators simply decided to make a collectively bad series of decisions because they simply didn't step back to see if it was working when your nose isn't pressed against the tree bark.
In the end, The Dark Knight Rises isn't a terrible loaf of cinematic manure that hacks like Paul W.S. Anderson or Uwe Boll would pinch off; it's worse, because it could and should have been so much better and there is no acceptable excuse for Christopher Nolan to have not wrapped things up competently. It's a darn shame. Better luck next time, Chris. I'll be there because I think you know the answer to the question, "Why do we fall?"
Score: 4/10. Catch it at the dollar show.
As jumbled an rambling as the above is, there are even more things that I left out because they were very spoilerish (so read on at your own risk or if you've seen it already), like:
* What's the deal with Catwoman's sidekick, a girl not named (let's call her Kittengirl!), given little to do, but in one shot it's implied that they're lovers of some sort?
* Bane releases 1000 prisoners from jail and gives them guns. OK, how come in a space as large as Manhattan, none of the MILLIONS of citizens try to overwhelm this relative handful of thugs. The NYPD has 36,000 uniformed cops; allowing for sleep, there couldn't be more than several hundred of Bane's minions running around; easy pickings. Yeah, Bane says that any sign of resistance will lead to the nuke being set off, but shouldn't you call that bluff rather than sit around waiting to die?
* One of the beefs against the Spider-Man films is that they kept taking his mask off too much. Here, Gordon-Levitt's Blake is able to deduce that Bruce is Batman by his expression when visiting the orphanage. A weird beat in the story and it makes me wonder why no one else amongst the burgeoning orphan community figured it out if it's that easy.
* Back to Bane, the reveal of who's truly running the show means he's little more than Odd Job, not Goldfinger himself. So why the followers? Why would anyone listen to this weirdo?
* We're supposed to believe that Alfred is the sole caretaker of stately Wayne Manor because after he's fired, there's no one around to let Bruce in and he's never carried keys, forcing him to have to break into his own place. Who's mowing the grounds? What of his pad in the city?
* A key part of Bane's plot is to get access to Wayne Enterprises' secret Applied Sciences Lab area to get all the nifty toys Lucius Fox has made. How does he 1) know about it and b) know where it is? No one from the League of Shadows knew of it in Batdude Starts, so huh? Never mind who's actually been building the Tumblers and whatnot (I've always figured moonlighting Keebler elves), it's always been the toppest secret, but Bane knows exactly where the toys are stored.
* The cops are supposedly all trapped in tunnels. Why not just kill them? Forget how they come out of the darkness after over three months underground and they look clean and well-fed, with all the manholes and hundreds of miles of tunnels we're told lie beneath the city, there wasn't a single exit to be found to get out? This isn't a Chilean coal mine for crying out loud.
* The caper that bankrupts Bruce Wayne is clearly an act of fraud, but no one seems able to reverse the false trades? If you lose your credit card, you aren't liable for more than $50, but you can have billions stolen in an obvious scam and everyone can only shrug?
* Really, how do we go from day to night in five seconds. If someone made a short film on YouTube with that kind of lapse, they'd be slagged for sloppiness. This reportedly cost $250 million to make and no one looked at the script and said, "The slug line says 'INT - STOCK EXCHANGE -- DAY' then 'EXT - WALL STREET -- DAY' then 'EXT - DOWNTOWN LA -- NIGHT.' What's going on there?" Appears not.
* What purpose does the police brass guy played by Matthew Modine serve other than to show a really dumb cop in authority with misplaced priorities followed by cowardice ending in a meaningless "noble" denouement? Like Catwoman's kitten, he could be removed entirely at no loss.
* Excusing how Bruce gets back to Gotham City, how is he able - in a town where any attempts to get in or out of the island is grounds for setting off the bomb - to paint a flammable substance all over the Brooklyn Bridge to make a bat logo without anyone noticing? EXTRA THOUGHT: Not only is this silly, it's unoriginal as The Crow and Daredevil both used the flaming logo gags.
* Who installed the new Batsignal on the roof? Who got the order and filled it without wondering why this would be needed and then had access to the roof of the police HQ?
That's enough for now. If I think of more, I'll tack it on, but I think I've made my point.
UPDATE: * Catwoman makes this big speech about the rich versus the poor and then hooks up with a rich guy to live the good life. I ain't saying she a gold digger, but...
UPDATE #2: * Back to Modine's lousy cop - they're chasing a gang of thugs who just shot up the Stock Exchange and held everyone hostage, but the moment Batman shows up in the chase, he drops everything to go after him? Blake tries to keep him on target, but he's overruled and the bigger bad guys get a free pass. I sorta get the hard-on Modine has for the "killer of Harvey Dent," but way to be distracted by the shiny object.
UPDATE #3: * Why did Gordon have his speech confessing the truth about Harvey Dent in his pocket other than to have it available to fall into Bane's hands? First we're supposed to believe that Gordon was going to use the big anniversary shindig to blow up the image of Gotham's White Knight, but also that after 8 years of keeping this secret was unable to extemporaneously say something like, "You know, the truth about Harvey was that he was very bad person after the Joker burned half his face off. Batman's innocent, yo! [drops mike]"
* Why was Scarecrow presiding over the kangaroo court other than to turn the hat trick of Cillian Murphy's presence in all three films? He didn't need to be in The Dark Knight and even less here. Shouldn't Bane have been running things?
* Catwoman's story is weak underneath because she's trying to get clear of her past with a Magic Computer Program to expunge her past sins. A better plot would've been her trying to make a deal to be an informer on the Mob in exchange for a pardon and clean slate. It would've made her a little more ambiguous, but make her redemption a little more plausible because it would've been a larger, riskier gesture than just riding the Batpod and snagging a rich dude in the end. But why should I expect nuance in this mess of a script? All the problems started on the page.
* This. Is. KILLER!
* This. Is. Even. More. KILLER! (Even though it basically takes the gazillion words I've written above and made it into a video for the tl;dr set.)