No wonder Bruce Wayne retired from being Batman. Everybody wants to psychoanalyze the guy: His butler, his burglar, his nemesis, his police commissioner, and practically anyone with a hand in managing his assets. Among other things, he is accused of pretense and, perhaps worse, of “practiced apathy.” Well, it was a double identity, and a dubious one, after all.
Of course it’s only a temporary retirement (at least until it becomes permanent), and at the outset of The Dark Knight Rises, it’s more or less mandatory; the caped crusader’s city, historically rather weird with mask-wearers and turncoats, no longer trusts him. All the more grist for director and psychoanalyst-in-chief Christopher Nolan’s mill: Two films in the rebooted Batman franchise already behind him, and still with so much more head-shrinking to do. In Nolan’s estimation, this grand trilogy-capper finale still requires two hours and 44 more minutes of duking and talking things out.
For the casual viewer, familiarity with the vicissitudes of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight is not required. Scripting again with his brother Jonathan, Nolan seems glad to summarize: It’s about power, justice, virtue, and philosophical challenges thereto, not to mention the considered aesthetics of the summer blockbuster set piece. It takes so long because the Nolans think it strategic not just to delve into backstory, but also to revise it while we wait. Although often self-nullifying, this is showmanship, of a sort: They understand that sometimes it’s fun being inside a movie for so long. Even, maybe especially, one so tense, huge, noisy, dark and unswervingly glum as this.
Helpful signposts abound, some in human form: the butler played by Michael Caine, the burglar played by Anne Hathaway, the commissioner played by Gary Oldman. They’re all fine, and comfortably familiar—even franchise-newcomer Hathaway (who only hits a few false notes). The nemesis is a respirator-faced hulk called Bane (Tom Hardy), who resembles Darth Vader without his helmet, or an uppity BDSM man-slave with vengefully revolutionary ambitions. Backed up by a squad of glowering thugs, he’s the Tea Party multiplied by Occupy.
Bane and Batman have a certain personal trainer in common, and it shows when they get to fighting. The fighting is like the dialogue: labored, with most natural movement restricted by so much preliminary suiting up, and a lot of people—extras, the audience—waiting around for the blows to land. They do land, at least, sounding like bombs.
Speaking of stuff blowing up, Bane’s agenda includes a lot of that, not the least of which is a 4-megaton time bomb. Also, there are hostages at the stock exchange, rough kangaroo-court justice, and most of the city’s police force trapped underground. Heavy stuff. One surfacer is a clever beat cop played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, looking good and growing into the movie as it grooms him—but for what? Let’s reflect on how everything that rises must converge, and how well, over these last few films, Christian Bale has grown into those dubious double-identity heroics. When he finally does retire for real, doesn’t somebody have to take over?