The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Rating: ***
Release Date: 7/20/12
Director: Christopher Nolan
Music: Hans Zimmer
Cast: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Gary Oldman, Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy, Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson, Cillian Murphy

Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy comes to a close with this overblown spectacle, which suffers from the same problems as his previous two Batman films. At least he's consistent. Eight years have passed since the events in "The Dark Knight" (2008) and Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) lives as a crippled recluse. However, dark forces are at work that put Gotham City in peril once again, causing Batman to come out of retirement and go up against a tyrannical anarchist known as Bane (Tom Hardy). Bane plans to detonate a nuclear bomb in the city, and only Batman, Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman), and a young Detective Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) can stop him. Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) shows up to complicate matters, and Ra's Al Ghul (Liam Neeson) and Talia get spun into the plot as well.

The film is superbly crafted and takes place on a massive scale. Nolan is a master at creating tension, but the baffling script and sluggish pacing make the film a chore to sit through. Similar to his previous Batman films, this one feels like it's about an hour too long, but the action scenes are thrilling and exciting to watch. Excellent performances from everyone, with the possible exception of Anne Hathaway, who is presented as an overly sexualized caricature and unfortunately strapped with the worst dialog in the film. Everything that comes out of her mouth makes you cringe. She also suffers from some of the most horrifying red lipstick I've ever seen, which makes her difficult to look at. Her fights scenes are fun, though, and she comes across as convincingly tough. An unrecognizable Tom Hardy delivers a surprisingly moving performance, especially considering that his eyes are the only thing you ever see. Unfortunately, a silly voice filter makes his speech completely and hilariously unintelligible, and he sounds like a garbled Auric Goldfinger. It's a shame they didn't subtitle his lines. Gary Oldman once again gives a strong performance as Jim Gordon and Michael Caine's emotional performance as Alfred Pennyworth is very moving. However, it's probably Joseph Gordon-Levitt who steals the show this time as a hot-headed and idealistic cop, and he is positively riveting.

The Bat-Cycle returns with exciting results, and Batman finally takes to the skies in a new aerial vehicle simply called "the bat." The visual effects are stunning and the scenes of mass destruction are shockingly raw and realistic. The fight scenes between Batman and Bane are decent and very hard hitting. Hans Zimmer provides another powerful score that really amps up the proceedings and keeps you on the edge of your seat.

Unfortunately, the film has so many shortcomings that I just can't bump it up to four stars. The aimless plot lacks clarity and direction, and the dialog is surprisingly awful. The force-fed and increasingly implausible epilogue is insulting and emotionally manipulative, and ruins the tone and theme of the story. It really should have been left out so that the film could offer a sense of accomplishment, reflection, and closure. Batman purists will fly into a rage with the way that canon has been perverted, but the tie-ins with Ra's Al Ghul and Talia are handled quite nicely. And most importantly, I feel vindicated that despite what the credits say in "Batman Begins" (2005), Liam Neeson IS in fact Ra's Al Ghul. As I mentioned before, Anne Hathaway's lipstick is hideous, but I think it's worth mentioning again. Much like the rest of the film, it's big, bold, and loud, and the statement it makes is overdone and unnecessary.