Nolan’s talent is making us feel that the film is complex,
and that we’re looking at a vast, grandiose vision of a superhero’s triumph over evil. There is not a second in The Dark Knight Rises where I felt bored. I was captivated, confused, scared, energized, disturbed, uplifted, annoyed, amused, and disappointed at various points throughout the picture, but I was never bored. I can’t overstate how important IMAX was to the experience, and I worry that the picture suffers without it. For a movie where the villain is a physically imposing monster devising a plan to bring down an entire city, the IMAX format feels essential.
But more than any canvas, film format, villain, or social subtext, Batman is what should truly be essential. Much like it pretends at a depicting a complicated Gotham City, The Dark Knight Rises pretends that this is the culmination of a hero’s journey. Except how important can this journey be if it’s being pushed aside for Bane’s rousing speeches, widespread destruction, and rise of the common policeman against the common mercenary? Nolan admirably tries to bring the element of fear back into Bruce Wayne’s journey, but there’s no weight to the element because it’s divorced from every other aspect of the story. Fear is not a theme, but a character trait, and one that was only brought up in the first movie. There’s not enough time to truly let the subtext grow because there’s not enough time for Batman to grow.
By blowing loads of time on introducing too many characters and their complicated plans, The Dark Knight Rises has to rush its way through a shockingly weak finish where Nolan indulges on fan-service, half-hearted payoffs, and an attempt to find a heart that the movie never really had (there’s a lot about the ending that bugs me, but I won’t go into spoilers).
There are some teary monologues from Alfred (Michael Caine) in the first act, but there aren’t a lot of strong emotional moments. Without Batman, without a hero, there’s no soul to the picture. The Dark Knight Rises uses Batman as a way to get to a big villain, a big war, a big statement on class conflict, and a big damn spectacle. Batman is a means to an end, which means he’s not a hero or a legend. He’s just a function.