The third and (supposedly) final chapter of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy gives the cowled hero an epic send-off. In striving so mightily for the mythic, however, Nolan forgets to let the Caped Crusader have much crime-fighting fun.
Eight years after the events of The Dark Knight, Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne is a morose recluse, but is lured outside again by a seductive cat burglar and a masked brute. Anne Hathaway’s Selina Kyle (Nolan’s deadly serious take never stoops to utter the name “Catwoman”) is the screen’s best take on the character, a sensual rebel with a crucial motivation driving her razor-sharp high heels. Tom Hardy’s Bane, meanwhile, is an erudite madman whose pain-relieving face mask lends his stentorian voice a touch of Vader-esque distortion — think Winston Churchill fronting Ministry. Two more Inception alums are also along as new characters, though their fates are all too predictable: Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s trajectory is satisfying, but Marion Cotillard’s is an unfortunate disappointment.
Bane’s plan involves taking advantage of a design flaw that allows Wayne Enterprises’ experimental clean-energy fusion device to also function as a nuclear bomb. Nolan has crafted two compelling villains, but his need to make Batman not just haunted but a martyr on an epic hero’s journey shrouds the story in a stiflingly portentous fog. Our hero’s inner struggles keep him out of the suit for too-long stretches, though Nolan is a craftsman on a grand scale as a director and keeps the pace unflagging for much of the film’s nearly three hours.
Unfortunately, he and brother Jonathan were less successful in writing the overstuffed screenplay, full of clumsy expository dialogue where characters tell each other details they both already know or villains explain their plots at length during crucial moments. The political themes, which might have been effective as subtext, are unfortunately spelled out in speeches that sound like they were transcribed from an evening’s MSNBC lineup. It’s one thing to take a comic-book source seriously; it’s another to weigh it down with ponderous borrowings from the Occupy and green movements, 9/11 and even Dickens.