The good, the bat and the ugly

Rated 4.0

How does he eat?

Christopher Nolan’s epic Batman trilogy comes to a satisfying, if occasionally clunky, conclusion with The Dark Knight Rises. While it is easily the least satisfying of the three Nolan films, that’s only because it doesn’t quite attain the masterpiece stature of his Batman Begins or The Dark Knight.

All things considered, it’s still a damned good ride.

Set eight years after the events of the last film, it features a reclusive and weary Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) hiding out in his cavernous house for a good chunk of the movie. His knees are shot, his will is bent, and he’s starting to annoy Alfred (Michael Caine) who wants him to get a new girlfriend.

In short, Bruce Wayne is not living the good life after his beloved Rachel (Maggie Gyllenhaal in The Dark Knight and Katie Holmes in Batman Begins) met an untimely end. And as things in Gotham begin to boil over in the absence of the Bat, he’s seriously considering a return to costumed vigilantism. When Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) gets into trouble, that seals the deal for Batman’s return.

Wayne/Batman’s main adversary in the movie is Bane, a brilliant, strategizing Neanderthal who wears a mask and is infamous for breaking Batman’s back in the comics. As played by Tom Hardy, Bane winds up being the film’s biggest flaw because Nolan and crew have completely blown it with his voice.

From the instant Hardy delivered his first line in the film’s opening airplane sequence, the voice struck me as very odd and very “clean” for a guy wearing a mask. It’s no secret that many patrons who saw TDKR preview footage whined about not being able to understand Bane. Nolan refused to retool his voice at first, but relented and redid some of the vocals in postproduction.

The result is something that feels inorganic, cartoonish and not happening in the moment. Bane’s weird inflections often have the feel of an actor sitting in a recording booth rather than trying to push dialogue through an obstructive mask. To say the least, it’s distracting, and Bane has plenty of dialogue so you can’t escape the problem.

Now, as a physical opponent for Batman, well, he’s a lot of fun. There are two smackdowns between the characters that are awesomely staged. They are also quite scary because we know that Batman has been out of it for a while, and his fighting chops aren’t up to snuff.

So, in the end I took Bane for what he was: A very formidable and ultimately entertaining physical opponent for Batman that sounds a little like a strangely happy Ian McKellen’s Gandalf after a whiskey bender, with a little bit of Darth Vader thrown in for good measure.

Also on the villain front, there’s Selina Kyle, played this time out by Anne Hathaway. The film never refers to her as Catwoman, but we all know who she is. Hathaway takes a subtle approach to the role that works beautifully.

As Blake, a rookie cop with an allegiance to the Batman and a growing disillusionment with the system, Joseph Gordon-Levitt steals his scenes. He has a certain power on screen that will make you hope the series continues with him in a bigger role.

Overall, this is Bale’s movie. You could make a convincing argument that he was a little overshadowed by Heath Ledger and Aaron Eckhart in The Dark Knight. This installment moves his Bruce Wayne back to the center.

The movie plays a lot on current events and themes, including political upheaval, lower class disenchantment, terrorism and financial corruption. The first two Nolan Batman’s were pizza parties with otters and kittens compared to this one, so be prepared for something that is often somber.

Even with the stupid Bane voice, there’s enough greatness in The Dark Knight Rises to make it one of the summer’s better spectacles. I’m a big fan of Frank Miller’s graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns. This movie might be the closest thing we’ll ever get to a film of Miller’s masterpiece.