Anyone who pays attention to such things knows that, in the early 1990s, the Batman comic-book series featured a storyline with a super-villain -- actually, steroid-enhanced -- named Bane, who broke Batman's back, turning him into a paraplegic (until he was eventually healed by paranormal means).
None of which will mean anything to the target audience of Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises, an audience too young to have been born, let alone old enough to read (or willing to read, for that matter), when the Bane storyline first surfaced in print. They want it now -- hold the history or context -- with a side of Imax, and snap it up.
And so we get The Dark Knight Rises, the third Batman film in Nolan's trilogy and also the weakest. Where Batman Begins (2005) had a mythic feel that remade the origin story in an exciting new way (away from the flat-footed cartoonishness of the Tim Burton/Joel Schumacher entries), The Dark Knight felt like an overreach -- an attempt to tell too many stories in one long movie. But it won over the critics, mostly because of a sizzling performance by Heath Ledger, who died before the movie was released (and who was given a posthumous Oscar).
Now comes The Dark Knight Rises, bringing in the Bane character (played, with my condolences, by Tom Hardy) and Catwoman (Anne Hathaway, one of the movie's few highlights). Nolan gets so caught up in creating an epic adventure that he hammers the "epic" and neglects a crucial component: the adventure.
Which has been my criticism of so many of the comic-book movies of the past decade: too little attention paid to that most necessary of elements -- excitement. There is very little about The Dark Knight Rises that will make you tense, hold you in suspense or cause your adrenaline to squirt. At times, the action is so massive and thunderously clunky that I might as well have been watching one of the Transformers movies.
That's unfortunate because, somewhere within the mashed-potato mounds of Nolan's 2:40 behemoth exists a lean, compelling and distinctly dramatic tale of redemption and sacrifice, told in the kind of personal terms that Nolan made work for him in such films as Memento, Inception (despite its size) and Batman Begins. I'm not trashing the entirety of The Dark Knight Rises -- I'm saying that its potential is such that it ultimately disappoints, thanks to Nolan's decision to go big, bigger, biggest.
This review continues on my website.