It's the most anticipated film of the summer – the long-awaited finale to Christopher Nolan's acclaimed and staggeringly successful re-imagining of the Batman saga. At 160 minutes, the conclusion to the Dark Knight trilogy is certainly epic in terms of length and doesn't skimp on the spectacle.
Its problem is a muddled, overdetermined screenplay and an uncertainty as to whether it is a brooding, nuanced character study or a rip-roaring matinee adventure.
Like its own protagonist, Bruce Wayne/Batman (Christian Bale), the film suffers from a profound identity crisis. There is plenty to admire in Bale's saturnine performance, and Nolan's flair for filming carefully choreographed mayhem in Gotham. Overall, though, the film simply doesn't gel.
Tom Hardy's masked and psychotic Bane is a suitably intimidating villain. At times, as he warns Gotham of the chaos he is about to unleash, he sounds like Roger Livesey's jaundiced old British soldier in Powell and Pressburger's The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. The fact he is well-spoken adds to his menace. However, he has little of the finesse or complexity of Heath Ledger's The Joker in The Dark Knight. Nor is his motivation easy to surmise. In spite of some surprising final reel revelations (which reviewers have been sworn not to reveal), we're never quite sure what's driving him.
The film begins in rousing fashion with a mid-air heist in which Bane, ostensibly the prey, very quickly reveals that he's the predator. He is fit for action. Batman, eight years on from vanquishing The Joker, is not. In the early scenes, Bale plays him as a hobbling old recluse, a little like Howard Hughes. His knee is giving him grief. His back is bad. His faithful old butler (Michael Caine) frets that he is missing his old existence as Gotham's vigilante hero.
The Dark Knight Rises weakens the further we get from Bruce Wayne/Batman. Nolan has introduced several other characters, among them Marion Cotillard's enigmatic philanthropist Miranda Tate and Anne Hathaway's Selina Kyle/Catwoman.
A large amount of time is spent with the idealistic young cop John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who seems to be a Boy Robin in waiting. The crackpot mysticism about the League Of Shadows (the ninja cult where Batman learned his skills) distracts from what otherwise seems like a hard-boiled urban story. The references to the French Revolution as Bane "liberates" Gotham are heavy-handed. This is not a tidy end to the trilogy.
However, Nolan throws in enough chases, explosions and fight scenes to ensure that, in spite of its vast running time, the film whistles by.