This review reportedly contains spoilers.
I can handle the truth.
Travis McClain said:
Lazy. Obvious. Contrived. Vapid.
The Dark Knight Rises plays like a film made from an outline rather than an actual screenplay, so poorly developed are its themes and subplots. All the character content - at least, the important stuff - is glossed over in perfunctory scenes that tell, rather than show, the motivations and objectives of each character.
A solid microcosm is the entire relationship between Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle, given to us in a single scene: a masquerade ball that's obviously a shorthand for previous Batman/Catwoman stories. We're meant to imbue these characters with the same investment we made in their previous incarnations, so that this film doesn't have to bother developing their relationship for itself.
Worse yet is the dissolution of Bruce and Alfred's relationship, which takes place in the span of about a minute. "I'm leaving." "Bye." is about the extent of their debate. Bale and Caine do what they can with the scene, but they're given so little by the stingy script that again we're left having to accept that this plot point occurred not because it is an organic growth of the story, but because the rest of the story needs for it to have happened. It's like a placeholder for a real break-up scene that was never filmed.
Even most of the action is so lazily choreographed that at no point does anything have any weight. Tom Hardy is an admittedly imposing figure as Bane (unquestionably, the strongest part of the film) and he comes across as ferocious but the fights themselves seem more of a chore for the film to slog through than an organic part of the story.
Absent from this Gotham City is, frankly, Gotham City. The people and culture so richly established in the first two films are entirely absent here. We're told that Harvey Dent has become a beloved figure, responsible for the eight golden years that have passed. Where is their reaction to Gordon's confession, read by Bane? Blake rakes Gordon over the coals for having "filthy" hands, but where is the reaction from the people in the streets?
The Dark Knight's conflict rested on Batman and The Joker each hoping to see the people of Gotham display the values each held; the people in The Dark Knight Rises don't have any values. They don't even exist, except as unseen hostages and rioters in a modern day reenactment of Doctor Zhivago's revolution.
Where is the soul of Gotham, though? Where are the people actually showing that they're crushed, angry, betrayed, hurt or even accepting, forgiving and understanding of the truth about Dent? Any kind of reaction would have been welcome, but instead we only see Blake address it in one brief scene. The police, entirely too conveniently trapped for the majority of the film, have plenty of time on their hands. They don't even debate whether to stand behind Gordon during five months? And why are they able to emerge from being trapped clean shaven and physically fit enough for combat? What kind of physical conditioning did they even do down there? How did Bruce Wayne manage to travel from the middle of God knows where to Gotham within such short time - with no obvious resources at his disposal?
With Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, details were meticulous enough that the handful of stretches of logic were acceptable. Not so this time, and it's entirely inexcusable given both the four years between films and the three hour run time. Somehow, The Dark Knight Rises is the longest of the trilogy but also its most vapid, scarcely aspiring to anything beyond closing the book on the Nolanverse.
Shifting from the sloppiness of the details to the big picture is even more troubling. Whereas The Dark Knight sparked compelling arguments from both sides of the political spectrum, Rises seems entrenched in far-right rhetoric from Selina's pro-guns attitude to the rationalization that the funding for charities has stopped because there somehow isn't enough money among the One Percenters. Does Bane represent far-left fascism or far-right deregulation gone amok? Regarding the Occupy Gotham movement, does Selina changing her mind about Bruce signify that the film thinks the Occupy movement is misguided? Exploited by fascist puppet masters? Why an old white man president? Are we still living by that paradigm? Does "cleaned up Gotham" mean no more people of color live there? The only thing missing here is that Bruce Wayne doesn't sneak past a boulder after he's "resurrected."