It does not seem a stretch to deem The Dark Knight Rises the least successful of the Nolan-helmed Batman franchise. That isn't to say that it is bad--far from it, actually--but in relation to its predecessors, The Dark Knight Rises fails not only to raise the bar but also to reach the lofty heights of Batman Begins or The Dark Knight.
Now The Dark Knight Rises is a far cry from Spider-Man 3, not going so far as to sully the franchise, but it does have its warts. Without giving away too much for the four people in the world who haven't seen it, there are multiple sequences that are not particularly effective. For starters, the prison sequence really did not work and was the filmic equivalent of The Red Hot Chili Peppers' album Californication--a rehashing of a concept already covered by the artist with the revisitation lacking the requisite inspiration and freshness to make the latter effort work on a substantive level. While Bruce Wayne is in an anachronistic foreign prison (again), Gotham City descends into a bedlam in which criminals run amok and turn the city into a lawless hell on earth. Unfortunately the nearly instantaneous nature of this descent into unadulterated madness requires such a suspension of disbelief that in an otherwise fairly realistic and grounded world the change is jarring, and not in the way that Christopher Nolan intended.
To read this review thus far, one would assume that I was displeased by The Dark Knight Rises. There were certainly elements that were disappointing. There were, however, elements to like.
For starters, the acting was top-notch. Michael Caine, who had been underutilized in the first two films, was finally allowed to stretch his legs, carrying much of the emotional weight in his scenes as Alfred. Anne Hathaway was perfectly serviceable as Selina/Catwoman. Bale, Hardy, and Marion Cotillard were exactly what one has come to expect of them over the past few years of impressive performance after impressive performance. Really, though, The Dark Knight Rises was The Joseph Gordon-Levitt Show. So much of the film is spent engendering a belief in the symbol of Batman rather than the man in the suit that its energy and plot depends largely on other characters, specifically on Gordon-Levitt's Blake. As anyone familiar with his body of work over the past decade would be sure, Joseph Gordon-Levitt is great. Any doubt as to whether the future of the franchise would be all right in the hands of another should at least be partially alleviated as long as Joseph Gordon-Levitt is involved. Creative talent involved would obviously play a part, but there is no need to worry about the star. If only there weren't that horrible Robin line in the film's coda...
Despite the film's shortcomings from the narrative spectrum, The Dark Knight Rises predictably looks fantastic. If there's one thing that Nolan can be counted upon to accomplish, it is to craft a film that looks amazing. Sure, he has spent his last two films crawling farther and farther up his own ass while forgoing actually focusing on constructing a complete and affective narrative, but they've looked great.
I suppose it is a testament to Nolan as a filmmaker that The Dark Knight Rises could actually disappoint, as he did craft the nearly perfect second film in the franchise. Unfortunately, he raised the bar himself and has no one else to blame for raising expectations for the series' conclusion, and while it was good, it was far from great.