It’s difficult to tell whether The Dark Knight Rises is 50 minutes too long or 6 hours too short. As an 8-part miniseries on AMC or HBO, it easily could’ve been the superhero-epic-of-all-superhero-epics that Batman fans were hoping for. Bane’s raid on the Gotham stock exchange alone could’ve provided the basis for at least a couple of 50-minute-long episodes, sort of like how the raid on OPEC in Carlos and the airport hostage crisis in season five of 24 escalated bit by bit over the course of several hours until the suspense reached heart-attack inducing levels. Instead, the scene is over and done with before your heart even has a chance to reach 100 beats per minute.
Likewise, the subplot in which Bruce Wayne is put in a nightmarish underground prison could’ve made for a perfect “bottle” episode, a bit like “The Fly” in Breaking Bad where the entire story is confined to the underground meth lab. But instead, the storyline is glossed over in maybe 20 minutes—not nearly enough time to experience the sense of hopelessless that the prison is supposed to evoke. The ending also feels kind of rushed. In season two of 24, Jack Bauer had 12 hours to find and dispose of a nuclear bomb. In Dark Knight Rises, Batman has just a few minutes to accomplish a similar task, and the movie is much poorer for it.
Conversely, with a running time of 1 hour and 50 minutes, the movie could’ve been a lean French Connection-style action thriller. Had Christopher Nolan simply focused on one of the subplots—Bane vs. Batman, the Ross and Rachel “will they or won’t they?” romance between Batman and Catwoman, Bruce Wayne’s attempt to enter the clean energy industry—and cut out all the rest, he would’ve had more than enough material for a taut, gripping, entirely satisfying feature length film.
Unfortunately, The Dark Knight Rises is 2 hours and 45 minutes long, and it feels more like a really long recap of a season of television rather than an actual movie. There are simply too many subplots thrown into the mix, and Nolan, in order to bring the movie in at an acceptable running time, has no choice but to develop them superficially. This is especially frustrating because everything else about the movie is just about perfect.
As Bane, Tom Hardy is a force of nature. Even with half his face concealed by a mask, he manages to give a performance every bit as raw and expressive as his justly celebrated performances in Warrior and Bronson. Christian Bale, who in the previous Batman movies wasn’t given much to do, is finally allowed to demonstrate his acting chops here, and he offers a vivid reminder for why he’s considered the best actor of his generation. The supporting cast, which includes Anne Hathaway, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Marion Cotillard, is equally good.
In terms of scale, the movie makes The Dark Knight look like Following, the movie that Nolan shot for $6000 when he was 28-years old. The budget was apparently $250 million, but it looks more like $350 million. The final sequence reaches a level of epicness that will make James Cameron and Michael Bay green with envy. Do yourself a favour and try to see it in IMAX at least once. (Although good luck getting in).
But despite the first-rate performances and mind-boggling production values, The Dark Knight Rises is still quite clearly the weakest of Nolan’s three Batman. It’s also a leading candidate for the weakest movie of Nolan’s career, a position previously held by the mostly above average Insomnia. The release of an 8-hour-long director’s cut could easily remedy this situation, but somehow I doubt that that will happen.