The problem with Batman is that he is often the least interesting character in his own stories. He is a superhero without a special power but, unlike that other billionaire crime fighter Tony Stark, he fails to make up for this with any wit, charisma or any discernable character traits other than brooding like a teenage My Chemical Romance fan. As this is the case, Batman films can only be as interesting as the nemesis he is facing. In The Dark Knight, this was no problems as Heath Ledger's instantly iconic performance as The Joker meant that the narrative threatened to concertina in on itself in any number of thrilling ways at any second. The Dark Knight Returns however does not have such luck as the antagonist selected by Christopher Nolan to face Batman is Bane.
Whilst The Joker was a multi-faceted character whose force of nature charisma was a catalyst of never ending invention and chaos, Bane (Tom Hardy), right up until a twist moments before the end of his screen time, is presented as nothing but a huge, lunking meat head whose only trait is his peculiar voice as he speaks through his breathing apparatus (which renders him sounding not dissimilar to a modulated version of Krang from the early nineties cartoon Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles). A left wing terrorist whose goal it is to liberate Gotham city from the tyranny of the one per cent, Bane is the leader of an underground crew who live in the sewers (but who are actually not the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles). Their dastardly plan is to cause Wall Street to crash, to trap the police and then to let anarchy reign over the city. In Gotham, the police are the straight faced good guys, looking after the rich who look after poor by allowing their money to trickle down through philanthropy, Reagonomics style - attempting to redistribute wealth will lead to a collapse in society according to this logic. The bad guys are the 99% who are bitter and inevitably will become corrupted by terrorists who don't really understand that the naturally rich are our only hope. It is this typical right wing logic of many comic books that gives The Dark Knight Rises its ideology. As such, Bane has taken it upon himself and his merry game of hoodlums to destroy society by making rich people poor through causing a stock market crash. Who, for heaven's sake, could possibly stop them?
Advance word, before the release of The Dark Knight Rises, was that the film suffered from a lack of intelligibility. The problem, however, is rather a lack of intelligence. With scenes that are eerily reminiscent of Michael Bay and Transformers, The Dark Knight Rises is a film that is too po-faced and serious, too pseudo intelligent to be a good dumb movie and too outright dumb to be considered an intelligent movie of any standard. Just as The Phantom Menace peppered in too many references to federal tax laws in long breaks from action in an attempt to suck any joy out of its dirge-filled existence, The Dark Knight Rises flits between tones, one minute discussing stock exchange rates and fiscal investments and the next featuring latex clad men flying space-ships away from baddies whilst maintaining a straight faced facade. Humourless and devoid of any of the fun that made The Avengers such a thrill to watch, The Dark Knight Rises is also hindered by having entirely unarresting antagonist and protagonists leaving the audience with no main characters to root for.
Thankfully, the 165 minute film has some redeeming features that come in the form of some of the film's tertiary and supporting cast members. Anne Hathaway, always an interesting actress in a number of genres, has managed to re-invent herself as an action star in a sexy and playful performance which is head and shoulders above anything else in the film. Despite the comic book setting of the film, Hathaway's take on Catwoman is more believable than anything else in the movie and she is utterly convincing both as a timid waitress, a caterwauling victim of crime and, especially, as a bad ass fighter not afraid to mix it up with the boys. A slinky, sassy delight, Hathaway's performance deserved much more than the film she was in and provided The Dark Knight Rises with its only electricity and spark. Kudos should also be given to the returning Gary Oldman and Michale Caine who, as Police Officer Gordon and Alfred the butler respectively, give The Dark Knight Rises pathos which the paper thin plot perhaps does not deserve.