No wonder Bruce Wayne has retired from being Batman. Everybody wants to psychoanalyze the guy: his butler, his burglar, his nemesis, his police commissioner, his various abettors and asset managers. Among other things, he is accused of pretense and, maybe worse, of “practiced apathy.” Well, it was a double identity, and a dubious one, after all.
Of course it’s only a temporary retirement (at least until it becomes permanent), and at the outset of “The Dark Knight Rises,” it’s more or less mandatory; the caped crusader’s city, historically rather weird with mask-wearers and turncoats, no longer trusts him. All the more grist for director and psychoanalyst-in-chief Christopher Nolan’s mill: Two films in the rebooted Batman series already behind him, and still with so much head-shrinking to do. In Nolan’s estimation, this grand trilogy-capper finale still requires two hours and forty-four more minutes of duking and talking things out.
For the casual viewer, cognizance of “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight” is not required. Scripting again with his brother Jonathan, Nolan seems glad to summarize. Generally it’s about power, justice, virtue, and philosophical challenges thereto, not to mention the considered aesthetics of the summer-blockbuster set piece. It takes so long because the Nolans think it strategic not just to delve into backstory but also to revise it before our eyes. Although often self-nullifying, this is showmanship, of a sort: They understand that sometimes it’s fun being inside a movie for so long. Even and maybe especially one so tense, huge, noisy, dark, and unsmilingly processed, to the tune of a thundering Hans Zimmer score, as this.
Helpful signposts abound, some of them in human form: Michael Caine as the butler, Anne Hathaway as the burglar, Gary Oldman as the commissioner, Morgan Freeman as the main asset manager. They’re all fine, and comfortably familiar — even franchise-newcomer Hathaway, who wears her cat costume well and only hits a few false notes. (Jadedness isn’t yet her specialty.)
The nemesis is a respirator-faced hulk called Bane, and played by Tom Hardy, who resembles a steroidal Darth Vader sans helmet, or an uppity BDSM man-slave with vengefully revolutionary ambitions. Backed up by a squad of glowering thugs, he’s the Tea Party multiplied by Occupy. (Yes, topical politics, in a jumble — something about the respective birthrights of pain and privilege?) That mouth cover is meant to be menacing, but mostly just makes it hard to see his face or hear what the hell he’s saying. Thashah dobetayu bekosth abe longeume, for example, is his rendering of “The shadows betray you because they belong to me.” (Thank you, Internet, for that translation.) Bane and Batman have a certain personal trainer in common, and it shows when they get to fighting. The fighting is like the dialogue: labored, with most natural movement restricted by so much preliminary suiting up, and a lot of people — extras, the audience — waiting around for the blows to land. They do land, at least, sounding like bombs.
Speaking of stuff blowing up, Bane’s agenda includes a lot of that, not least a 4-megaton time bomb. Also there are hostages at the stock exchange, plundered mansions, rough kangaroo-court justice, and most of the city’s cops trapped underground. Heavy stuff. Not just any old immersive experience, “The Dark Knight Rises” comes with a promise to its audience: As a graphic novel enlarges the scope and seriousness of a mere comic book, so a Christopher Nolan film should exalt the summer superhero movie. And with the likes of “The Avengers” and “The Amazing Spider-Man” getting so cheeky, so loopy, this Batman must once and for all reassert his sprawling ponderous solemnity.
The real pleasure is in Nolan’s dedication to his investment. It’s sort of touching that in addition to those familiar figures from the trilogy’s first two thirds, he’s also brought in half the cast of his other self-analyzing action movie, “Inception.” Joining Hardy, Marion Cotillard, and (briefly) Cillian Murphy, the most promising of these is Joseph Gordon-Levitt, as a clever beat cop, looking good and growing into the movie as it grooms him — but for what? Well, let’s reflect on how everything that rises must converge, and how suitably, over the last few films, Christian Bale has grown into those dubious double-identity heroics. When he finally does retire for real, doesn’t somebody else have to take over?