Christopher Nolan is a victim of his own success.
Under other circumstances, his latest venture into the dark and gritty world of the comic book hero Batman, "The Dark Knight Rises," would be a triumph. But it comes in the wake of his nearly perfect "The Dark Knight." By comparison, the last film falls short from plot to villain to those wonderful toys.
"The Dark Knight Rises" takes place eight years after Batman's epic battles with the Joker (Heath Ledger) and Two-Face (Aaron Eckhart) that left the crime fighter wrongly marked as a criminal. Batman has not been missed.
That changes when the musclebound Bane (Tom Hardy) arrives to take over Gotham City. Batman must rise from the ashes to stop the madman.
The script by the director and his brother, Jonathan Nolan, features the murderous Bane taking on the role as champion of the lower classes. The story resonates with themes of Charles Dickens' "A Tale of Two Cities" and the Occupy Wall Street movement.
That approach works, but it's the execution that's sloppy. Several plot points are either totally ridiculous -- such as one huge medical miracle -- or overlooked just to move along the story. Scripts for the first two films didn't have these the flaws.
The nature of the storyline means more Bruce Wayne and less Batman. Not good -- less action and a lot more talking. This movie talks about 25 minutes too long.
Additionally, one major character gets written out of the majority of the movie.
Even the latest high-tech weapon comes up short compared with past movies.
Hardy does his best to make Bane a menacing force, but he's hampered by the face mask the character wears. It not only obliterates facial expressions, it muffles his dialogue. This character is a huge disappointment following the magnificent work by Ledger and Eckhart in the previous movies.
Anne Hathaway's performance as Selina Kyle, the character know as Catwoman in the comics but never referred to by the name in the film, is completely out of place. Her wise-cracking lines and silly outfit (would a cat burglar really wear high heels?) is a stark contrast to Nolan's normal approach of making his costumed characters dark and gritty.
It's not all bat guano. Nolan presents the story with the usual impressive visual style, from an opening sequence that rivals any James Bond prologue to a war in the cavernous streets of Gotham City. The director's decision to embrace IMAX rather than the overused 3-D just adds to the visual splendor of the production.
Bale turns in another solid performance and gets some acting help from Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a spunky young police officer and the always dependable Gary Oldman as Commissioner Gordon.
Even with its flaws, "The Dark Knight Rises" is a solid film. It just fails to live up to the magnificent legacy created by the first two movies in the trilogy. To be fair, they were incredibly hard acts to follow.
"The Dark Knight Rises," rated PG-13 for language, violence. Stars Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman. Directed by Christopher Nolan. Running time: 165 minutes. Grade: B Theaters and times for this movie | Other movie reviews
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, firstname.lastname@example.org or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.