Does plot matter?
Of course it does. But with The Dark Knight Rises, the final installment of Christopher Nolan's gargantuan, gravitas-soaked Bat-trilogy, it would have been fine to abandon all sense of logic, narrative, time.
In fact, it might have been more fun.
It's not just that we already know Batman and his brooding rich-guy alter ego Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale, baleful with and without voice modulator, body armor, and Bat-mask). And that we've been schooled in the malevolent pathologies of Batman's über-nemeses: Scarecrow in Batman Begins, The Joker in The Dark Knight, and now a mixed martial arts madman, Bane.
Thanks to a circus parade of Marvel and DC Comics screen adaptations, we've grown accustomed to the sight of plummeting I-beams and crashing subway cars, the police firing futile fusillades against hulking baddies, a screaming populace making a run for it over bridges bent in half like playroom toys.
The Dark Knight Rises has all of that - tied to a triple helix of backstories and betrayals, history and hellfire. It's been four years since Batman took the fall for Harvey Dent, alias Two-Face, in The Dark Knight - eight years in Gotham City time. Does anybody but Police Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman, spending a good deal of the new movie in a hospital bed) and Bruce Wayne himself really care?
Just shoot off the fireworks and the cool new Bat-gizmos, unleash the snarling platoons of thugs and mugs. Let Alfred (Michael Caine) answer a few Wayne Manor doorbells, quipping Britishly. Let the femmes fatales - Anne Hathaway as a jewel thief with a penchant for catsuits and spike heels, Marion Cotillard as a philanthropist with a past - coo and clinch with Bruce the recluse. . . . A surreal mashup of Bat-tropes is all we need.
Instead, there's a labyrinthine network of plots and subplots to navigate. Good luck.
But if you just give yourself over to Nolan's sweeping, symphonic Cowled Crusader saga, The Dark Knight Rises is, well, a blast. The opening sequence - a gravity-defying skyjacking and Russian-scientist-kidnapping - out-Bonds the Bond movies for adrenalized action. Hathaway, all lips and legs, is Selina Kyle, also known as Catwoman, and she's sexy and complicated - and straddles the big-wheeled Bat-Pod with utter aplomb. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, one of Nolan's dream teammates in Inception, joins the Gotham City gang as police officer John Blake. His story of lost parents and foster homes, and his dogged detective skills, bring him and Bruce Wayne together, inextricably.
You want father figures? Bruce Wayne has three: Caine, misty-eyed and nagging; Oldman, somber and sallow (and always referring to "The Batman" - does he also say "The Facebook?"); and Morgan Freeman, back again as Wayne Enterprises CEO Lucius Fox, sage and sardonic.
You want pop-cult connections, zeitgeistian reverberations? With significant away-time somewhere in the Middle East - and with crowds of citizens rumbling up against the establishment - The Dark Knight Rises evokes images of the Arab Spring. Yes, the League of Shadows and Ra's al Ghul (Liam Neeson) - more business from Batman Begins - figure prominently here.
And Nolan, along with his screenwriting colleague, sibling Jonathan Nolan, literally storm Wall Street. The Occupiers in this case are the henchmen of arch-villain Bane (insert your Bain Capital joke here), and there are plenty of allusions to the 1-percenters and the 99. Even Wayne Enterprises has gone bust in this Great Recession.
The Dark Knight Rises' budget, however, shows no signs of decline. Production-wise, effects-wise, Nolan's movie - much of its big action sequences shot with Imax cameras - is spectacular. If the idea of sinister construction crews laying a network of underground explosives across an entire cityscape is far-fetched, the realization of that scheme on-screen - the detonations rippling seismically across a football stadium and freeway overpasses - is staggering.
The biggest problem with The Dark Knight Rises - and it's not a problem so much as a disappointment - is Tom Hardy's Bane. Muscled up, much of his face hidden by a black metallic mask that resembles a lobster's underbelly, the English actor has been robbed of his tools. He has his eyes to work with, but his mouth and face muscles are mostly concealed. And his voice is filtered through an octave-lowering wheezebox. Bane's menacing mumblings sound a lot like Darth Vader's - Darth Vader doing Sean Connery. After Heath Ledger's wild, heartbreaking performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight, Bane's mix of brawn and bad vibes seems generic.
Nolan has said he's done with the Dark Knight now; it's a Bat-wrap. But although The Dark Knight Rises ends in a furious finale of chaos, carnage, and cataclysm, the filmmaker has brought things to a satisfying closure.
And he has left his bosses at Warner Bros. with a big, wide window of opportunity to jump-start the franchise again.