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Well folks, the most highly anticipated summer blockbuster of the year is finally here. The Dark Knight Rises, the final chapter of Christopher Nolan’s epic and reality-based take on arguably the greatest superhero of all time is finally out in theaters. Though it will be tough knowing that there will not be a new Batman film for a while, we should be happy that what we have is so good. I mean these Batman movies are probably more than we ever could have asked for. Especially after *shudder* the utter mess that Joel Schumacher made of the franchise in the 90's... But let's forget about that for now, on with the review!
The Dark Knight Rises begins eight years after Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) let Batman take the blame for Harvey Dent’s death. As a result the city passed the Harvey Dent Act which has locked up all of the mobsters without parole. Gotham seems to finally be clean leaving Commissioner Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) as more a figurehead than anything else. In the absence of any crime and in the shadow of Rachel Dawes’s (Maggie Gyllenhaal) death, Wayne has also diminished, locking himself in his manor and becoming a limping recluse nursing his injuries. Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine) is forced to look on with grief, hoping that Wayne will emerge and move on.
Bale is once again stellar in the role of Bruce Wayne/Batman. He’s still charismatic, flawed, human, and badass all at the same time. He also convincing as the obsessive Bruce Wayne, the one who will stop at nothing to save his city even if it means his own health. Michael Caine’s performance is also wonderful as he puts on another acting master class.
Meanwhile the enigmatic Bane (Tom Hardy), the most physically imposing of all of Batman’s rogues gallery, is busy organizing a massive terrorist attack on the entire city of Gotham. He aims to complete the plans of the deceased Ra’s Al Ghul (Liam Neeson) by creating organized chaos while also unleashing a fusion bomb that will eventually wipe the city from the face of the Earth.
Hardy’s performance as Bane is fantastic. Though he wears that crazy mask for the entire movie, he is almost as threatening as Heath Ledger’s Joker and every bit as physically intimidating as he is in the comics. A lot of it has to do with Hardy’s imposing figure and the self-assured way that he carries himself. Hardy’s voice is also fantastic, they fixed the clarity issues and he comes across like some sort of ringmaster or showman; like he’s orchestrating some kind of insane murder circus.
There is also no issue of trying to live up to the Joker. Bane is simply another formidable villain Batman must defeat. They both have their own strengths. Where the Joker is an agent of anarchy and chaos that manipulates people, Bane is an unbreakable force of physicality that relies on brute strength and quickness to fight Batman. Both villains attack him emotionally however and are very much equally menacing in that regard.
Also in the mix is the very capable Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), a master thief who is in trouble with some powerful people tied to Bane. In order to get out of it they force her to steal something from Bruce Wayne.
This is the best iteration of Catwoman to hit the silver screen yet. She’s strong, sexy, and smart, the kind of heroine that you might find in a Joss Whedon project. She doesn’t take crap from the men who try to walk all over her and that’s awesome. Hathaway also does a brilliant job of vamping just enough to evoke the spirit of the character without ever becoming campy or ridiculous.
Bale and Hathaway’s chemistry is also great. The two of them have a lot of fun interactions both in costume and out that recall the best of their characters interactions in the comics. Unfortunately the rest of the film gets in the way of letting their relationship establish a lot of depth. There’s just too much going on at the end of the day.
Other new characters include Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) a businesswoman who is trying to help Wayne and Luscious Fox (Morgan Freeman) bring Wayne Enterprises out of a troubled financial situation, and John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) a young rookie cop who is quickly promoted to detective by Commissioner Gordon. JGL gets more screen time than Cotillard but both are fine in their roles.
Of course none of this would be possible without the sure hand of director Christopher Nolan or the script he and his brother Jonathan Nolan wrote. Like he did in The Dark Knight, Nolan establishes tension and dread expertly when Bane is threatening the city or beating the crap out of Batman. It’s not as scary as it was with the Joker, but there is still a sense of foreboding that permeates the movie, especially when Batman both literally and figuratively hits rock bottom. The dramatic scenes are also handled very well, as expected.
Nolan has also come a long way with his action scenes. No I’m not being blasphemous. If you watch Batman Begins it’s evident that he had a problem with showing or even staging action well when it came to any sort of hand to hand combat. In this film there are plenty of well shot fight scenes including a couple bone crunching bouts between Bane and the Caped Crusader. The vehicle scenes are also suitably epic, being taken to new heights literally with “The Bat,” Batman’s new aerial vehicle. It’s probably the coolest vehicle in any Batman movie ever.
The Dark Knight Rises is also a beautifully shot film. Whether it’s a dramatic moment or a huge action sequence, Nolan and cinematographer Wally Pfister deliver shot after shot of cinematic gold.
Bane’s introduction at the beginning of the film is a perfect example of the technical wizardry behind the camera. This aerial heist/abduction will certainly go down as one of the most remarkable action scenes of all time. The stunt work and camera placement is just amazing, especially considering the fact that IMAX cameras were used to film it. Because of the large film size, the cameras are very heavy and very obtrusive.
The only major issue I have with the film is some of the sluggish pacing and long stretches without seeing Wayne in the costume. It takes about 40 minutes before we finally see Batman. Later he is absent for another hour or so before finally suiting up for the finale. This section of the film drags noticeably. For someone like me who is a major Bat-fan it was not a huge deal, but the average moviegoer may be a little less forgiving. The good news is after that sluggish part the film ramps up and delivers on every level, including tying up the loose ends (minus the Joker who is never once mentioned).
The Dark Knight Rises is an excellent bookend to the series and yet another fantastic addition to the Batman franchise. Not only does it feature some wonderful performances from the cast, stellar direction from Nolan, and great cinematography, but it also pays off the events of the first film in a compelling and intriguing way. This is the droids we were looking for. 4 out of 5 stars.
The Dark Knight Rises is currently playing at the Esquire IMAX theater on K Street in Downtown Sacramento.