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The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

| July 22, 2012 | 0 Comments

One of the pleasures of The Dark Knight Rises, the third and final leg in director Christopher Nolan’s trilogy, is the way in which he wraps his story back around, connecting it firmly with the origin story told seven years ago in Batman Begins and brings the series to a satisfying conclusion.  It is a reminder of how few sequels forget their origins.  Second sequels are almost always creative voids, built for profit, not cinema.  This is the rare exception.

The Dark Knight Rises is not a perfect film, but it delves more deeply and more thoughtfully into the Batman legend than anyone else might have ever dared.   What was told in Batman Begins was the story of a wounded soul whose training and legacy forced him to create a persona that allowed him to be a dark avenger to those who needed him.  Nolan allows us to understand that it is also a personal prison, something he is destined to do for the remainder of his life.  The Dark Knight Rises questions the need for that persona in an age of global terrorism and high-tech. What then is the need for a two-fisted dark knight?

Along with that, the movie also provides Batman, at last, with a villain that is every bit his equal, not just in strength but in intelligence.  Bane is not the most charismatic of Batman’s long roster of villains but he is the best to match him, both in the muscles and in the mind.  He is also bright enough to have a plight that actually means something.  Thomas Hardy plays Bane with an unexpectedly erudite charm, even if his voice comes through a metal mask that makes him sound like a malfunctioning P.A. system.

The movie opens eight years after the events of The Dark Knight and finds that Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has effectively retired the batsuit and is living like in Howard Hughes-like seclusion.  He is so out of touch that he isn’t even aware that Wayne Enterprises is failing.  The cops now control the streets and Batman’s name has been sullied as he is believed to be responsible for the death of the much-revered Harvey Dent.  Within the caverns of Wayne manor sits the sulking Wayne, bearded, robed and hobbling on a cane.

His lethargy is broken, however, by the threat of a new team of terrorists who have landed in Gotham City.  They are led by Bane, a hulking brute wearing a piranha-style metal mask.  His intentions for Gotham City are no less than a full-scale revolution.  He wants a city cut off from the outside world with no law enforcement where anarchy becomes the law of the land.  To hold the citizen hostage, Bane’s team high-jacks a device with the power to blow the city eight ways from Sunday.  From the beginning, Bane’s plan is being set into motion even when we aren’t positive what he’s up to.

The motives of the characters make up the action, which are displayed in two grand set pieces that have real-life implications.  One is a raid on the Stock Exchange; the other is the destruction of a football field. It is upon these two events that Bane builds his revolution – destroying the two great pagan gods of modern times: money and sports.

Bruce brings the suit out of mothballs only to find that Bane is his equal in every way.  He is not only powerfully strong but also clever and devious.  There is also a connection between Bruce and Bane that will not be revealed here.  What Bane does to Bruce physically gets him out of the way, far from the borders of Gotham City into a cavern beneath the earth where he can suffer while watching his city burn.  His only hope for escape is to scale the walls of a strange, ancient well.  That’s not easy to do with a body that has been beaten to a pulp.

On the sidelines, Bruce has formed an uneasy alliance with a cat burglar named Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) whose motives are always in question.  Hathaway allows no sympathy into her performance.  She makes Kyle self-serving, conniving and distant.  There is never a moment when we can trust her. Her loyalty to Bruce wavers back and forth with only a very, very faint wisps of romance – more is not needed

What has always been a constant in this series is the way in which Nolan allows time and placement in for interesting characters who don’t even wear masks.  Around the edges of the film is a do-gooder cop named Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who seems to share Batman’s gift for deduction, and Commissioner Gordon who is haunted by a decision he made in the previous film that is revealed here.  Also, there is a serious theme of regret and redemption on the part of Alfred, Bruce’s butler and surrogate father.  The subplot involving Alfred’s regret over Bruce’s decision to reclaim the bat suit is really very touching.

Nolan is a great storyteller.  His films are always intelligent, always providing action at the service of a story that is worth our time.  The Dark Knight Rises is the least of the three Batman films, it takes a very long time getting set up and there are some characters and events that probably could have been excised to make the film leaner.  But it is hard to complain in a film that digs so deeply into the origins and meaning what a superhero is and what he means to a society in modern times.  That is why it is best for Christopher Nolan to stop here with his Batman series.  He has said everything that needed to say about Batman and what he has left, in the era rabid for superhero movies, is a model for other filmmakers to follow.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.