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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, July 20 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 29
Bye-bye, Batman: Third and final Dark Knight rises & just not to the top
Arts & Entertainment
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Bye-bye, Batman: Third and final Dark Knight rises & just not to the top

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

THE DARK KNIGHT RISES
Opens July 20


It's been eight years since Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) took the fall for Harvey Dent's crimes, disappearing into the ether marked as a coward and a murderer. In that time, Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) has become Gotham City's police commissioner, cleaning up the streets and enhancing the laws to put potential threats behind bars. There is peace. There is tranquility. And by and large, at least on the surface, all seems to be just fine.

But that's on the surface. Bubbling beneath the calm is a storm, the least threatening aspect of which is the feline feminine wiles of renowned cat burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway). She was hired to break into Wayne Manor and steal something personal to its secluded inhabitant - the reason why was not her concern. Besides, when a masked marauder like Bane (Tom Hardy) asks you to do something you don't say no - the man a walking-talking beast comparable to the mythological Titans of ancient Greece.

Kyle's visit to Bruce's home has an unexpected side effect, however: the once-upon-a-time superhero gets a kinetic charge from her appearance, reawakening him to the responsibilities he for a variety of personal reasons let fall by the wayside. It soon comes to his attention that Wayne Industries is on the verge of bankruptcy and, at the urging of trusted butler Alfred (Michael Caine) and company CEO (and chief scientist) Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), he turns control of the firm over to wealthy environmental philanthropist Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard).

Yet it is the presence of Bane that is cause for the most concern. This man, this monster - there is something beyond dangerous about him, something even Batman might not be able to stop. But stop him he must, and even if the city is one the verge of tearing itself to pieces - and is maybe not even worth saving in the first place - it is up to Bruce to do just that, even if it costs him his life.

As long and as rambling as that synopsis is, it only skirts the surface of director Christopher Nolan's sprawling, highly ambitious culmination of his Batman trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises. There are more characters and more subplots than you can shake a Batarang at - everything showcased on a grandly operatic scale more akin to The Godfather or Gone With the Wind than to your average superhero adventure.

This isn't a happy endeavor. It revels in the dirty underbelly of the cynical here and now, and the filmmaker has pulled out all the stops in bringing his vision of Bob Kane's iconic character to life. Parallels to Occupy Wall Street, the Tea Party, and other current political and social realities abound, and while there is light at the end of the tunnel it's not exactly shining brightly.

All of which is great, and it goes without saying that Nolan, once again crafting the story and script with brother Jonathan and frequent collaborator David S. Goyer, stages sights of chaos, action, and drama unlike anything else were are likely to see this year. With over an hour of IMAX footage, this nearly three-hour opus is eye-popping, a continual visual marvel shot once again to perfection by Wally Pfister and magnificently scored by Hans Zimmer. There are moments that defy description - scenes of such intensity I was propelled right to the edge of my seat, the whole thing a superlatively constructed thrill ride engineered to excite the mind every bit as much as it does the senses.

This makes it all the more distressing, then, to have to admit I was slightly disappointed by this final aria in Nolan's trilogy. The opening hour is filled with narrative shorthand, its sequences playing like brief vignettes that sadly do not tie into one another with much success. It feels a bit clunky, almost unfinished, and I kept waiting for the filmmaker to hit the same dynamic cinematic strides that were on vigorous display in previous efforts like The Prestige, Inception, and, of course, The Dark Knight.

Worse than this, however, is the fact that Bane just isn't as magnetic or as scary as a villain as he needs to be. His motives are murky at best, nondescript and rather pointless at worst, and when his true designs are revealed there is a perfunctory simplicity to it all that makes all the grand histrionics a bit silly. Moreover, as physically impressive Hardy is in the role (and, trust me, 'impressive' is an understatement), the simple truth is that his sadomasochistic face mask becomes a problem, dramatically undermining each word, each expression, and each nuance as the film progresses.

Still, The Dark Knight Rises isn't close to being a disaster. Caine is extraordinary, bringing a depth of feeling to Alfred that's surprisingly unsettling. Hathaway, somewhat shockingly, comes close to stealing her scenes, and while she doesn't erase the memory of Michelle Pfeiffer, she does manage to make Selina Kyle every inch her own. Best of all is Joseph Gordon-Levitt as newbie Gotham detective John Blake, and with so much of the movie focusing upon him and his journey, the actor proves himself up to the task of embodying Nolan's 'everyman' mantle.

Additionally, the final hour is a kinetic whirlwind of Shakespearian tragedy or Puccini opera. While the surprises aren't exactly shocking, the way Nolan unveils them is - everything leading to a denouement that's hardly heartwarming. He elevates proceedings to a war-torn revolution of body, mind, and soul, forcing the viewer to ask questions about themselves and their neighbors that are hardly comforting. It's majestic and ethereal, carnal and savage, building to a rampage of violence and sacrifice no other comic-book feature has attempted.

Nolan has said in interviews that part of his inspiration for The Dark Knight Rises was Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities, and the comparisons are obvious. While I'm disappointed in numerous facets of this last chapter, and while I can't say all of it worked quite as well as I'd hoped it would, the movie does make for a brave, undeniably gutsy finale. While on its own it will never be regarded in the same stratospheric heights as Dickens' timeless literary opus, as a cinematic trilogy it's hard not to think Nolan has managed a feat that many will be debating, discussing, and dissecting for decades to come.

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