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The Dark Knight Rises

THE DARK KNIGHT RISES

3 ˝ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Christopher Nolan

Cast: Christian Bale, Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Gary Oldman, Marion Cotillard, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, some sensuality and language)

Running Time: 2:44

Release Date: 7/20/12


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Review by Mark Dujsik | July 18, 2012

Bigger is not necessarily always better, but in some cases, like that of The Dark Knight Rises, it is more than enough. After witnessing the origin of the Batman from a psychological perspective in Batman Begins and how the existence of that masked hero affected Gotham City in The Dark Knight, it only makes sense that the past would catch up with the Batman and his alter ego in the final entry in co-writer/director Christopher Nolan's trilogy. Even his primary nemesis this time around is something of a reincarnation of his first one.

The film has a scope even more expansive than its predecessor, taking us from the ever-solitary halls of Wayne Manor to a pit of a prison that has the nickname "Hell on Earth"—from a massive revolution on the streets of Gotham to moments of inner turmoil for Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), who finally has a life outside of the suit for the first time since he donned it. The quality of that life, of course, is not too great, since, as his ever-faithful friend and butler Alfred (Michael Caine) points out, he's only waiting for a time that he might be able to wear it again.

Eight years after the events of the last film, Gotham has forgotten the Batman, except to come together annually to pay tribute to a man everyone believes the man in the cape and cowl betrayed and murdered in cold blood. They don't want or need him anymore, as the death of that prominent politician brought about new legislation that tightened the grip on the mob. Police Commissioner Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) knows the truth of the death of the district attorney who went mad with rage, killing several people and attempting to kill Gordon's son, but he's had to stay quiet about it to protect social order.

Bruce is now a recluse with a Howard Hughes-like reputation. Isolated in one of the wings of his mansion, he has done nothing for eight years. His company is struggling financially; its charity work is drying up as a result. He refuses to continue a clean energy project with fellow entrepreneur Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) for fear that the device could be turned into a weapon if the technology ever got into the wrong hands. Miranda insists that, if he wants to truly help the world, he will have to start trusting it. Bruce knows all too well about the wrong hands to take her advice.

Much of our investment in this world and the characters within it relies on the previous installments. Perhaps most notable in that regard is Alfred, whose never-ending argument to the man who is both his boss and, in a way, his ward finally comes to a head. Alfred has always been the voice of reason in these films, although that voice has typically been restrained by a sense of humor. He can only go so far in guiding Bruce toward some kind of normal life, but, here, he would rather be the target of Bruce's hatred than an attendee at his funeral, which is the only outcome Alfred can see (Caine, playing a surrogate father of sorts in the former films, is heartbreaking in this one as Alfred decides to take the route of tough love, knowing exactly how the argument will end).

This is a broken Bruce Wayne in body and spirit. He hobbles through the halls of Wayne Manor with a cane. A doctor says that his cartilage has deteriorated and that scar tissue covers his body and internal organs. He has nothing to live for after the death of the woman he loved. The false memory of her feelings for him means he must always be prepared to be the Batman, even when he's not needed or wanted.

Eventually, the time comes. Another man in a mask, a hulking figure named Bane (Tom Hardy), has come to Gotham with plans for the city's destruction, urged on by no less than the philosophy of maintaining order by any means necessary that was espoused by Bruce's first mentor. Bane is himself a legend in certain circles. No one knows his identity, though rumors have it that he was born and raised in a prison. He wears a mask that constantly feeds him drugs to quell the agonizing pain in which he would otherwise be. Screenwriters Christopher and Jonathan Nolan take some time in flashbacks to flesh out some of Bane's story.

The moral ambiguity of characters that was the hallmark of the film's predecessors is significantly lessened here. While Bane's motivations come into focus late in the film to offer a surprisingly sympathetic perspective, he is otherwise a brute with a diabolical plan. The Batman is the target of police when he reappears because of what transpired eight years prior (This leads to an impressively staged chase sequence in which the Batman must outsmart an entire police precinct), but his usefulness to Gotham is no longer a question. Gordon's decision on that fateful night haunts him, but he's left with nothing to do until the third act.

A young, idealistic officer named Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who figured out Bruce's secret years ago by simply sharing some things in common with him (an orphan with a deep-seated anger and an ability to hide it), grows more heroic as events unfold. The introduction of Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), who dresses like a cat to rob the wealthy while thinking herself to be like Robin Hood, offers some uncertainty into the mix, but her repeated changes of allegiance are more a contrivance of the script than her actual growth as a character. A few other cheap gimmicks—a bomb with a convenient countdown clock, a last-act revelation, and how, in the midst of a massive street battle, everyone silently agrees to let the men in costumes fight on their own—are present here, as well.

This is to say that the film does not live up to the lofty heights of its predecessors on its own terms. Still, because of the previous two films, The Dark Knight Rises is a richer experience. It is not its own entity but a culmination of Nolan's commitment to and achievement of this defining vision of the Batman myth.

Copyright © 2012 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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