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The Independent Critic

Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Marion Cotillard, and Morgan Freeman
Christopher Nolan
Bob Kane (Characters), Christopher Nolan (Story), David S. Goyer (Story), Jonathan Nolan (Screenplay)
Rated PG-13
164 Mins.
Warner Brothers Pictures

 "Dark Knight Rises" Review 
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On rare occasions, something special happens. The film gods all align themselves with the universe and manage to create a cinematic experience that is exactly what it needs to be. No, I'm not referring to The Dark Knight Rises as a god or even a film god but I am saying unequivocally that somehow Nolan seems to have a gift for creating cinematic experiences that make you believe in the mystical world of film even if not film gods themselves.

The Dark Knight Rises is not a perfect film, but it is the perfect film for what it needs to be. Anyone who has entered the Gotham universe is aware that this is Nolan and Bale's final journey through Batman's occasionally dark and extraordinary world. There may be those who hope this doesn't end up being true, because few directors and few actors have managed to so completely capture the essence of what it means to truly be a superhero with all its strengths and weaknesses, fearlessness and vulnerability, and hope and despair.

Again, The Dark Knight Rises is not a flawless film. The flaws, some intentional and some not, will prove to be distracting mostly for those who haven't already surrendered themselves to this extraordinary world with all heart and soul. For those who've truly surrendered to Nolan's unique and inspired vision for Batman's fleshly heroics, these flaws will be irrelevant to the soul of The Dark Knight Rises.

The film picks up eight years after the events contained within Nolan's almost undeniable masterpiece The Dark Knight, with an embittered and reclusive Batman and Bruce (Christian Bale) sent off into an essentially self-imposed exile following his suspected involvement in the demise of D.A. Harvey Dent in the previous film. In these eight years, Wayne has become a tattered version of himself as he grieves for a fiancee' and avoids anything resembling his former heroics.

However, he's called back into duty when a fusion device that he'd helped develop for more altruistic reasons is suddenly swiped and used for far more evil reasons by one seriously bad dude, Bane (Tom Hardy), whose opening scene in the film involves two airplanes and some serious badassery that will leave you bewildered both visually and in every other sense. Bane will likely bring to mind a bit of Hannibal Lecter given his mouth gear that largely hides his face and inhibits his expressiveness, but this evildoer is much closer to a full-on, balls to the wall Darth Vader incarnation with a whole lot more in the way of weapons, influence and special effects at his disposal.

Of course, we also know that The Dark Knight Rises marks the return of Catwoman (Anne Hathaway), who isn't really known as Catwoman here but when Selina Kyle prances onto the big screen it will be impossible to not know who she is even though Hathaway has stripped the character of her cartoonish nature in favor of a more humane, and occasionally humorous, presence that provides a not so subtle counterbalance to the all encompassing, hyper-menacing presence of Bane.

To deny The Dark Knight Rises is a social statement would be ludicrous, though certainly one can argue Nolan's success in communicating it. Bane is here to lead a rebellion of the 99%, and while Batman may very well perceive himself as for the common man he's also personified by Bruce Wayne, a multi-millionaire CEO and an altruistic member of the 1% who is still a member of the 1%. Bane has arrived on the scene with a plan, a plan seemingly dark if rebelliously noble to some, in that he plans to reverse the social order of Gotham in ways that seem both otherworldly yet frighteningly realistic.

Bane manages to almost simultaneously trap the vast majority of Gotham's police force in an underground tunnel, blow up a good portion of a football stadium and, in quite the dramatic fashion, announce his intention that Gotham will be handed over to those whose lives had previously depended largely upon hand-outs.

There are arguments galore to be had after watching The Dark Knight Rises, and with a complexity that rivals that of Nolan's Inception it is very much a film that commands repeated viewings in order to fully integrate all of its nuances, strands and hidden meanings. What is known is that this is one battle for Batman that depends upon more than merely his own strength, a strength that is questioned and severely tested early in the film. Batman will be forced to form alliances, some possessing tremendous ambiguity and some for whom there has never been any doubt.

He will be forced to align himself in some fragile sense with Ms. Kyle herself, a cat burglar whom he catches trying to pilfer his mother's necklace, along with his semi-romantic interest in the film, Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), a millionairess who helped fund the fusion reactor and with whom he holds a distant yet committed relationship. Of course, he can more depend upon the presence of his longtime supporters Alfred (Michael Caine), who admonishes Wayne for his long absence from community affairs, and his brilliant inventor Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman). Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman), now severely injured, will also prove to be a reliable alliance as will be a newcomer, a young cop (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) with a connection to Wayne that will prove to be crucial to the story.

The Dark Knight Rises is co-written by Nolan, his brother Jonathan and David S. Goyer with a complexity that far transcends that usually found in superhero films, though their attempts at political satire are decidedly hit-and-miss. The characters, however, are fully complex and richly developed with several of the actors doing exceptional work and Bale himself pulling off his finest work in the trilogy and quite possibly the best work of his already Oscar-winning career.

The voice of Batman, which has proven to be a distraction in Bale's performance for many, is far less of a distraction in this final film largely owing to Bale's finely nuanced work here and the many layers that The Dark Knight Rises adds to the character. Hathaway gives her best performance in quite some time as Selina Kyle, giving the film what modest lightness it has and yet never straying into cartoon character territory. Joseph Gordon-Levitt gives what may seem like one of the film's more ordinary performances yet he does so in quietly extraordinary fashion. Tom Hardy as Bane? Well, he won't make you forget Heath Ledger's stunning portrayal of The Joker yet he isn't really supposed to. Instead, Hardy is supposed to embody an over-the-top badness that is full-on here and absolutely unforgettable. Comparing his work to that of Ledger is pointless, because they are two different characters. Bane is quite good here and exactly the character that Bane needs to be.

There's much to be said for a film that manages to be impressive for both its scenes of awe-inspiring action and special effects along with its tremendously intimate and human scenes. Michael Caine, who has been known to phone in his performances in these paycheck films, is simply marvelous here and his scenes with Bale are almost achingly beautiful in the ways that they place stark humanity (No, not Tony Stark!) into a larger-than-life scenario. Similarly, Morgan Freeman again returns and adds a tremendous depth and purpose to his turn as Lucius.

To acknowledge the production team seems almost a given, with production designers Nathan Crowley and Kevin Kavanaugh creating Nolan's A Tale of Two Cities inspired city in extraordinary fashion, Wally Pfister lensing the film with depth and complexity that practically demands an IMAX viewing if it's available in your area, Lee Smith editing the film precisely and with an eye on both the dramatic and intimate moments, and Lindy Hemming's costuming leaving quite the impression (though I do question just a tad having Bane's headgear be so similar to that of Hannibal Lecter. It's only a momentary distraction, but it is an unnecessary distraction). Speaking of distractions, among the production aspects of the film only Hans Zimmer's original score modestly disappoints. The score is bombastic and overwhelming and not particularly nuanced, though it gets much, much better as the film progresses.

The Dark Knight Rises may not be a flawless film, but it feels like the perfect film to end the Nolan/Bale collaboration and this quite extraordinary trilogy. Were either Bale or Nolan to sell out and return to this universe, it would feel like a disappointment because this is the way their cinematic journey should end - with ample amounts of action, awe-inspiring visuals, tremendous heart, convincing conviction and a journey through good and evil both intellectually stimulating and compelling in all ways.

Editor's Note: As I was writing this review following a midnight screening on opening day, word came in of an attack on a movie theater at a similar midnight showing in Aurora, Colorado that had, at this critic's press time, taken 14 lives and injured 50. Fortunately, the man alleged to be responsible was captured. My thoughts and prayers are with those impacted by this tragedy.

Indeed, uncommon heroics are still needed in this world. May our own dark knights rise in creating a better world for all.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic