The Dark Knight Rises opens with a breathtaking midair sequence you could only liken to inter-aircraft parkour. An aerial kidnapping scene grows in leaps and bounds, literally, instilling shock and awe right off the top, as any great action movie should. It’s sensational and it’s where we meet one of the greatest villains in superhero movie history.
Eight years after Batman took responsibility for Harvey Dent’s crimes against the city of Gotham, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is deteriorating physically and emotionally in his beautifully appointed mansion, waited upon by his faithful man Alfred (Michael Caine).
He has no purpose. The city is apparently crime free, his name is ruined and he lives in deep despair – shades of an earlier Batman. Alfred encourages him to find his happiness beyond his past, maybe get married and settle down, but it falls on deaf ears.
But the city is in trouble, mysterious evil forces are rising up and Batman must rise to the challenge. Leading the charge against freedom is Bane (Tom Hardy) - a great villain with the ability to impose himself physically and psychologically upon his opponents. We discover he was born and grew up in a notorious pit prison in South America. He wears a mask that desensitizes his face following several botched surgeries; he has iron will and he doesn’t care for human life. He is the most dangerous psycho there is.
If you think a steel cage fight between Bane and Batman would be interesting, you’re right. Theirs is a match made in cinematic heaven between two super powers, one young and driven by evil passion, the other an ageing, remote tarnished hero who wants to help once again.
Bale does a great job pulling together Batman’s established dark soul, will to preserve peace for the citizens and squash evil doers. Watch for him actually rising, it’s an incredible sequence. His inner darkness and sickness of the soul reduces him before his elegant comeback organically and profoundly.
Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman has fresh angles. She is involved in a very close friendship with Holly (Juno Temple) so her relationship with Batman, although complex, looks platonic. She is a Robin Hood, stealing from the wealthy to give to the poor and disenfranchised of Gotham City. She’s noble, sharp and somewhat jaded, and simmers with some unnamed issues. She is all about equality in social justice, wealth and the fight for freedom.
This is serious stuff; there are no laughs or light touches. Nolan takes Batman to the dark side, a place of operatic drama and pain and history. It is deadly serious, in keeping with the political and social upheaval that are rising up again in Gotham, reminding us these things in our own existence today. This film wasn’t made for kids, it is adult in its issues and its sophistication will find its best home with adults who grew up with the series.
Speaking of which, Batman by now bears no resemblance to the earliest filmed portrayals. The campy Socko! Pow! Good golly-ness of the TV series is in the past, thank God. There are no jokes and there is no Joker.
Nolan has traded all that for complex storylines and psychology, and a dash of real world politics – the Occupy movement, an attack on the stock exchange, a football game that sets the stage for the battle of good versus evil, an underground city, sleek new wheels to drive, and loaded it with action and eye popping effects.
He has raised the series to its zenith and completed the job. Even so, further outings are suggested, maybe not for him, but for someone. Nolan’s a tough act to follow.
For a film that clocks in at nearly three hours, there is never a dull moment, the pacing is supple. It engages us emotionally as few super hero films have since 2008’s The Dark Knight. Some viewers may admit to shedding a tear or two, this reviewer does.
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Action adventure sci fi
Written by Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan, David S. Goyer based on Bob Kane’s comic book
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Opens July 20
Runtime: 164 minutes
MPAA: PG 13