THE DARK KNIGHT RISES: A Retrospective by Joel Copling

Rating in Stars: ***½ (out of ****)
Cast: Christian Bale, Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Gary Oldman
Director: Christopher Nolan
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, some sensuality and language)
Running Time: 2:44
Release Date: 07/20/12

Settling somewhere in between the modesty of 2005’s Batman Begins and the grandiosity of 2008’s The Dark Knight in terms of quality (and only, it must said, quality, as the film is bigger and longer than both of its predecessors), The Dark Knight Rises is a beast of a movie–blustering and flawed but thrilling in its best moments. It is also a terrific act of returning the series to its roots conceptually, pitting the titular hero against a reincarnation of his foe from the first film and examining, like the first sequel, the consequences of Bruce Wayne’s shift from millionaire playboy to brooding (literally, in this film’s case) wearer of a cape and cowl that project his worst fear upon his enemies. The comfort of a formula that must bring him both to the only end that makes sense and, in a way, back to his own start means that this film is more ambitious but, perhaps, less impactful than its predecessor.

It’s been eight years since Gotham’s most prominent politician was, according to official reports, murdered by the Batman after a madman forever altered public perception of both men. Bruce (Christian Bale, conveying a sense of great sadness in what probably stands as the actor’s best work in the series), still stinging from the loss of the woman he loved to that madman’s evil machinations, is now once again a recluse–this time in the lavish Wayne Manor, from which rumors spread about why the man has locked himself away and outside of which, every year, the city’s finest (and its politicians) meet to celebrate the old district attorney’s life. Retirement from heroism does not suit Bruce, whose limp from an old knee injury has gotten worse and whose standing with Gotham’s elite has fallen since disappearing from public life.

Bruce has been avoiding a partnership with Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), a member of the city’s elite, on an energy project because of the potential for the fusion reactor to be turned into a weapon. His influence has caused petty criminals such Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), who wears cat ears as just one of her disguises while taking from the rich to give to the poor, to invoke a kind of anti-capitalist bent that makes it easier when our new villain raises his hand to place a foothold both in thinking the rich elite are corrupt and in arming the citizens of Gotham against the whole system. It’s the least subtle element of a screenplay (written by director Christopher Nolan and his brother Jonathan) that also relegates the above characters to being red herrings until one of them must be good and the other bad.

The Batman’s legacy has turned from one of reverence to one of hatred. Commissioner James Gordon (Gary Oldman) knows the truth about what happened to give the Batman such a reputation, but the guilt attached to it has fractured his own family in half. Even Bruce’s faithful servant Alfred (Michael Caine, who is excellent here) says enough is enough, knowing where the conversation will head, when the Batman is forced back into action, collaborating with Gordon behind the backs of a police force who want to see him incarcerated (with the exception of a beat cop played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt who figures out the truth through inference and implication) and being supplied with gadgets and a flying, bat-shaped vehicle by Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman).

This is a Gotham still rebuilding itself from a madman’s influence, and then another one appears. He is Bane (Tom Hardy), a cross between a pro wrestler in brutish features (His and the Batman’s throwdown fights are staged by Nolan in a way that lessens Hans Zimmer’s throbbing score and times Lee Smith’s editing to the punches and headbutts) and English royalty in lilting cadence (Hardy is commanding as he spouts of dialogue that might have come from Shakespeare), who shares an employment history with Bruce and a desire to rise from the shadows and continue his forebear’s work. He swiftly and brutally sweeps in, takes over Gotham with about as clear-cut and effective an order as probable to outside forces not to intervene, and sets up a dictatorial regime under the guise of a freeloading society with no rules. If the previous film’s villain was engaged in a battle for Gotham’s soul, this is a battle for the morsels that were left.

In addition to the bold, blunt lines used to draw the characters, the film suffers from pacing problems (The film rushes through a three-month period by way of montage, followed by a jump nearly an entire month more at the expense of the internal tension of a countdown clock) and contrivances (Bruce and Miranda enjoy a one-night stand just so a late-film revelation can have a flimsy, extra layer of stakes applied to it). But in the bigger picture of a movie that has the gall to approach perhaps a permanent end to the Batman legend, these are small quibbles. The Dark Knight Rises, which also features a denouement that could not have been played more perfectly, is also stirring, potent stuff.

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