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The Dark Knight Rises

Director Christopher Nolan completes his Batman franchise film trilogy, and we find Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) living a recluse in 'stately Wayne Manor' -- where he has remained for the past eight years. He hobbles about on a cane, and guests to the various Wayne Family charity balls snigger that 'Wayne probably has eight-inch long fingernails and is filling jars with his own urine, like Howard Hughes!"

Bruce's faithful butler Alfred (the inimitible Michael Caine, whose accent is still hard to place) is glad Master Bruce has managed to 'stay out of that awful cave.' -- but he's constantly trying to get him back out into the world.

The world forces itself upon Bruce in the form of a terrorist named Bane (biceps provided by Tom Hardy) who wears a scary-looking mouthpiece, kills people, all while sounding like the narrator for 'Masterpiece Theater'. As usual, Batman wildly underestimates his nemesis, and pays the price.

As trilogies go, I would say that no trilogy truly works unless all the parts mesh well. Three movies focusing on a single dramatic character do not a trilogy make! No, there must be a narrative arc that flows through all three movies, and it must be fulfilling.

Oh, and fun, too.

Nolan did it.

The Dark Knight Rises takes its titular character through a Greek tragedy -- from the creation of the iconography, the symbolism in the first film, when the hero finds his footing, to the second film in which the hero falls -- hard. That's the classic second act -- when all looks hopeless.

The third act of any trilogy is about the hero(es) finally triumphing over their troubles. Nolan delivers on that score, but manages to smash Batman even further into the muck before allowing him to 'Rise'. Nolan's good at mixing heady themes into his work. The second film of the trilogy was shockingly topical, showing how terroristic villains like The Joker had horrifyingly nihilistic, existential goals. When the Batman has the Joker pinned against a wall, and, under a flurry of fists from the hero, laughs and says, "You have nothing to threaten me with... with all your strength!" I could not help but picture America's 'War on Terror'. Sure, we could set nations on fire with nuclear weapons, but our foe would delight in that, not be quieted or stopped.

This time around, Nolan presents Batman with Bane, a villain who wants to destroy Gotham and is passionate and powerful enough to do so. Batman is back in the game, but he is too dispassionate to win. He might have the fancy tools, and the skills, but does he have the will to win?

The supporting actors are all great, without exception. Anna Hathaway is great as Selina Kyle -- and no, she's never referred to as 'Catwoman'. She's just a cat burglar with an interest in Bruce Wayne. Her night-vision goggles, when cocked up onto her brow do give the appearance of cat's ears, however. And her slinky, black, pneumatic vinyl outfit doesn't hurt either. (Kate Beckinsdale from Underworld wants her outfit back.) Hathaway pulls off the character very well, managing to be more than just eye candy. (She looks great arched over the top of the Bat Cycle, however). It's a little hard to believe she can punch full-grown, steroid-abusing men with her tiny weeny little fists with enough force to knock them out cold, but hey, it's a comic book movie.

Bale is great as a beaten down Batman. Bale nails that tired, world-weary look without looking like a sad sack. Morgan Freeman is ... well, he's Morgan Freeman as Batman's version of 'Q' from the Bond films. He's got some new toys for Batman, otherwise why even be in the film?

The villain is interesting because of the political attitudes he suggests. There's a Tammany Hall feel to Tom Hardy's performance as Bane. When the villain takes over control of Gotham he all but gives the city to the '99%'! He never says that -- I have to be clear -- but he might as well as have said it because that's what he does. Bane's version of Gotham City is what New York City would look like if the Occupy Wall Street cretins had their way. When he makes pronouncements to the people of Gotham he holds his fists against his chest, as though pantomiming holding onto his suspender straps. He's Boss Tweed with a Cthulhu-mask!

Bane's most off-putting characteristic as a villain is his diction. His every gesture (Hardy deserves some praise here as Bane's mask doesn't leave him much room to use his face to act) telgraphs a demagogic Hell's Angel biker, but his voice is so urbane and cultured the mix is jarring. He's a perfect distillation of the American Progressive -- very intelligent, well-educated, but still just a demagogue. Nothing he says to the people is true, except so far as it furthers his own evil ends. The mob is just his tool.

Is Bane as cool a villain as The Joker? No. But he's cool in his own right.

In the ensuing mayhem one of Selina Kyle's friends (also a thief) remarks, "This is great! This is what we always wanted." Selina shrugs. "C'mon! This used to belong to just one person, now it belongs to everyone!" The pair are in a burned out townhouse, yay for the 99%! Nolan's undercurrent of the wages of class warfare are ironic considering that the Obama administration has been trying to make political hay from the homonymic similarities of the villain named 'Bane' and 'Bain Capital', Romney's former business.

Nolan's attempt to raise Batman from comic books to the level of a Greek tragedy is a little bit creaky in parts. Said creakiness is most evident in a scene in which the entire Gotham police department rallies in the streets to face down the villain's occupationist army, and the roles are reversed. The occupiers use bullhorns to tell the police (in their dress blues) to 'Disperse. Disperse.'

Ah, I see what you did there Nolan... very clever.

It gets worse. The Police and the Occupiers then rush at each other, screaming. I really did expect to see Mel Gibson as an extra, with blue face paint and a giant broadsword trailing behind him. That's not even really fair to Braveheart, in which the scene made some historical sense. Here it makes no sense. Cut to a shot of the police running, screaming. "Augh!!!!" Then cut to the Occupiers running and screaming. "Augh!!!" And then they clash in the middle and it all devolves into a good ol' Hal Needham-style brawlfest.

Batman even joins the street fight, in full daylight. Weird seeing him in daylight, but whatever. As an action movie, Rises works. It's entertaining, fast moving (important for a movie that's over two hours) and is dramatic. As a final installment of Nolan's Batman trilogy, it satisfies. Nolan leaves himself room for more films in the future, but Bale's cooperation wouldn't be a requirement. Nolan not only concludes the story, he leaves audiences wanting more. Batman goes out on top. Well played Nolan.

Movie Rating: 
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