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Ten Word or Less Review : Rise indeed Bat fans.

I’ve been making a joke about The Dark Knight Rises for a while that goes something like this.  After the relentlessly serious events of The Dark Knight, in which the good guys take a Empire Strikes Back level psychological pounding at the hands of a face painted freak with greasy green hair, I figured director Christopher Nolan should find an angle to make his story a little less dire and stressful on everyone for his final go around with Batman.  I thought he should tear a page out of the George Lucas playbook, something rarely recommended, and have Batman fall into the sewers of Gotham, broken and beaten by a buff Bane, then emerge with an army of fuzzy teddy bear people to fight and reclaim a fallen Gotham City.  While Nolan does in fact utilize a subterranean army that rises up to fight with Batman during its epic finale, it is not of the stick and stone wielding, teddy bear variety.  The lost plush toy revenues are palpable.  None the less, Nolan has essentially made his Bat series equivalent of Return of the Jedi.  Like Jedi, The Dark Knight Rises finishes off his trilogy in rousing and entertaining style.  It’s engaging and well performed if not quite the equal of its gut punch of a predecessor.

The Dark Knight ended with Batman speeding off into the night, a hunted man on the lamb for the murder of cops and criminals a like, as well as the insane and freshly demented Harvey Dent.  Rises picks up 8 years after that catastrophic night.  Bruce Wayne is now a reclusive hermit walking with a cane, no cartlidge left in his knees, lamenting the loss of his murdered love Rachel Dawes.  Batman hasn’t been seen since the night Dent perished and Gotham is a place of surprising calm that celebrates Dent as a fallen icon of unwavering justice.  In Dent’s death the city finally galvanized itself into putting an end to mob criminality once and for all.  The tranquility though is about to end.  League of Shadows baddie Bane is out to finish the work Ra’s Al Ghul (Liam Neeson) started in Batman Begins.  With a plan which can only be described politely as insanely convoluted, Bane plans to send Gotham into anarchy, make Bruce Wayne powerlessly watch it all happen, then nuke the city when he’s finished.  The Dark Knight Rises tumbles in all kinds of directions as it feverishly works to build its story to a fever pitch.  And if Inception weren’t proof enough, Nolan aims for the kind of prolonged, dizzying climax no other director working today can pull off with such force and tension.

Nolan has always been a touch cavalier in his presentation of comic books most brooding icon.  The man clearly doesn’t obsess over the minutia that comes with the territory as much as give it a passing nod and then go his own way.  He respects the history of the character but he’s refused to be tied down to dogmatic details.  I doubt Nolan would ever sit around and argue the finer points of organic vs. mechanical webslingers that always get Spider-Man fans in a fuss.  As he did with his first two efforts, Nolan has Frankensteined The Dark Knight Rises out of unrelated Batman stories, thrown in ideas of his and his writers own devising, and formed a huge canvas with which to paint this gargantuan effort.  And while it is clearly silly as Hell, the police force spends how long trapped underground?, Nolan won’t let you dwell on it.  He’s too busy charging his story ahead with such speed and determination that whatever giant gaps in logic or story exist don’t really matter to the viewer.  It’s the larger picture the viewer is wrapped up in and because of his unwavering determination, Nolan avoids the third picture comic book movie curse (Superman 3, Spider-man 3, X-Men 3).  Even at a eye popping 2 hours and 40 minutes the movie zooms by like an ice skater on grease and even feels skimpy in places.

Working in Nolan’s favor from the get go has been his ability to cast these films with well selected, top tier talent.  At this point Christian Bale can easily lay claim to being the definitive screen Batman.  Because of his off screen temper he may be seen as a prick to many, but he’ll be Batman long after the verbal tirades on youtube are forgotten.  He easily overshadows the poor fellows (Keaton, Kilmer, Clooney) saddled with the thankless task of donning cap and cowl for the previous, Burton era Bat efforts.  Bale’s Bruce Wayne is a suitably noble and tragic figure, but without being sanctimonious or dull.  Like James Bond, there will be other Batmen in the not so distant future but they will be sized up against Bale no matter what.  May we all pray no Roger Moore lies in wait to his Sean Connery.

The rest of Rises cast is a pleasant mixture of old and new faces.  Anne Hathaway surprises a skeptical public as Selina Kyle.  I feel wrong calling her Catwoman because the movie never addresses her as such, though she clearly is.  A nice, subtle touch to be sure.  She and Bale have a charming give and take which lends the movie a slyness it’s predecessors occasionally showed, but never between Wayne and the deceased Rachel Dawes.  Theirs was a gloomy and doomed relationship.  The only drawback is that the film is often too busy to give Hathaway adequate screen time.  Her presence is welcomed and rewarding, but feels fleeting all the same.  You could say the same of many in this film.  Joseph Gordon-Leavitt also puts out a great deal of effort as a Gotham cop trying to make sense of Bane’s plan, as well as inspire Wayne to put on his cowl one more time.  For once it’s a shame a comic movie series won’t continue as Gordon-Leavitt would make a great anchor for future Bat flicks.  Nolan even dust off Matthew Modine and makes him act to decent effect.  A Herculean task for any filmmaker.  Series regulars Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman and especially Michael Caine all still bring the class and credibility to the roles they have worked well to define as their own.  Caine in particular tries to illicit a tear or two and cold is the heart that doesn’t give it up.

Not so completely successful is Thomas Hardy as the bulked up and malevolent Bane.  It’s no fault of Hardy’s to be sure.  He’s acting behind a gas mask for the duration of the film and his much discussed voice looks to have never been fully figured out.  After teaser previews left audiences wondering what the Hell he was garbling about, Bane’s voice now sounds as if its being overly dubbed and scrubbed clean to a fault, as well as projected from another room.  Not helping matters is the odd tone of voice Hardy uses.  If people insist on giving Bale grief for his throat cancer victim Batman voice, I’m not sure what you’d peg Hardy’s verbal choice as.  Sinister, British gent?  I kept expecting him to destroy Gotham and then serve tea to its chard ruins.  It takes a few scenes to get used to the verbal snafu Rises makers have made for themselves in this respect.  But beyond the nature of his voice Bane simply has the misfortune to follow on the heels of Ledger’s legendary turn as Joker.  Following up such a performance piece of maniacal energy is truly thankless so it comes as no shock that Bane is hardly more than a run of the mill Bat villain.  As the movie reaches its fevered finale Bane’s character suddenly deepens a level and his passable status as a bad guy elevates just a notch or two.  It’s a welcome touch of empathy Hollywood villains are rarely afforded.

Not ruining a series of movies with the third effort is something Hollywood rarely figures out.  You’d think that with several decades of blockbuster, franchise obsession under its belt filmmakers would have a better road map of what not to do with movies of this magnitude.  But then you see Peter Parker strut across the screen with mood hair and doing dance numbers in Spider-Man 3 and it’s as if no one’s learned a damn thing.  Christopher Nolan and his collaborators were too smart to destroy their fine creation by deploying any kind of suicidal tendencies.  They may not have hit a home run of epic proportions, some of Rises bigger thoughts seem fleeting and tacked on, but a satisfying sense of closure hangs on The Dark Knight Rises.  For once a comic book movie throws out the mandated sense of perpetual continuation and ends its story in a proper fashion.  Well, sort of.


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