The Dark Knight Rises,
directed by Christopher Nolan
(Warner Bros., 2012)

The final installment of Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy is an impressive piece of epic filmmaking that serves it up on nearly every level. It's brainy, witty, romantic and hopeful, and it comes with a load of massive themes attached to it.

It's eight years after the events of The Dark Knight. A battle-scarred and weary Batman has been absent from the scene for many years while Bruce Wayne remains a recluse in his own home, avoiding the world. But two new elements have burst onto the scene in a way that forces him out of retirement: the theft of his mother's pearls by a very sexy cat burglar (Anne Hathaway) who proves to be his emotional and physical equal, and a criminal called Bane (Tom Hardy), who is leading an army of insurrectionists who intend to destroy Gotham.

As if that isn't enough, Wayne Enterprises has been severed from Bruce Wayne's control due to some outside influence assuming his identity and making bad purchases on the stock market, liquidating his assets and rendering him penniless. And when Bane does eventually draw Batman out of hiding, well, let's just say that things don't go down the way Batman intended. Not at all.

There are themes aplenty, all of which revolve around one core, which is the gradual sinking into despair of Gotham, its erstwhile hero and its citizens. There is a feeling of utter hopelessness that has halted even the soldier that was Batman. Gotham is rotten ripe and ready for the picking when Bane's hostile mercenary force swarms the city, crushing its infrastructure and plunging it even further into darkness.

Bale's assured performance as a man wrestling with his inner mask-wearing self is top-notch. Hathaway locks down a version of Catwoman that I'd always hoped to see onscreen: a woman as smart as she is lovely and as deadly as a cat when she's cornered. And she doesn't need a whip to do it. That terrific combination of brains and physique didn't seem to exist in the overly sexualized, cartoonish version in the earlier series.

Tom Hardy is the only clanging note in an otherwise perfect denouement. He's an imposing physical specimen but he has no real presence beyond that. Then again, neither did the Bane from the comic books; however, in print I could at least understand what on earth he was saying. Marion Cotillard's acting chops are on full display, as are Joseph Gordon-Levitt's. In fact, nearly every role is filled by someone who does it to perfection, even bit parts like Tom Conti's and Matthew Modine's.

This is a thoughtful, ambitious story that goes beyond the panels of its comic-book origins to ask serious questions about what the point of hope is and what motivates someone to become a hero. It also tackles socioeconomic issues, though that may be biting off more than it can chew, as it does somewhat expand the plot beyond the ability of a normal moviegoer to concentrate on.

It's hard to overstate the achievements Nolan can legitimately call his own. He has already produced two of the finest films ever made in a field crowded with high-bar success stories. The Dark Knight Returns is not just one of the grandest, most operatic spectacles ever filmed, not just one of the most fully realized worlds in film. It may also be one of the most satisfying third/final installment of any franchise to date. While TDKR may not quite answer all the questions it raises, in what is an admittedly sprawling story, it certainly tries hard enough. All in all, it's a fine effort and a fantastic conclusion to a great, cinematic history-making series.

by Mary Harvey
4 August 2012

After a pair of phenomenal movies in his Batman trilogy, director Christopher Nolan ends the series poorly.

Oh, don't get me wrong, there is sound and fury a-plenty in The Dark Knight Rises. There are action sequences that are downright enjoyable and, let's face it, plenty of astonishing visuals. And the cast -- with one or two major exceptions -- performs admirably with the material given.

But after a stellar launch with Batman Begins and a sequel, The Dark Knight, that exceeded the first movie in large part on the shoulders of Heath Ledger's turn as the Joker, The Dark Knight Rises comes up wanting.

There are several flaws here, not the least of which is a bloated, overwrought script that takes itself far too seriously, tossing financial machinations into the mix with green energy and weapons of mass destruction, and manufacturing darkness simply for the sake of being dark.

In short, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has retired his cape and cowl for eight years following the death of Harvey Dent, spending his days moping in his mansion. He is brought back from retirement by the arrival of Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), who steals his mother's pearls, and Bane (Tom Hardy), who decides to take the entire city hostage, breed anarchy and then blow everything up.

There are so many plot holes, one wonders if anyone bothered to read the script before filming began. Some are obvious, like "Will police officers who just spent three months trapped underground by a cave-in emerge into the sunlight clean-shaven, tidy and ready to fight?" (The answer should be a resounding "Of course not!")

You'll probably also find yourself wondering why, if the entire city is about to be destroyed, is so much effort put into saving one busload of orphans. Why Alfred (Michael Caine) allowed his employer, unwilling to move on with his life because of his devotion to his dead ex-girlfriend, to languish in misery for eight years before deciding to tell him the truth. How Wayne got back into Gotham, much less the United States, without money or ID after his stint in a foreign prison. Why folks fought so hard for the detonator of a bomb that was set to go off in a few minutes anyway.

Worse, we have in Bane a villain who is A) lacking in reasonable motivation, and B) almost impossible to understand through his Hannibal Lecter mask.

We have a romance that feels forced, simply for the sake of having one, and another romance that seems promising, but is given almost zero screen time.

We also have a cop (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who figures out Bruce Wayne is Batman. Listen to his explanation -- it has to do with Wayne's angry eyes because, y'know, he's an orphan -- and you'll find yourself wondering how he made the leap from "pissed-off kid whose parents were murdered" to "Dark Knight vigilante." Huh?

There is a Robin reference that is just pointless.

It also makes no sense that we have a couple of villains here whose sole motivation is to destroy Gotham -- with no profit motive and no plan to make it out of the city alive. What noble cause has driven our bad guys to want to sacrifice their lives this way? Why will countless minions follow them blindly to their deaths? I haven't a clue.

With the exception of Hardy and a bland Marion Cotillard, the cast still manages to hold its own. In particular, I'd have loved to see Hathaway given more to do with her role, and Gary Oldman as always is perfect as Commissioner Gordon.

But the story lacks punch -- in part because the Batman simply punches, never using those far-famed detective skills that are supposed to set him apart from your average vigilante. I was prepared to love this movie and came away disappointed -- and wishing they'd reconsider a fourth film in the series just so they can do it right.

by Tom Knapp
4 August 2012