Review by Pete Mason
Even though I spent the weekend at the Gathering of the Vibes music festival, I made a bee-line to see “The Dark Knight Rises” upon restful return. There are few films that I anticipate more heavily than comic-book adaptations, especially since the past decade had provided us with some of the best versions of classic comic book/graphic novel tales that have ever been produced. “The Dark Knight,” “Sin City,” “The Avengers,” “Hellboy,” “Spiderman 2,” “Watchmen,” “Iron Man 2” and “X-Men: First Class” are some of the best of the films that rely on established books for their story and characters, while using the rapid advancement of movie-effects technology to accurately portray the tale and lift it from the page to the big screen. “The Dark Knight Rises” follows suit here, combining effects with director Christopher Nolan’s story-telling and vision for the Batman saga in its third and final installment with Nolan behind the camera.
The film begins by reminding us that Harvey Dent is dead, and a law has been passed in his name to prevent criminals affiliated with Gotham’s gangs from getting parole, and thus, keeping the city safe for eight years now. This brief scene segues into our introduction to Bane, Batman’s fiercest enemy – one who is immune to feeling pain which therefore makes him dominant to Batman. (The mask he uses injects him with a constant stream of painkiller, making him nearly invincible). The initial sequence of the film is fast-paced and sets the tone for the brutal terrorism that is about to descend on Gotham. All this, while Batman is retired and Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has stepped out of the spotlight, become a recluse and allowed his family’s company crumble to a shadow of its former self. Yes, after eight years Gotham has been cleaned up and Batman has not been needed, as the police are now keeping the city free from crime.
Enter Bane (Tom Hardy), a diabolical villain if there ever was one, instilling fear behind the mask, his eyes giving the only hint of emotion when dictating action, and a voice that is commanding and fear-inducing at the same time. When Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) stumbles upon a growing plot underneath the city, the plot begins to thicken and eventually, Batman coaxes himself out of retirement, all the while his world is starting to collapse from the outside in.
Meanwhile, Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) has been stealing from the rich and working with Bane, although as an independent contractor and savvy con-artist at the same time. When Bane and Batman meet in the sewers, the toll of time has clearly affected Bruce/Batman, and leads to a wincing display of pain for Batman and in short time, all of Gotham is under siege as Bane takes control of the city.
While Bane’s terrorism is seen in the trailers (Heinz Field in Pittsburgh is leveled, bridges are blown apart cutting off the island of Gotham from the mainland), the depravity and extent to which he sinks the city into chaos only grows as the film presses into the second hour. A no man’s land is developed, where fear rules and the rich, as well as police officers, are the enemy, sentenced under the eye of a familiar character from the past two Batman films. Bane promises freedom to Gotham with his arrival, a freedom that is false and wrapped in lies and the fear Bane instills with his voice and actions. Leading a veritable army, his motives are clear – finishing the job of Ra’s al Ghul and the League of Shadows from “Batman Begins” and reduce Gotham to ashes.
“The Dark Knight Rises” brings back Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine) as Wayne’s butler, but keeps him in a far more minimal role than the previous trilogy films. Two new additions to this final installment include Marion Cotillard as Miranda Tate, a business-woman working with Bruce Wayne for sustainable energy in Gotham, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt playing John Blake, a police detective who serves as the much needed good guy (ala Aaron Echkart as Two Face, although without turning to evil as the film progresses). Despite the fast-paced story-telling, the film clocks in at 2 hours and 45 minutes, longer than previous installments, but providing enough time to accurately and completely tell the story Nolan wrote while keeping the audience from being pushed too fast through the plot. Instead, an hour of set-up, more than an hour of terror and a comic-pace resolution and climactic ending provides “The Dark Knight Rises” with the perfect ending to the story, leaving fans of the series more than satisfied, as this film (coupled with “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight”) creates the best film trilogy of this century.
“The Dark Knight Rises” runs 2:45 and is rated PG-13 for violence and terrorism. The film is best seen in IMAX, as all BIG films should be. As a bonus for comic book geeks like me, keep an eye and ear out for a Killer Croc reference, as well a strange doctor who plays into the greater Batman Universe.