Audiences will be arguing forever about director Christopher Nolan's capper to his Batman trilogy. Want to bitch? Start with the reactionary politics and that franchisefeeder of an ending. But the sheer scope of Nolan's vision – with emotion and spectacle thundering across the screen – is staggering. The Dark Knight Rises is the King Daddy of summer movie epics. For nearly three hours, Nolan juggles themes that took root in 2005's Batman Begins and reached doomsday perfection in 2008's The Dark Knight with the late Heath Ledger's masterful, Oscar- winning performance as the Joker.
The director and his coscreenwriter, brother Jonathan Nolan, pick up the story eight years after Batman (Christian Bale) took the rap for DA Harvey Dent. It was Dent who died going psycho as the evil Two- Face, but Commissioner Gordon (the reliably superb Gary Oldman) persuaded Batman to take the blame as an impetus for severe new crime laws in Gotham. This new era of crimebusting is built on lies, which is hell on Batman's alter ego, playboy Bruce Wayne, who's been living like a hermit in luxury – all his bat toys banished.
The final chapter in the Dark Knight saga allows Bale to move deeply into Bruce/Batman's troubled soul. Bale, up to every challenge in a tough role, gives a hypnotic, haunting performance.
What brings Batman out of his shell and back into his bat suit? It starts with his attraction to Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), a cat burglar who teases Bruce wickedly while hiding a secret agenda. Hathaway – sexy, scrappy and fast with put-downs – is dynamite as Catwoman, bringing welcome humor to a movie about to be enveloped in darkness.
And no one is darker than Bane (Tom Hardy), a battering ram of a villain, his face covered by a grille that feeds him medicine to alleviate pain he's suffered from childhood. Hardy's face is covered for 99.9 percent of the film, but his physical and vocal performance is riveting. It's Bane who initiates the attack against Gotham and the stock exchange. Is Nolan equating the legit protest of Occupy Wall Street with Bane's terrorism? You be the judge.
There's no denying the visual pow of the film, more than half of which was shot with IMAX cameras. From the opening skyjacking to the blowing up of a football field and a nerveshattering prison break, the film shakes you hard and often.
Bruce/Batman finds support in butler Alfred (Michael Caine) and Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), who builds all those wonderful bat gadgets. And beautiful philanthropist Miranda Tate (the remarkable Marion Cotillard) and idealistic young cop John Blake (a sensationally good Joseph Gordon- Levitt) spring surprises no one sees coming. I can't say more without spoilers, but a refresher in Batman Begins, the League of Shadows and evil genius Ra's al Ghul really helps. Otherwise, just let The Dark Knight Rises propel you into Nolan's carefully wrought maze. You may have to fight yourself out. But a movie this potent and provocative is well worth the battle.
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