It is ironic that Mitt Romney’s former company Bain shares a pronunciation but not a spelling with the villain in “The Dark Knight Rises.” I say ironic because in the film it is Batman and not the burly bad guy who takes on the Occupy movement.
Eight movie years have passed since Batman (Christian Bale) last donned the cape. He’s become a recluse, having assumed responsibility for District Attorney Harvey Dent’s crimes in the hopes that if the Dent anti-crime act worked Gotham would become a peaceful city. It was successful until a cat burglar named Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) put into motion a series of events that would draw the caped Crusader from retirement to fight his mightiest foe yet, Bane (Tom Hardy). In a battle that will no doubt delight and confound Occupy veterans, Wall Streeters are gunned down and a billionaire strives to take back the streets from the 1%.
It’s a story that seems like it played out in real life on our streets, albeit without capes, gadgets and murderous villains. When Seline purrs “You’re all going to wonder how you ever thought you could live so large, and leave so little for the rest of us,” into Bruce Wayne’s ear, it sounds ripped from the headlines. Such is the timeliness of the film, but let’s not forget that this is a summer blockbuster, not a treatise on the haves and the have-nots.
It aspires to deeper meaning, to be “A Tale of Two Cities” with a cowl, and there’s lots of talk of “restoring the balance of civilization,” but it is also a very entertaining action movie. The first seven minutes is as wild a scene as has ever been captured by IMAX cameras and there’s no shortage of colorful characters.
Bale grimaces and growls with the best of them. As loyal manservant Alfred Michael Caine emotes more than usual for a superhero movie, Morgan Freeman is an oasis of calm amid the chaos and Gary Oldham is the very model of steely determination as Commissioner Gordon. All well and fine, and the expected complexity of character is on ample display, but it is the new characters that shine.
As the brooding hulk that speaks like a slightly loony Shakespearian villain, Hardy is an imposing presence. Grandiose though he is, Bane lacks the chaotic charm of Heather Ledger’s take on the Joker, but as sadistic scoundrels go, he’s one part modern day terrorist, two parts Attila the Hun.
Anne Hathaway had to overcome the memory of a much-loved performance by Michelle Pfeiffer, but from her first appearance the slate is wiped clean. Charismatic, charming and sexy, she’s dropped Pfeifer’s paw-licking cat mannerisms and instead presents a physical, complex character whose chemistry with Bale burns up the screen.
On the side of law and order is idealistic Gotham cop John Blake, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. He’s heavy on the exposition—someone has to explain what’s going on!—but what could have been a throw-a-way role is transformed into a real person in a movie filled with super villains and improbable situations.
Nolan favorite Marion Cotillard brings a feminine touch and some mystery to an already plot heavy and enigmatic story.
Is “The Dark Knight Rises” a perfect summer movie? It’s certainly in the running, but there are a few let downs.
It is a heroic tale and the beautiful IMAX photography creates a larger-than-life feel for the epic-ish story, but it also exposes some missteps in the fight choreography. With the picture blown up to the size of a football field (as opposed to a picture of a blown-up football field, which provides one of the film’s highlights) some of the fighting is just this side of convincing.
Also, despite being the title character The Dark Knight spends relatively little time in the cape. Instead we’re shown more of the inner life of the character. Not a bad thing, but let’s face it, clothes make the man, and the Batsuit is one of the key props in the series.
And the early fear that Bane’s dialogue would be unintelligible isn’t completely unfounded. With his mouth hidden beneath a mask Hardy delivers an effective performance with just his eyes, unfortunately lines like ‘There can be no true despair without hope!” often end up sounding like a baroque but garbled mixture of drunken whispers and baby talk.
“The Dark Knight Rises” is a very accomplished blockbuster. At two-hours-and-forty-four minutes it manages to provide the thrills associated with the genre, but also takes time to create memorable characters.
It’s a grand finale to Nolan’s Batmans.