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The Dark Knight Rises

Questions remain at end of Nolan's Batman trilogy

Jul. 23, 2012
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The best superhero comics have always dressed moral, political and social issues in bright-colored spandex, covering heroes and villains alike in masks. Batman has always been among the most sinister of caped crime fighters—a creature of the night who emerges in disguise from stately Wayne Manor to wage war in the shadows of Gotham City, aka New York. Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight cycle of Batman movies has focused on the moral twilight surrounding Batman/Bruce Wayne's campaign to keep Gotham safe.

The Dark Knight Rises
picks up where its predecessor ended and introduces a new supervillain. Tom Hardy's Bane isn't as startling as Heath Ledger's Joker, but then, we won't see Ledger's like for a generation. Succinctly: Bane resembles a muscle-bound bad guy from the WWE with a Hannibal Lecter mask. He kills without hesitation and speaks in a basso profundo mumble difficult to understand. Unlike the Joker, who represented pure berserker chaos, Bane has an ideology. He's waging class war at its most Bolshevik. "The powerful will be rooted from their decadent nests!" he proclaims. He promises "liberation," to return the city to "the people," even if he and his henchmen have to kill most of them.

But as the story begins, it's not certain Batman (Christian Bale) is up for the task of defending Gotham from occupation. Preserving the image of District Attorney Harvey Dent as a crusader for justice, Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) reluctantly allows Batman to shoulder the blame for his death. The Dark Knight has disappeared. Wayne has also gone into seclusion, hobbling on a cane around his sepulchral mansion, nursing his wounds and allowing Wayne Enterprises to go to seed. His faithful Cockney manservant, Alfred (Michael Caine), speaks bluntly about turning the page. "You have to find another way, Master Wayne." Courtly Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) is maintaining Wayne's shriveled empire. Among his projects: a fusion reactor capable of filling the world's energy needs but kept secret for fear it could be weaponized (it's not clear why it's more dangerous than any other reactor).

Of course, the sly old Fox continues to polish an arsenal of new Bat vehicles, including a motorcycle flying machine. It's no spoiler to mention that somehow Wayne regains his strength and uses those vehicles, donning the black mask that transforms him from melancholy plutocrat into raspy-voiced Dirty Harry.

Batman must surface because Wayne is getting it from all ends. His corporation is threatened by the hostile takeover of Bane's paymaster, an oily Wall Street insider. It's not much of a spoiler to reveal that Bane despises this chipmunk-faced capitalist and dispatches him soon enough. It's also no surprise that many of the film's scene-stealing moments belong to Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman. With her saucer-size seductive eyes and slinky ways, she's a cynical film noir vixen with a canyon-wide chip on her shoulder. And she's a master thief. "I take what I need from those who have more than enough," she says. She's working for that Wall Street insider but trusts no one.

The film's most memorable scene, when Bane shoots up the Wall Street exchange, may elicit some cheers from the audience, but clearly, few of us would want to live under the regime of terror he establishes in Gotham. The Dark Knight Rises is shot with furious velocity and edited with thrilling acceleration, yet the story's chain of reasoning has weak links. The messages are mixed. Although the screenplay suggests that the "Dent Act," which locks up criminals without parole, violates civil rights, mayhem ensues after their release. Is Batman a glowering psychopath or the only man who stands between a flawed civilization and a worse barbarism? After its sprawling, two-and-a-half-hour run, The Dark Knight Rises never answers those questions.


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