‘The Dark Knight Rises’ review: A burst of light, in its darkest form

Anne Hathaway, as Selina Kyle aka Catwoman, is shown in a scene from “The Dark Knight Rises.” (Photo credit: Warner Bros.)

—    Critic’s pick

This undated film image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Christian Bale as Batman in a scene from the action thriller “The Dark Knight Rises.” (Photo credit: AP photo by Warner Bros. Pictures, Ron Phillips)

‘Dark Knight Rises’ a fitting ending to trilogy

It’s rare when a national event happens between seeing the release of a film and writing its review. It’s even rarer when said national event happened at the midnight release of said film. And because it would be at once unprofessional and callous to ignore what happened in Aurora, Colo., during the wee hours of Friday morning, let’s give it its due respect. So far, 12 people, and scores more injured — most critically — have died at the hands of a man equipped with an assault rifle, clothed in ballistic gear and dyed hair, who said something to the effect of “I am the Joker.” The atrocity, during the premiere of one of the summer’s most anticipated films, underscores a theme so prevalent in the director Christopher Nolan’s “Batman” series: Sometimes, people do horrible things for what seems no reason at all. And while that’s no salve to those grieving, whom deserve our deepest sympathies and prayers, it does allow for a sort of morbid segue into the review of this excellent film. (A side note: A moment of silence was observed during the this critic’s viewing of “DKR”; it shows how Americans, regardless of any classification, come together in a time of crisis and mourning.)

In a burst of light in an otherwise darkened world, director Nolan completes his epic tale of reluctant good vs. impossible shades of evil with “The Dark Knight Rises,” the sequel to “Batman Begins” and the megahit “The Dark Knight.” A take of post-Sept. 11, postmodern destruction and terrorism (the film mostly was shot in Manhattan), “DKR” transports us to a world strikingly familiar. Themes, uncomfortable to combat and unlikely to fade, run rampant. Perhaps you’ve heard of the anti-government rage spreading though certain segments of America’s citizenry? But the base, as it’s always been, is heroism. Perhaps not the heroism you expect out of a comic book — this isn’t Superman, or even the Green Lantern. This is Batman, a tale of vengeance and redemption, of finding light even in the darkest corner. And Nolan, along with his brother Jonathan (who helped write the screenplay), enact that duality with stunning result.

Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne, left, and Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle in a scene from “The Dark Knight Rises.” (Photo credit: AP photo by Warner Bros. Pictures, Ron Phillips)

Continuing the story from 2005’s “Batman Begins,” which introduced us to a not-so-friendly Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), and the haunting script of 2008’s “The Dark Knight,” “DKR” takes place eight years after the death of Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart). In “The Dark Knight,” Batman took the fall for Dent, who was deemed Gotham’s White Knight, when in reality he had reached a psychotic level of craziness after suffering massive burn damage and the loss of his loved one. (He was later nicknamed Two-Face.) Now a recluse bordering on Howard Hughes’ level, Bruce Wayne, Batman’s alter-ego, has given up his cape, leaving the rounding up of criminals to Police Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman).

The bold and frenetically paced film kicks off with a brilliant opening sequence, involving sky-high maneuvers and dangerous introductions. “The Dark Knight Rises” splits between these scenes of high-octane action and character-revealing dialogue. The same drama and craftsmanship found in “The Dark Knight” comes back in roaring force, the only flaw being the lack of a character as riveting and demented as The Joker (played by a stunning Heath Ledger, who died in 2008).

Here, we meet a new villain, Bane (Tom Hardy), though this ideologue still has a penchant for bombs and triggers. (Remember the ferry scene in “The Dark Knight”?) There’s a enemy-sometimes-friend in Selina Kyle aka Catwoman (a surprisingly entertaining Anne Hathaway), whose burglarizing ways and couture outfits sprinkle the film with clever antics. Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard, a critical role in Nolan’s “Inception”) plays a corporate ally of Bruce Wayne, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, as John Blake, acts as an adopted sidekick for Gotham’s Dark Knight.

Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne, left, and Michael Caine as Alfred in a scene from “The Dark Knight Rises.” (Photo credit: AP photo by Warner Bros. Pictures, Ron Phillips)

The film’s plot revolves around a abnormally crime-free Gotham, one left mob-less by Commissioner Gordon and his squad. It doesn’t take long, however, for Bane and his loyalists to disrupt this seeming tranquility.

A scourge earning his moniker, Bane, with the same sentimentality of “Batman Begin’s” Ra’s al Ghul, brings destructive chaos to Gotham, channeling Occupy-level class resentment against a city known for its wealth-poverty gap. (A fair warning: Bane wears a mask, and that, combined with a Patrick Stewart-like accent, can make it difficult to understand what the sinister murderer is saying.)

The goal here, as in “The Dark Knight,” is to prevent everyone from killing each other before Batman can save them. To this extent, Wayne and his nocturnal counterpart have loyal help of their own. Michael Caine returns as the fatherly and knowledgable Alfred, the family butler who wishes for more than pain and misery for the last remaining member of the Wayne family. Also, Morgan Freeman reprises his role as Lucius Fox, the head honcho at Wayne Enterprises and Bruce’s personal armorer.

Some may complain about the circular plot, which brings us close to full circle with “Batman Begins,” but there’s something to be said for connectivity. A link to the past is not a negative here, thanks in large part to the weighty themes present in this melodramatic piece. (Hans Zimmer’s music adds a great deal of tension to the film and its drama.)

Director Nolan showed us once again that he’s a gifted filmmaker with a touch for the mental escapades showcased in his film “Inception.” He continues his method of escalation, allowing small ripples to cascade into disastrous tidal waves. And he manages to emulate the same feeling of realism found in “The Dark Knight”: By throwing around moral imperatives at critical junctures, moviegoers are able to immerse themselves into the same dire situations Batman confronts, to decide for themselves (albeit in a hypothetical scenario) which choice they would make.

As Commissioner Gordon said in “Batman Begins,” “I never said thank you.” Nor has much as Gotham, despite what its dark hero has done for it. But as Batman said one line later, “You’ll never have to.” And if that doesn’t make him a hero, nothing will.

Five caped stars out of five, and a critic’s pick.


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