The Dark Knight Rises

What It Is

As The Dark Knight Rises begins, Batman (Christian Bale) hasn’t been seen for eight years. That is, not since the end of The Dark Knight, when he didn’t kill the insane District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart). Still, most Gotham citizens believe the lie that Batman is the murderer, and for that, Police Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) feels terrible guilt over it. You know this because he almost tells the truth at the start of the new movie. But he doesn’t.

The lie has inspired Batman’s vanishing, which is, of course, reinforced by that of Bruce Wayne. Though Alfred (Michael Caine) encourages him to get out, to “move on,” Bruce remains locked up in the dark, leaning on his cane and gazing sadly on photos of his dead loved ones, his parents and Rachel (Maggie Gyllenhaal). No matter that Alfred describes his fondest fantasy, that Bruce would leave Gotham and the Batman behind, find a new home in, oh, say, Florence, and marry a nice girl and have a couple of kids (A fantasy the film illustrates briefly and — you know — crucially important). The billionaire Bruce is determined to remain a recluse, occasionally smiling over the rumors that he “has eight-inch fingernails and urinates into mason jars.”

Before you can say, Holy Howard Hughes, however, Bruce/Batman is lured back into the world by Selina Kyle/Catwoman (Anne Hathaway). Specifically, she poses as a maid at Wayne Manor in order to steal a pearl necklace that belonged to his mother, and oh yes, his fingerprints. Of course, this is an entry point into another scheme, one Selina doesn’t anticipate but Bruce does.

This plot involves the supervillain Bane (Tom Hardy, who is terrific against considerable odds, namely, the fact that his face is covered and his voice garbled by a mask that resembles the one Hannibal Lecter wore). Bane means not only to break Gotham’s stock exchange but also initiate a literal sort of class war, freeing angry prison inmates and empowering angry poor people to rise up against the wealthy ones, at least until he blows up the entire city with a nuclear bomb. (If the freeing-the-inmates storyline sounds familiar, that’s because Scarecrow freed some from Arkham Asylum in the last movie, including, memorably, the Joker.) Bane secures his power by beating down Batman (in front of an increasingly distressed Catwoman, who is duly invested in Batman’s welfare from then on) and then sending him off to a faraway prison known as the Lazarus Pit. This is quite literally a hole in the desert from which, well, the dark knight will be rising.

Batman’s absence for several weeks allows Bane and his minions to shut down Gotham: he explodes the football stadium, locks the cops into the sewer system, and cuts off all the bridges to the Manhattan-like island, so that the city itself becomes a prison. Batman’s absence also allows his fans to grow either more fervent or more desolate (such responses mirror those of some Batman movie fans). Thus, Deputy Police Chief Foley (Matthew Modine) frets and cowers, but beat cop Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) aligns himself with Gordon, that is, hoping they’ll be rescued. This is the predilection as well of Bruce’s money manager and gadgets inventor Lucius (Morgan Freeman) and wealthy Wayne Enterprises board member Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard).

While the new movie introduces as many characters as it brings back, it assigns each a role in the class war at its center. Gotham City has been “quiet” since Dent’s death, but the divide between haves and have-nots has widened, an idea made visible in scenes of rich people at fancy-dress fundraisers and poor people hunkered down in alleys and sewers.

This disparity sets up the movie’s focus on class inequity a theme, most clearly articulated — more than once — by Selina, who is poor and steals from rich people to gain some sense of parity and revenge. The movie’s breakdown of how class works is rudimentary, but does lead to debates between Selina and Batman concerning the morality of wealth and poverty, as well as violence (she likes to use guns when necessary, he prefers to knock people down and toss them against walls). At one point, she cautions him, “A storm’s coming,” meaning, the underclasses will “rise” in an effort to correct the unfairness that he and his rich associates keep rigged. That’s not to say that the Wayne Foundation doesn’t contribute to orphans’ homes, but that he’s mostly removed from what money can and can’t do. He learns this lesson when he loses his fortune (briefly), but then, he’s always been one to endure dreadful ordeals and come back.

Why It’s Fun

The film is epic in several ways, from running time (164 minutes) to visual scope, which mainly ranges from up to down — shots flying high over the city and shots delving deep below the surface, in sewer tunnels and in prisons.

The new movie focuses less on gadgets than previous films have (fewer uses of batwings or batdarts), but still, the Batpod remains a terrific vehicle, flipping up and over and all around. And the new Batwing, a tricked-out hovercraft here called only “the Bat,” is both ominous and awesome.

The sweep of the action is impressive, the imagery blue-and-grey but also crisp, and the action is, frankly, monumental.

Who’s Going To Love It

Fans of the Batman franchise, especially those invested in Christopher Nolan’s trilogy, are predisposed to love The Dark Knight Rises.

Viewers who want to see Catwoman revived — even redeemed — following her last couple of big screen outings will be pleased with this one. For one thing, her catsuit looks sharp, for another, she makes excellent use of Batman’s fat-tired Batpod (“I need you on the ground,” Batman tells her before the big showdown with Bane and his minions, “I’ll be in the air”). And for another thing, she has a street-girl roommate, Holly (Juno Temple): it’s unclear what their relationship might be, though it appears sisterly, with Selina playing protective older sibling. (Note: this plot point/character rather mysteriously disappears partway through the film.)

Fans of the Nolan films will also be pleased that this one revisits familiar themes, even if they are overstated and repeated here. The Dark Knight Rises features several angry and confused orphans, discussions about how a society should be arranged (whether government can help citizens, whether wealth can be distributed), the obligations of superheroes, and how masks can both protect and also distort identities.

What To Be Aware Of

The violence is loud, comic-bookish, and propulsive, sometimes pushing up against PG-13 borders.

Violence includes shooting, kicking, hitting, throwing, knifing, torturing, and grabbing.

Catwoman engages in a couple of brutal assaults (but only when she’s threatened), using her spike heels as well her very flexible limbs.

Bane is especially fond of brutal violence, which he delivers via a couple of mano-a-mano bouts with Batman, as well as outsized weapons, serial detonations of buildings, bridges, and a football stadium, and a nuclear bomb he rigs to destroy Gotham. He is introduced by way of an especially horrific bit of business, that is, when he and two men are loaded onto a plane by a CIA agent (Aidan Gillen), who threatens to shoot them and then toss them out the door.

Bruce, Selina, Miranda, and Bane all have sad stories about their childhoods, including lost parents and trauma.

Bruce participates in a sex scene, starting with a kiss and then cutting to an “after” scene, in front of a fireplace, where he and his partner show naked shoulders. Nothing explicit.

In a lengthy climactic sequence, citizens who have sided with Bane clash with a swarm of police, a massive battle scene set on city hall steps that calls to mind the smaller-scale clashes of uniformed cops and Occupy protestors, except that here the police are working class warriors and the villains are, well, villains.

Language includes “bitch.”

See-It-Again Points

6 out of 10

Film Information

The Dark Knight Rises
Director: Christopher Nolan
Cast: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy, Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Morgan Freeman, Matthew Modine, Cillian Murphy, Liam Neeson
Studio: Warner Bros.
Year: 2012
Rated: PG-13
US General Release: July 20, 2012
UK General Release: July 20, 2012
Official Website
Official Trailer
Movie Pictures

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