Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises / *** (PG-13)

Bruce Wayne/Batman: Christian Bale
John Blake: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Selina Kyle/Catwoman: Anne Hathaway
Bane: Tom Hardy
Commissioner Gordon: Gary Oldman
Lucious Fox: Morgan Freeman
Alfred Pennyworth: Michael Caine
Miranda Tate: Marion Cotillard
Deputy Commissioner Peter Foley: Matthew Modine
John Daggett: Ben Mendelsohn

Warner Bros. Pictures presents a film directed by Christopher Nolan. Written by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan & David S. Goyer. Based on characters created by Bob Kane. Running time: 164 min. Rated PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, some sensuality and language).

It seems that as the conclusion of any movie trilogy approaches these days, everyone points out before they see the final installment that the third one never lives up to what came before it. This is not one of those truths that our forefathers claimed to be self evident, but perhaps it should be taken as one. It seems that without fail, the third installment in a trilogy does fall somewhat short of its predecessors. “The Dark Knight Rises”, which concludes the Christopher Nolan directed trilogy of Batman films, is no exception.

That’s not to say that “The Dark Knight Rises” isn’t good. It is well-made, well acted, complex, and satisfying; but it never seems to find time for the same amount of depth that the previous two films found in the Batman mythos. The movie is too concerned with its plot to allow for a deeper purpose than to finish up Nolan’s story. It lacks the character development of the previous films, although not as much is necessary, since most of the major players are already established. It also lacks the more laid back approach to its developments that the superior “The Dark Knight” had. It’s urgency to move the plot forward doesn’t allow for the gravity of the developments or its characters to set in.

It’s eight years after the shocking events that concluded “The Dark Knight”. Batman hasn’t been seen since the night when he took the fall for Harvey Dent’s evil actions. Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale, “The Fighter”) has gone into seclusion, taking on the public image of the later years of Howard Hughes. Gotham’s finest celebrate Harvey Dent Day, with Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman, “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”) feeling the guilt of deceiving the citizens of Gotham in order to preserve the White Knight image of the city’s former DA. It is a deception that has worked however, as Gotham’s crime rates have dropped to nearly non-existent. The mob influence over the city has been eliminated through a law in Dent’s name that allowed extreme measures by the Gotham Police Department. It seems the worst Gotham has to offer are cat-burglars. But, they say there is always a period of calm before the storm.

Enter Bane, a mysterious criminal who we meet during a daring mid-air kidnapping of a nuclear physicist from CIA custody. The physicist has plans to expose Bane’s operations to the CIA. Bane has other plans for him. I was happy to see these plans hearken back to those of the “Batman Begins” villain Ra’s Al Ghul. As a former member of Al Ghul’s League of Shadows, Bane plans to fulfill the Demon’s plot to destroy Gotham and allow it to be reborn.

In the comic book stories I’ve read involving Bane, which are all fifteen years or older by now, Bane was little more than a bully looking to start a fight. I like that in this plot he’s actually looking to finish one. There still isn’t much to his character, though. Actor Tom Hardy (“This Means War”) does the best he can with a mask for a face during the entire story. He’s given the least amount of character development of any major character in this Batman trilogy.

Catwoman is handled better. Anne Hathaway (“Brokeback Mountain”) does well as a not-so-good-girl. She’s employed by Bane to steal Wayne’s fingerprints. Wayne, of course, catches her in the act, but doesn’t realize what her fence is until later. She intrigues him. When Bane doesn’t deliver what he promised in payment, Catwoman is forced to switch sides, something that becomes a habit for a thief that prefers to come up on the winning side.

Another new character is the rookie cop John Blake. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who was so stoic as Arthur in Nolan’s last summer blockbuster “Inception”, is given a little more meat to chew on here as a cop with the street smarts that Gordon admires. Gordon’s deputy commissioner has gotten soft with the department’s newfound prosperity. Blake’s intuition is needed as Gotham begins to plunge into a crisis bigger than anyone imagined.

Also new to the game is Miranda Tate, played by another Nolan favorite Marion Cotillard (“La vie en rose”). Tate could be the savior that Wayne Industry needs to bring them out of the financial ruin that Wayne’s seclusion has led them to, or she could be something else. As a Batman fan, it didn’t take me long to figure out exactly how she fit into the plot of the movie, for others it will be a surprise. Also returning are Morgan Freeman (“Invictus”) as Lucious Fox, Batman’s gadget supplier and Wayne’s CEO; and Michael Caine (“Journey 2: The Mysterious Island”) as Alfred Pennyworth, Wayne’s butler and chief worrier.

One aspect of the movie that bothered me was the conflict between Bruce and Alfred. Alfred doesn’t like what Wayne has become since the death of his lifelong love Rachel Dawes, yet he also seems opposed to Bruce taking up the mantle of the Bat again. It’s as if Alfred can’t really decide what he wants for Bruce. Yes, he clearly states that he desires to see Bruce take up a normal life, but Gotham also so obviously needs Batman again. In my memory, Alfred was always Bruce’s chief supporter in anything he chose to do for Gotham City. There is little support to be had from Alfred in this movie. As Bruce’s only family, I found this a disheartening direction in which to take his character.

Like any good sequel, “The Dark Knight Rises” raises the stakes for the final chapter. Nolan and his co-screenwriter and brother Jonathan Nolan do a good job giving the audience new action and images to dazzle them. They also deliver a complex and well-structured story. What the movie seems to lack, in comparison to the previous films, is its heart. It is all head. While it isn’t as disappointing to the degree that many final chapters are, it isn’t as powerful as the other two films in the series. This might discourage some fans, but most will be happy to have another solid entry into the greater Batman mythology.

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