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The Dark Knight Rises Has Problems But Pulls Through in the End

The Dark Knight Rises
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Written by Nolan and Jonathan Nolan, from a story by C.Nolan and David S. Goyer, from characters created by Bob Kane
Warner Bros., 2012

The curse of thirds is in full force during The Dark Knight Rises, Christopher Nolan’s final film in The Dark Knight Trilogy.  I had a sense of dread through a good chunk of this that, even a director like Nolan, who I generally regard as one of the best directors working today, wasn’t going to be able to save it.  The Dark Knight Rises has some of the problems that plague third movies that follow such brilliant seconds: It’s got some of the issues of Return of the King and a dash of what plagued Spider-Man 3.  Much like this summer’s direct rival, The Avengers, it makes up for it in the latter portion of the film, and will send most moviegoers home happy.

The movie opens with that slick airplane hijacking sequence that was shown way back in December in front of the IMAX Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol, with Bane (Thomas Hardy) as a prisoner being liberated in midair by a bigger plane full of conspirators.  Then we see Bruce Wayne/Batman (Christian Bale) walking around his mansion with a cane.  He’s retired.  It’s been 8 years since the events of The Dark Knight. Gotham doesn’t seem to need him anymore.  But when a hot, hot, smoking hot…burning hot Selina Kyle/Catwoman (the super hot Anne Hathaway) posing as a maid at a Wayne party steals some family pearls, and another couple of very important items, events start churning towards the ruining of Bruce Wayne, and possibly Batman.  All this happens as Gotham’s most dangerous enemy yet, Bane looks to finish the job The League of Shadows trained Bruce Wayne to do in Batman Begins.

Wayne’s retirement as Batman has basically led him to retire as Bruce Wayne, too.  He’s not been keeping up with Wayne Enterprises, and the company looks like it might go under soon.  Wayne sees Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) about what kinds of technologies Wayne Enterprises is working on that might lift them back up.  Turns out, it’s a power source that can be used for clean energy or nuclear war depending on who’s pulling the switches.  A risky proposition.  They’ve invested in this potential power with the alluring Miranda Tate (the also incredibly super hot Marion Cotillard), and before you know it, she’s the head chairman of Wayne Enterprises.

In the middle of all this there is John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a cop who has figured out the Bruce Wayne/Batman connection and also comes off a bit damaged from his parents dying at an early age.  He is promoted to detective early on by Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) Gordon, still keeping a secret about Harvey Dent from the events in The Dark Knight, looking like he may retire any day now, and he might even get forced out by a rising Deputy Commissioner (Matthew Modine).  He knows he’s going to need Batman, but he’s unsure of how to contact him.  And finally, there’s the good butler Alfred (Michael Caine), who pleads with Bruce to find a good woman to marry and forget about Batman for good.

But, being a Batman film, you know Wayne has to be Batman again, and soon he’s trying to track down Bane and give him the good fight.  This is where the movie starts feeling a bit like Rocky.  Bane and Batman pound each other, and what happens next is Bruce Wayne finds himself in a prison in which there is a way out, but it’s a steep, dangerous climb that only one person has ever been able to surmount: a child, that begins the legend of Bane.  This is basically the second portion of Bruce Wayne’s disappearance from Gotham.  He needs to find a way out, or Bane will crush the city.

If it sounds like a lot is going on: the movie is 2 hours and 45 minutes.  I feel like there’s so much going on in this film, that certain early scenes lose focus.  You know the beginning of the film, which is a lot like the feel of The Dark Knight’s immortal opening?  This is sharp, focused action filmmaking.  The Dark Knight would go on to have several scenes that just kept building tension and they felt dead on perfect.  In Rises, the opening airplane hijack scene is the best action scene in the movie.  The rest sort of just happens, and it’s a bit mindless, like one scene where Batman and Catwoman are beating a whole bunch of henchmen drones on a rooftop.  It’s not until the second half of the film until things start feeling right again.

There is a bunch of plot, and the action scenes are for the most part based on important plot threads.  But it can be terribly mindless punching, kicking, and chasing at times.  We like Batman because of the tools, the gadgets, the vehicles, the stealth…but it seems all so ordinary at times, and sometimes without a point.  Don’t get me wrong: nearly all of the scenes in The Dark Knight Rises are important to the plot.  It’s just when the movie breaks down into action that the movie feels hollow during the first half.

But when it hits that second half, beginning with Wayne’s incarceration in the unholy pit of Hell, and his efforts to escape, along with Bane and what he plans for the city, and the surprises the movie has in store, the movie takes a decided uptick that is incredibly satisfying.  You’ll feel drained, but this is a very good conclusion to the trilogy, and probably a wise decision to keep the movies at three.

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