Friday, August 3, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises brings Batman's saga to fitting conclusion

The concluding installment in any film trilogy is always assigned a tough task. Not only are they typically preceded by a huge hype wave, but they also bear the responsibility of tying up three whole films worth of loose ends. And of course, they must deliver an ending that does the series justice. Director Christopher Nolan concludes his Batman reboot by tackling these challenges head on and sticking to what has made the series such a ravishing success.

Christian Bale reprises his role as Bruce Wayne, who retired the Batsuit following his decision to take the fall for Harvey Dent's death at the end of The Dark Knight. But he is lured back by a new threat to Gotham, this time presented by the masked psychopath Bane.

As always, Nolan's film seeks to play head games with its audience rather than getting mired in over the top action and violence. Bruce Wayne struggles to remold himself into the hero Gotham needs him to be, while the city teeters on the brink of total annihilation.

The acting performances are generally solid. Tom Hardy's Bane projects a dominating presence as a Huey Long style revolutionary leader hell bent on delivering Gotham back into the hands of the people. Hardy is a physical powerhouse who wows with his hand to hand combat scenes, but perhaps impresses even more with the way he steals every scene he's in.

Also outstanding is Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the role of John Blake, a young Gotham police officer who plays a monumental role in the defense of his city. Blake knows Wayne's secret, and one of the film's best acting occurs when he urges Wayne  to return to his role as Batman. Gordon-Levitt gets full marks for his character's courageous and unrelenting effort to take down Bane and his gang.

Anne Hathaway's performance as Catwoman is subdued and low key, but a good one. Batman relies on her to push him a few steps closer to Bane, while constantly being let down by her self serving attitude.

Meanwhile, Bale once again delivers a rather pedestrian performance. Unfortunately for him, the quality of the actors around him only serves to magnify this. Michael Caine is emotional and inspired as he urges Wayne to pull his head out of his ass, but it's advice that sounds like should be directed to Bale instead. He stands as still as a statue during the scene, looking totally aloof and glum, like he doesn't care at all.

That other masked man: Tom Hardy's Bane gives supervilllans plenty of reason to be serious.

Nolan's films strive to let the audience know they don't play by the rules, which supplies an exciting, anything
goes type of attitude to The Dark Knight Rises. One of the most shocking things about Nolan's Batman series is that a large chunk of the villain's plans actually succeed, which turns the entire superhero movie model on its head. This time around, though, the effect doesn't feel as fresh. There are moments when The Dark Knight Rises feels like it's retreading ground broken by The Dark Knight.

Remember how the Joker had bombs planted on two riverboat ferries, and gave each boat captain the detonator to the other's bomb? Without giving away anything too specific, The Dark Knight Rises also presents a major plot thread involving a bomb and detonator given to a specific person.

And it isn't to say that Nolan's film is devoid of superhero cliches, either. Several familiar tropes are present, such as the hero getting saved at last possible moment, and the wandering vagabond who cares only about themselves but has a change of heart and saves the day. However, it's more about the journey than the destination, and Nolan tosses in more than enough surprises to keep us on the edge of our seat.

Ultimately, the status of Nolan's trilogy is secure. But what position will The Dark Knight Rises occupy within that series? While the film's themes of sacrifice, redemption and camaraderie are clearly conveyed, The Dark Knight Rises lacks a real wildcard that boosted the other two films over the top. Batman Begins was built around a gripping and masterfully executed origin story, while The Dark Knight, of course, had Heath Ledger's performance for the ages. Though still an excellent film, The Dark Knight Rises is neither as dynamic or groundbreaking as its two predecessors.

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