The conservative themes coursing through “The Dark Knight” were no accident.
“The Dark Knight Rises,” the third and final installment in director Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, pushes the ideological envelope even further than before. It’s impossible not to feel Nolan’s disgust at Occupy Wall Street, a movement the film paints as both incoherent and violent courtesy of a class warfare villain armed with nuclear weaponry.
But Nolan isn’t simply sending out barely coded messages to conservatives. He’s brought the trilogy to a close in rousing fashion, leveraging bravura set pieces meant to convey the scope of the best comic book series ever committed to film.
It’s been eight years since the events of “The Dark Knight,” and Gotham City is at peace thanks to the legal legacy of Harvey Dent. The Batman, who helped build Dent’s fraudulent heroism saga at the expense of his good name, no longer has any crime to conquer. That leaves Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) to spend his days hiding from society in his spacious mansion.
But a new wave of terror catches Bruce’s attention. A hulking figure known as Bane (Tom Hardy) is stirring up resentment against the rich and killing people along the way, forcing Bruce to dust off the cowl in order to keep Gotham City secure.
That won’t be easy.
Bane’s minions are a formidable lot, and the arch-villain’s plans to topple the city (and its wealthy elite) are so entrenched, it might be impossible for any super figure to save the day.
The new film injects the franchise with several fresh faces, including Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a darn good cop and Marion Cotillard as Bruce’s corporate squeeze. But Anne Hathaway proves delectable as Selina Kyle, a cat burglar with a mean uppercut – and killer heels.
We’ll gladly cheer on a woman with a spinning moral compass as long as Hathaway is slinking along the set, supercharging her banter with a wickedly droll sense of self.
Her character could have brought the Bat house down all around her. Go the Michelle Pfeiffer route, and her body-hugging ensembles would distract from the grave nature of Bane’s threat. Force feed her a series of purr-fectly silly lines and, well, we shudder to even think about it.
Instead, Nolan makes Selina’s emotional arc a worthy complement to the extended debates about good versus evil. Yes, Nolan brings both complexity and conscientious clarity to the third Batman film, but this time Alfred (Michael Caine) isn’t on screen enough to give the speech Batman needs to summon the appropriate courage.
“Rises” doesn’t ignore the previous Bat installments. It embraces them as essential elements to the bigger picture, rendering the trilogy as an extended canvas in which each episode serves a purpose beyond selling Bat trinkets. We still get fan-friendly cameos that feel appropriate to the moment and narrative threads that help unite the three films in a way lesser filmmakers might fumble.
The sense of realism that permeated the first two Batman features returns with a vengeance here. The film opens with Bruce hobbling around Wayne manor, the cartilage in his knees worn away from all that crime fighting. And neither Bane nor Selina sport any super powers. Hardy’s massive frame conveys the strength Bane brings to his beatings, and Selina’s acrobatic skills can be challenged with a loaded pistol.
Nolan does fall back on his “Inception”-like tics, overloading exposition into the dialogue and explaining too much of Bane’s back story. Bruce’s love connection isn’t convincing even by comic book standards, and the battle royale promised in the film’s mid-section ends far too quickly.
As for Bane, Hardy has the unenviable task of following a performer who made us all forget about Jack Nicholson’s turn as the Joker. Yet Hardy’s almost surreal bulk, and the way he tugs at his rugged garments like a third-world dictator, gives “Rises” a threat that’s nearly as formidable as the off-the-rails Joker.
“Rises” never mentions the 99 percent or other overt Occupy Wall Street slogans. But Nolan clearly summons the spirit of the ragtag movement with a propensity for violence. Bane’s henchmen literally attack Wall Street, savagely beat the rich and promise the good people of Gotham that “tomorrow, you claim what is rightfully yours.” The Catwoman’s gal pal (Juno Temple) assures her at one point, when they enter a swanky abode, that “this is everyone’s home” now – in perfect Communist fashion.
We haven’t even mentioned how Bruce loses a good chunk of his fortune by investing in a failed clean energy program.
But that’s the beauty of Nolan’s Bat trilogy. It simultaneously sends the kind of socio-political messages rarely seen on screens big or small without diminishing the craft or the imagination on fanciful display. And when Hans Zimmer’s foreboding score kicks in, “The Dark Knight Rises” produces the kind of sheer storytelling pleasure that film rarely achieves.
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