“Endure, Master Wayne … they’ll hate you for it, but that’s the point of Batman.” – Alfred Pennyworth

The Dark Knight Rises – IMAX (July 20, 2012)     ★★★★ 1/2

Directed by Christopher Nolan (Warner Bros. Pictures)

It’s been a rough month for The Dark Knight Rises. Before the film was even released, several critics who posted negative reviews on Rotten Tomatoes received hateful comments (even consisting of death threats) that were removed by the website’s editor-in-chief, the only such occurrence since the site’s commencement in 1999. Soon after, Rush Limbaugh continued his tradition of idiotic proclamations by stating how the film had purposefully made the association between villain Bane (Tom Hardy) and Mitt Romney’s financial firm, Bain Capital. And of course, there was the tragic event that occurred upon the film’s midnight release in Aurora, Colorado, my sincerest thoughts and prayers going out to the victims and their families.

Luckily, the conclusion to Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy is destined to be successful, despite these highly unfortunate (and in the case of the Aurora shooting, truly horrible) situations that have recently occurred. Why? Because it takes the advice of Bruce Wayne’s noble butler and conscience, Alfred (Michael Caine), and endures just like its hero. It endures not only because The Dark Knight Rises is a damn fine movie, but also because it is a deeply thought-provoking, emotional, and allegorical example of how filmmakers, artists, and techies could turn a comic-book character into something more – an allegorical symbol for triumph in the face of 21st century tragedy.

It ain’t no Dark Knight, however, and that’s mainly because we don’t have Heath Ledger, whose performance in this movie’s predecessor was a masterful provocation upon chaos and evil, spun into a narrative as gripping as the greatest film noir, and themes as poetic as any film to win the Oscar for Best Picture (which the 2008 blockbuster, in an unfortunate snub, did not get nominated for). The first film in Nolan’s trilogy, Batman Begins (2005), was a terrific reboot of the series, and maybe what this finale does most successfully is weave in all the strands of narrative and theming throughout those movies that needed an exhilarating conclusion. But while The Dark Knight Rises suffers with a bit of narrative convolution (especially in the story-driven, fast-paced first hour), it remains a powerful piece of big-budget filmmaking, and continues to prove that Nolan is one of Hollywood’s best working directors.

Bruce Wayne/Batman (Christian Bale) has been in reclusion for eight years, his masked vigilante having taken the blame for the murderous actions of Defense Attorney Harvey Dent, and resulting in a political act that has cleaned up the streets of Gotham, despite having been based on a lie. Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman), despite having agreed to Batman’s desire to keep Dent clean in the public eye (and therefore, as a symbol of hope), remains guilty about the entire situation, and hopes a day will soon come when he may resign and tell the truth. There is also police officer John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who begins to suspect billionaire Wayne’s secret identity, and “cat” burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), who may have a connection to the menacing mercenary Bane, who is plotting something catastrophic within the city sewers. Key players also include Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman’s reprised roles of Alfred and Lucius Fox (CEO of Wayne Enterprises), in addition to Marion Cotillard’s performance as Miranda Tate, an executive board member of Bruce’s company.

Despite what you may expect based on the comic books’ somewhat well-known narrative, Nolan’s screenplay (co-written with his brother, Jonathon) manages to transform this material into something that continuously takes your anticipations and inventively plays upon them. The entire package is stupendously thrilling, and it’s an easy task to cheer for Bruce Wayne as he rises from the ashes of pain to make great sacrifices for his city, and therefore become the hero that he had never previously allowed himself to be. Bale’s performance is as fun to watch as it has been in the last two films, as are the other performers in the quintessential cast of Christopher Nolan favorites. Bane, while never having such an onscreen impact as to rival Ledger’s Joker, is still both a physical and ideological challenge for Batman, and Tom Hardy personifies him with such authority that it arouses pure terror, despite the character’s mask prohibiting us from ever seeing the actor’s face. Thankfully, he also allows us to forget that the villain basically resembles a professional wrestler.

Although she is never referred to as Catwoman, Hathaway is quite fitting in the role of Selina Kyle, and has been unfairly criticized for basically no reason. She personifies the villain/love interest with intelligence, sultry antics, and the ability to kick ass, while still adding a tinge of sympathy that we have yet to see from the character, that which prompts her to decide whether she would prefer to have a clean life on her own, or an interpersonal one with the potential for imperfection. Meanwhile, the subplot presented in conjunction with Cotillard’s character also makes the narrative considerably more interesting, although some aspects are never quite believable, and excuse a couple instances of shabby writing for the sake of introducing more compelling scenes later in the film.

Freeman is still wonderful as the man with all the gizmos our masked hero could ever want, but if there’s one performance here that is worthy of an Oscar nomination, it is Caine’s. Despite his limited screen time as Alfred, Michael Caine packs the greatest emotional punch in the film, and fully displays the importance that his character has brought to the series. As for Gotham’s finest, Oldman remains an example of awesome casting, and in the role of a hothead with a purpose, Gordon-Levitt continues to show his chops for compelling performance in big-budget movies.

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And with over an hour of footage shot with IMAX cameras, epic is hardly enough to describe the scope of The Dark Knight Rises, which deserves to be seen in this format as a testament to Christopher Nolan’s vision. The action sequences are terrific, especially as chaos is unleashed within Gotham’s streets. Meanwhile, any landscape shots or aerial scenes are absolutely stunning on the big screen, and make vertigo seem like a plausible reaction. The film ends up seeming way shorter than its running time (which approaches nearly three hours), mostly due to rather quick pacing, that which diminishes the coherence of the film’s complex plotting throughout its first half.

While partially stylistic, Nolan tends to cut out quite a bit of action between shots, ultimately making scenes shorter, and leading us to wonder what exactly just happened. The storytelling of Nolan and his brother always tends to be one step ahead of their audience, which is an admirable method of relaying a narrative. But here, it seems they utilize it simply to keep the film moving and prevent it from going on too long, which leads us to feel that strands of plot have been slightly mismatched. This is especially apparent in contrast to the final act of The Dark Knight Rises, which mainly consists of exceedingly thrilling action. That said, with a resolution the filmmakers couldn’t have made more satisfying, there are far more things worth commending.

Christopher Nolan would not like to admit that the Dark Knight films are political, although they certainly touch upon issues that are affecting our country right this instant. Most prominently alluded to is the Occupy movement (although the script was likely started before the movement received major attention), and how Bane’s terrorism contorts ideals of “power to the people” and wealth redistribution into a living hell. But in order to solve this problem, super-rich playboy/philanthropist Bruce Wayne doesn’t come to our rescue alone. The best qualities within himself also come to save us, this symbol formulated by Batman. In the darkest hour, Batman could symbolize any citizen of Gotham feeling responsible to save his or her own city, wealth being a slim factor.

Many have claimed The Dark Knight Rises has a conservative agenda, although it could easily be twisted the other way. More importantly, the film touches upon what it is like to live in a paranoid, post-9/11 world, especially when we may feel secluded as either individuals or a unit (the screenplay uses a clever plot device to put Gotham’s situation in wider perspective, yet still keep it completely isolated). Moreover, it is a movie about fears and anxieties that breach our consciousness everyday, and provides a symbol for hope amidst a world that sometimes feels devoid of that very factor.

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These three films, taken as a trilogy, are a grand accomplishment. They only furthered the quest to make superhero movies critically “serious,” and did so with brilliant writing, memorable performances, an unprecendently dark tone, large-scale action, and a pure sense of what it takes to entertain today’s moviegoers. I recently read a tweet by Bill Maher, who I am told is funny. It reads – “And btw, [the] fact that ‘serious’ critics treat a f**king Batman movie as a profound comment on the human condition says a lot about our ‘culture.’ ” From a guy who makes a living out of telling us how ignorant we are, my immediate reaction is to laugh at his hypocrisy. Any piece of art created throughout a significant period in history is part of what has built our global culture. The Iliad could be considered a ridiculous fantasy story, but what does it tell us about the early Greeks? And why should a “f**king Batman movie” be any different?

I come to the conclusion that people like Maher would prefer no culture at all, and instead live in a society where we incessantly criticize people for what we do not appreciate as significant contributions to our own livelihood (or what we perceive as correct in a communal environment). The Dark Knight Rises will endure, as will The Dark Knight, as will Batman Begins. You can argue about many aspects of modern society; you can barely use a social networking site without seeing a post that refers to the denouncement of a person, group, or organization. What is far more helpful to the human condition, what is far more relevant to our “culture,” are the things that join us together. Despite whether you consider film an art form, it should be obvious that going to the movies is one of those things that literally does join people.

This is another reason why the events that occurred in Aurora are so terrible. It breaks my heart to see people who were given the expectation of safety, comfort, and community to be so thoughtlessly harmed. I applauded at the end of The Dark Knight Rises, because despite Bruce Wayne’s placement in the 1%, he, along with these extraordinary filmmakers, has shown us for the third time that percentages don’t mean anything. Batman is the 100%; he is an allegory for the best within all of us. And that is something we should all take to heart. Because at any time, in any period of our extensive human history, we could sure use a hero like him.

CKEP’S VERDICT – 4.5/5

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