For over 50 years, Steve Crum has written reviews and features for newspapers, magazines and websites, and appeared on radio and TV shows regarding entertainment media. In addition to his years of service on the Governing Board of the Kansas City Film Critics Circle, his Crum on Film weekly column was awarded 1st Place in Kansas and Missouri newspapers via Kansas City Press Club/Heart of America journalism awards. Nearly 2,000 of his film reviews have been posted on Rotten Tomatoes.
Bruce Wayne’s servant/protector/confidant Alfred pep talks his master early on in The Dark Knight Rises. “Don’t worry, Mr. Wayne,” Alfred says, “it takes a little time to get back in the swing of things.” The line, written by the film’s brilliant screenwriter-director-producer Christopher Nolan, and his brother Jonathan, is both prophetic and literal. Indeed, by the time the non-cowled Bruce Wayne first makes his appearance, a super thug and his gang are amok in Gotham City, pillaging and murdering. Forget about Batman himself appearing just yet. That comes even later in the story. It is worth the wait.
The third of Nolan’s Batman trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises is once again laced with grimness, despair, and a heinous villain. Although 2008’s The Dark Knight features an Oscar winning turn by Heath Ledger as the most memorably psychotic of all Batman villains, The Joker, Tom Hardy’s vicious Bane comes in a strong second. As all good DC and Marvel geeks (like yours truly) know, a superhero is only as good as the super villain. This makes or breaks the central conflict. Bane looks like a WWE wrestler with a Hannibal Lector mask attached to his face as a breathing mechanism. As such, he breathes--deeply, a la Darth Vader. And his voice sounds like Sean Connery's. James Bond never, ever broke guys’ necks, at least not like Bane does.
Add to the mix another Batman nemesis, Catwoman aka Selina Kyle, here played less sympathetically than in previous movies and TV episodes, by Anne Hathaway. Hathaway enhances the role physically and emotionally. Her real life dancing skills have segued into gymnastic moves that make her lady burglar sequences credible. Backward flips out a window might have been accomplished by a double, but why--when Hathaway is capable.
To take on Bane, Catwoman, and sundry other ventures, including the depletion of Wayne Foundation finances, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) must first emerge from self-imposed confinement at Wayne Manor. Wallowing in his guilt and depression over the death of his friend, District Attorney Harvey Dent (see the last movie), Wayne has been living a Howard Hughes-like existence for the past eight years. Adding to his misery is the fact that most of society blames Batman for Dent’s murder. He is a wanted fugitive, something most superheroes encounter at one time or another in their plot lines.
Batman’s never faltering ally is Police Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman), who now has an ally himself in John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a young and capable detective serving under Gordon. Besides them, Wayne’s father-like servant Alfred (Michael Caine) and Wayne Foundation design tech guru Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), moral and physical support for Batman is nil. By the way, there is a solid performance by the nearly unrecognizable Marion Cotillard as Miranda Tate.
Once Batman finally gets back to action, with the audience’s dander by that time primed to the max, the film explodes in scene after dazzling scene of air to street attacks and counter attacks. Highlights include Batman’s newly designed airplane, The Bat, which can hover in mid-air or fly at supersonic speed. It is impressive that so many battle scenes occur in broad daylight, which means the digital effects must be flawless. They are indeed. There is an awesome, yes that adjective is overused--but not here, sequence during a jam packed football game at a huge stadium. It is not the Red Sea parting, but close.
Nolan has succeeded in creating essentially a successful third act finale of one of the best trilogies ever filmed. Its plausible script, particularly for a comic book movie, happens also to have timely political references to wicked Wall Street and the gullibility of people easily swayed through bandwagon sensibilities.
The film’s two negatives are slight, the first being a too convenient subplot of Bruce Wayne’s imprisonment well into the film. It puns the film’s title. There is also the hokey, but expected, conclusion which involves a set-up, delivery, and fake-out. Then again, all should probably be forgiven since we are dealing with a comic book-inspired, fictional character who fights for humanity’s good. Bring on the fantasy.