'The Dark Knight Rises' and soars to thrilling conclusion
Vigilante or hero? Good or evil? The individual or the collective? Truth or lies?
It must be the newest Batman movie.
The Batman saga has always been built around dualism, ambiguity and a double life. The final entry in director Christopher Nolan's trilogy -- "The Dark Knight Rises" -- continues to grapple with these questions and resolves them, as much as they ever can be, in a deeply satisfying conclusion.
"The Dark Knight Rises" is something of a rarity -- an action movie with lofty ambitions. It tackles heady themes without once feeling leaden or ponderous and without sacrificing the genre's addiction to dazzling thrills, propulsive plotting and vertiginous visuals.
I have always liked Christian Bale in the role of billionaire Bruce Wayne aka Batman. He seems to capture the dark moodiness, the conflicted nature and heavy heart that gives Batman more heft and mystery than the average caped crusader. Here, when we first meet him, he has become a recluse in Wayne's mansion, making joking references that he hasn't -- at least yet -- grown the long, thick, yellow fingernails of a batty Howard Hughes.
No surprise, Bruce Wayne is going to have to come out of retirement and accept his destiny -- even if it means breaking with his faithful butler Alfred (the wonderful Michael Caine).
What forces him back? The bane of Batman's existence is indeed Bane (Tom Hardy), a scary villain whose face mask not so subtly evokes Hannibal Lecter's hockey mask. But as terrifying as he is, Bane proves to be more than a one-dimensional adversary.
In one of the film's more daring nods to contemporary rifts and fissures, Bane becomes the angry voice of the 99 percent. His rage is the spark of an anarchic revolution that's out to tear down everything, starting with the stock exchange. In Bane's Gotham City, the kangaroo courts have but one verdict, and it's not hard to guess what it is.
Even billionaire philanthropist Bruce Wayne is not immune from the gathering discontent of the masses. "There's a storm coming, Mr. Wayne," Catwoman tells him at one point. "You and your friends better batten down the hatches, because when it hits, you're all gonna wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us."
In contrast to most "superhero" movies, Nolan makes shifting relationships the core of the movie. There's Bane and Batman, to be sure. But there are also the sharp, witty, taunting relationship between Wayne/Batman and Catwoman (a terrific Anne Hathaway); the mentor and protege relationship between Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) and the young police officer John Blake (Joseph Gordon Levitt); the tentative friendship between Batman and Blake, two orphans; and the blossoming romance between Bruce Wayne and Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard).
Of course, it goes without saying that the imagery, cinematography, action sequences and special effects are spectacular. Much of the film takes place in subterranean locales -- the dark, damp bat cave; Bane's hellhole prison; the tunnels under Gotham City -- all of which reflect Batman and Bane's tortured souls. The film's stunning beauty helps give the film its epic quality. For once, style and substance come together to make "The Dark Knight Rises" a soaring triumph.