Monday, July 30, 2012

'The Dark Knight Rises' more about hope than superheroes

The Dark Knight Rises is not your typical summer blockbuster. While superhero movies thrive on special-effects laden scenes, big explosions and thrilling fight scenes, The Dark Knight Rises highlights the vulnerability of our world and that anyone, not just Bruce Wayne in a Batman suit, can be a hero.

Christopher Nolan's series has grown steadily darker with each successive Batman installment and The Dark Knight Rises is no exception. This third and final installment plays on our worst nightmare. Bane's attack on Gotham City is a 9-11 terrorist attack on steroids.

Bane manages to crash the stock market, blow out all the bridges leading from the city and steals a nuclear device which he threatens to use as a bomb. Bane holds the entire city hostage and even worse Batman is terribly outmatched compared to Bane who seems an unbeatable Goliath.

Early in the movie our expectations for a superhero are shattered when Batman is beaten badly by Bane and is dumped down a well-like prison with no possibility of escape. Bane taunts Bruce Wayne with a TV news feed so he can watch Gotham burn while he languishes in prison unable to do anything.

Surprisingly The Dark Knight Rises is not about a superhero, but how anyone can be a hero even in the worst circumstances. Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) finally has the strength to confront the lie told about Harvey Dent after Bane publicly reads Gordon's confession. Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a police officer promoted to detective, shares several interesting parallels with Bruce Wayne such as being an orphan and struggling with his own personal anger.

Blake also believes in doing what is right even when Bane and his massive army is against him. While Bruce is in jail, it's Blake's efforts that spearhead the resistance against Bane. Selina (Anne Hathaway), who plays a sexy, smart and a kick ass Catwoman, also discovers there is more she values than just petty thievery. She decides to stay and fight Bane even when she has a chance to escape the doomed city.

Perhaps the one flaw in The Dark Knight Rises is an overemphasis on the back story of Bane and the reemergence of the evil League of Shadows intent on destroying Gotham City forever. The Dark Knight didn't have to deal with any lengthy history with the amusing and psychotic Joker played brilliantly by Heath Ledger. In comparison to past villains, Bane seems menacing, but doesn't have a riveting screen presence. Tom Hardy, who played Bane, undoubtedly was limited by the scary, but static leather mask he wore throughout the entire movie.

The action sequences and special effects are wonderful when on the screen, but mostly bookend the movie with Bane seizing control of Gotham at the end of the first act and the final showdown when Batman fights Bane. Audiences who are expecting non-stop dazzling special effects might be disappointed in the slow middle act when Gotham is under Bane's control while Batman languishes in a prison.

The Dark Knight Rises, however, is a satisfying conclusion to Christopher Nolan's three-part saga. When Batman does return to take on Bane, the aerial flight sequences in Batman's new beetle-like flying vehicle are impressive. Nolan also provides an interesting twist at the end where it seems the good guys are fighting a battle they can't possibly win. Perhaps the best message in the series' conclusion is you don't have to wear a costume or spend billions of dollars on fancy gadgets to be a hero. That quality comes from the heart.

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