It's called The Dark Knight Rises, but that doesn't happen before Christopher Nolan plunges Gotham City into chaos, as divided and tumultuous as Bruce Wayne/Batman's scarred psyche. The third installment of the rebooted franchise is virtuoso filmmaking, a gripping spectacle that is a sober reflection of our times and a three-ring circus, complete with the lions, tigers and clowns.
When the story picks up from The Dark Knight, it's eight years later. Batman (Christian Bale) has been sidelined after the Harvey Dent/Two Face scandal that left the public believing the superhero was more a villain. His alter ego, Bruce Wayne (who seems less comfortable when he is in public), has become a Howard Hughes-type recluse, roaming around his Victorian mansion in pajamas.
One evening he catches a burglar, Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), breaking in. He thinks he has her, but she outsmarts him, though not before issuing him an ominous warning and taking something.
Around the same time philanthropist Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) comes into Bruce's life, wanting his support for charitable causes. She's almost too beautiful to pass up for Bruce, who still pines for his dead first love.
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Meanwhile, a real villain: the brutish Bane (Tom Hardy), with a scar running down his back and headgear that obscures his face and turns his voice into a threatening rasp, throws Gotham City into panic when he and his gang attack the stock market. The panic that ensues — evoked by Wally Pfister's visceral cinematography — recalls the turmoil of the aftermath of the 9/11 devastation. It's not long before the metropolis turns into the Paris of A Tale of Two Cities, with its own reign of terror.
Nolan, who says this is his final take on the character, has put a lot on the table here, but The Dark Knight Rises hasn't quite squeezed the comic out of its comic-book roots. Hathaway's Selena adds a needed cheeky presence as well as sex appeal, and there are still all of those nifty gadgets and vehicles.
A cinematic treat from start to finish, there is more than one way to look at the title to the film. Feel free to interpret or just enjoy it. It seems few Oscar pundits are including it as a best-picture contender; it should be.
The Dark Knight Rises retails for $28.98 or $35.99 Blu-ray. The Dark Knight Trilogy (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises) retails for $38.99 or $52.99 Blu-ray.