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‘The Dark Knight Rises’ is the best film of the summer

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Posted: Friday, July 27, 2012 7:59 am

This week’s review of “The Dark Knight Rises” comes a little later than I had initially hoped, but oh well — it’s never too late to spread good news. And I advise you to enjoy the good times while they last, because the rest of the summer looks pretty dicey.

Next up is the potentially amusing but nonetheless ill-timed “The Watch,” followed by the completely unnecessary “Total Recall” do-over, and then ... God knows what. In light of this uncertain future, I further advise you to see “The Dark Knight Rises” at least once every week, in protest, until more suitable entertainment comes along. If any movie deserves to make a couple billion dollars, this has gotta be it.

As the Dark Knight trilogy comes to a close and we begin to reflect, let us not belittle director Christopher Nolan’s historic accomplishment by labeling these three films as the best superhero movies of all time, or the best “adventure trilogy.” Truly, “Batman Begins,” “The Dark Knight” and now “The Dark Knight Rises” deserve to be considered as films among films, and not be pigeon-holed in terms of genre. Given that all three films achieved greatness in their own unique ways, and there is not a weak link among them, I am actually hard-pressed to name a more consistently impressive trilogy of films, from any genre (cinephiles can hush up about “The Apu Trilogy,” as I haven’t had the pleasure).

By situating his comic book universe within a “real world” aesthetic (at least as “real” as possible, considering we’re talking about masked villains and flying bat-planes here), Nolan was able to circumvent many of the usual genre trappings. These movies are not disposable superhero fluff like so many other releases we see, and the oft-heralded dark tone is not the only reason for this (if that were the case, and gloominess was the secret ingredient to a surefire superhero success story, then the recent Spider-Man reboot should have been a whole lot better).

These films work so well not because they’re “dark” or depressing, but rather because they are so fiercely psychological and philosophical in nature. They are, for lack of a better word, smart. They take the necessary amount of time to probe not just the psychology of the self, but also that of the broader zeitgeist, and their relation to one another. Issues of justice and the uses of power are not given lip service, but become an integral park of the narrative. A complete, well-developed, old-fashioned story is told in the process. And Nolan makes it all look so easy that we’re left to wonder just why all major Hollywood productions aren’t this good.

“The Dark Knight Rises” (which clearly should have been titled “Gotham Rises,” I’m just sayin’) picks up exactly eight years after the events of the last film. The city of Gotham is marking the anniversary of the death of former district attorney Harvey Dent, who, according to the official story, was betrayed and murdered by Batman before the masked vigilante went underground as a fugitive. The weight of this lie has done a number on Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), who has vanished from the public eye and lives out his lonely days as a shut-in. But he is spurred into action by the emergence of a mysterious mercenary called Bane (Tom Hardy), who is in the process of enacting a complicated terrorist plot that threatens to destroy Gotham.

The plot of “The Dark Knight Rises” is rather sprawling, filled with far too many details to even begin to make sense of in a brief review. There’s the matter of the abducted nuclear physicist, the missing congressman, the abandoned sustainable energy project, the prison escape… the list goes on. Some critics have accused Nolan of trying to cram too much into the film’s 165-minute running length, and admittedly, some key scenes do seem a tad rushed. But all this talk of huge, glaring plot holes and narrative incoherence is vastly overblown. Although I’m not sure I could pass a detailed exam on the movie’s plot, whatever loose ends that do exist are minor, and in no way hamper the viewer’s enjoyment.

As always, Nolan has assembled a hell of a cast. Among the newcomers are Anne Hathaway (quite likeable as professional thief Selina Kyle, better known as Catwoman) and Marion Cotillard (as a potential business partner and romantic interest for Bruce Wayne), and Joseph Gordon-Levitt is tremendously effective in a pivotal supporting role as a good-hearted beat cop. But predictably, the show is all but stolen by Hardy. As Heath Ledger did when he played The Joker, Hardy commands every scene he’s in, lording over the film as few actors could. And although Hardy may seem a bit small to play the hulking, rampaging madman who throws Batman around like a paper doll, he injects so much animalistic intensity to the fight sequences that I was sold in an instant.

“The Dark Knight Rises” is bar-none the best film of the summer, and is likely to remain one of the best of the year. And I was serious when I advised you to see it once a week until something else worthwhile comes along — the three hours fly right by, and the film is sufficiently dense to reward repeat viewings. Say, 10 to 12. For now.

Jason Wallis is a News-Sentinel copy editor. He can be reached at jasonwallis@comcast.net.

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