Tuesday, July 24, 2012

REVIEW: The Dark Knight Rises

I know it's not nearly as dramatic a title, but for all intents and purposes, Christopher Nolan's third and final Batman movie really ought to be called "Batman Comes Full Circle."

I saw the new film as part of an IMAX marathon, and that was the ideal way to do so. This movie doesn't so much continue the story of the second movie, The Dark Knight, as it does continue the story started in Batman Begins. I won't talk much about the plot, except to say that our brooding hero finds he must go back to his roots to defeat his new enemy - whether he wants to or not.

The movie doesn't quite equal the second film, which was really a crime story in which the hero happens to wear a cape and a cowl. The Dark Knight Rises plumbs more fantastical depths, and is arguably the most comic-book like of the trilogy. Everything here is played on a grand scale, with much of Gotham City (now a cross between New York and Pittsburgh) being physically destroyed. And there's a host of new characters too; the movie makes for a mini-reunion of the cast of Inception, with the addition of Marion Cotillard, Tom Hardy and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Occasionally, the sheer size of everything bogs the picture down just a little. Clocking in at nearly three hours, The Dark Knight Rises could stand some tightening. I could have stood less of the antagonistic police officer played by Matthew Modine, and the romance between Bruce Wayne and Cotillard's character feels forced.

That said, the strengths of the picture mitigate its flaws. It may not have the galvanizing force of a single performance like Heath Ledger's, but more so than any of the previous movies, The Dark Knight Rises gains strength from the ensemble. Bale gets to plumb new emotional depths; this is his best performance in the trilogy. Hardy's physical transformation is formidable, and Michael Caine is actually heartbreaking. So, too, in a different style, is Anne Hathaway, who steals scenes almost as easily as her character steals jewels.

Another star is Nolan's IMAX cameras. Whereas about a third of The Dark Knight was shot in the large film format, about half of this movie is. It's especially effective in the aerial scenes; one shot in the airplane heist at the beginning made me say "Oh holy shit" - out loud.

But even that pales in comparison to the adrenaline rush that is the last 45 minutes. The third act is nothing short of breathtaking, not only visually but viscerally. The final shot reminded me of Inception. I won't say how. There is no spinning top on screen, but my heard certainly was spinning too - and, like the top, I could barely keep my balance.


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