THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (Rated PG-13)
Starting with “Batman Begins” in 2005, writer and director Christopher Nolan envisioned an epic trilogy for the story of Gotham’s Caped Crusader, a superhero without any real superpowers.
The conclusion arrives in spectacular fashion with “The Dark Knight Rises,” which begins at a point eight years after “The Dark Knight,” notwithstanding the fact that the second film was released in 2008.
A lengthier passage of time allows for the consequences of actions taken by Batman and others, including Commissioner Gordon and D.A. Harvey Dent, to have percolated into a state of palpable anxiety.
Action begins with a daring opening sequence that would be the envy of any James Bond film. An incredible skyjacking of another aircraft gives us our first chilling glimpse of the evil embodied by terrorist Bane (Tom Hardy).
Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), having retired the Batman cape and cowl in his subterranean hideaway, has turned into a Howard Hughes-like recluse at Wayne Manor, absent the neurosis of keeping a germ-free environment.
To allow Gotham the veneer of law-and-order serenity on the surface, Batman slinked away into oblivion, taking the blame for the demise of Harvey Dent, whose martyrdom brought an end to crime in the metropolis.
The sensitive and sensible Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman), his conscience wracked by the truth, knows only too well that the crime-free status of Gotham is predicated upon lies. Soon enough, he will need Batman’s return.
Trouble is quickly brewing from multiple sources. Corruption is evident below the surface. A slimy businessman is taking a run at a hostile takeover of Wayne Enterprises.
True malevolence arrives with thuggish terrorist Bane hatching a plan to undermine the institutions of the city, beginning with a violent assault upon the Stock Exchange.
A terrifying figure, Bane has his face covered in a strange mask that serves not to conceal his identity, but to regulate the transmission of painkilling medication. Bane resembles Darth Vader, but without the charm.
Notwithstanding Bane’s unvarnished villainy, the first bad guy to seize Bruce Wayne’s attention is Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), a cat burglar he catches in the act of lifting family jewels from the Wayne Manor safe.
Of course, Selina represents Catwoman, but oddly enough she is never called Catwoman. For his part, Bruce is intrigued by the cunning sexy vamp’s facile ease of delivering witty quips and sharp barbs.
Selina brings welcome humor to a film that is heavy on a dark, gloomy mood. She also helps get Bruce’s Batman back into the game, considering that he’s out of shape and still healing from old physical wounds.
In a way, Selina helps Batman to focus his attention on the bigger problem posed by Bane’s terrorist plot to destroy Gotham with nuclear weapons, but not before bringing down the city’s financial empire.
As if inspired by the French Revolution and the attack on the Bastille, Bane and his thugs launch an assault on the local prison to free those incarcerated by the Harvey Dent law that brought an end to crime.
Having rigged bombs in the city’s sewer system, Bane figures a way to trap most of Gotham’s police force below ground in subway tunnels and other passageways.
Few people outside of Batman and Commissioner Gordon grasp the immediate gravity of the situation, though rookie cop John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) displays earnest integrity and courage with great conviction, earning himself a leading role in the fight for Gotham.
Other key players are Wayne Enterprises CEO Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), the steady hand on the weapons programs needed to fight crime, and new board member Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), a wealthy philanthropist interested in an environmental project.
During much of the early going, the angst-ridden Bruce Wayne is attended by his faithful butler Alfred (Michael Caine), who grows increasingly frustrated that his boss has retreated so fully from engagement with the outside world.
Egged on by the wisecracks of Selina and the dastardly acts of Bane, Bruce Wayne undergoes training to bring himself into fighting shape, as the inevitable showdown with the masked villain is a real doozy.
“The Dark Knight Rises” delves into social-political issues of the day, though one could reasonably come away with differing opinions or interpretations.
Corruption and treachery are not limited to the establishment. Bane’s thugs run a kangaroo court where the death penalty is imposed freely and without due process by Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy).
One could ask if the violent attack on the Stock Exchange is an expression of discontent with income inequality or does it represent the Occupy Wall Street movement taken to the reprehensible violent extreme of mob rule anarchy?
Pondering the philosophical implications of perhaps conflicting points of view is a mental exercise soon overcome by brutish, sustained violence. To be sure, Bane is clearly a nihilist committed to destroying many innocents.
What does not appear so debatable is that “The Dark Knight Rises,” with exciting chases, superior effects and spectacular stunts, is not far removed from the comic-book underpinnings created by Bob Kane and published by DC Comics.
Tim Riley writes film and television reviews for Lake County News.