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The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
Rated PG13

Starring: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, and Anne Hathaway

Rating:
****
out of
*****

In 2005, Christopher Nolan took over a Batman franchise that had been hobbled by the campy stylings of Joel Schumacher's Batman & Robin.  His initial entry, Batman Begins, featured an emphasis on realism and the dark psychology of the Batman character.  In 2008, he improved on the formula with The Dark Knight, a fascinating look at the psychological codependence of Batman and his arch-nemesis, The Joker.  With The Dark Knight Rises, Nolan is faced with the unenviable task of living up to the two previous films in the series as well as concluding the story arc that he's constructed.

The third film begins eight years after the events in The Dark Knight.  Batman hasn't been seen since the death of former Gotham CIty District Attorney Harvey Dent.  Dent's passing has led to the creation of the Dent Act, a set of laws that's made it much easier for the police in Gotham to put criminals in jail.  As such, the city has become free of organized crime and the streets are now considerably safer than they were prior to Batman's arrival.

Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has been holed up in a self-imposed exile in Wayne Manor since the death of his beloved Rachel Dawes eight years ago.  He is a shell of his former self.  His body now shows the toll of his stint as Gotham's caped crusader.  Through a combination of events involving a cat burglar named Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) and an ambitious young policeman named John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Wayne learns of a new criminal named Bane (Tom Hardy), who is somehow connected to one of Wayne's financial rivals.  

When Bane attacks Gotham's Stock Exchange, Batman comes out of retirement but doesn't yet realize that he is facing his most formidable foe to date.

Unfortunately, The Dark Knight Rises is overly ambitious in its attempt to provide an epic conclusion to the "Dark Knight" trilogy.  Nolan tries to tie up some loose ends from the first two films but also seems hell-bent on introducing more complexity into those same storylines. Without spoiling anything, the film becomes a bit too bogged down in exposition for a trilogy's final installment.  A lot of time is spent getting Bruce Wayne back into fighting shape and, as such, there's precious little Batman in this final Batman film even though it clocks in at nearly three hours long.  

Still, Bane provides an excellent foe for Batman.  Tom Hardy's portrayal is quite good even though his facial features are hidden behind Bane's mask and his voice is occasionally unintelligible as a result of the same mask.  Hardy still manages to convey Bane's wits as well as his obvious physical prowess.  

Anne Hathaway nearly steals the show as the slinky Selina Kyle.  Although she's never refered to as Catwoman in the film, that's the character she plays and she does a fantastic job.  Selina Kyle is cunning, sexy, and duplicitous as the cat burglar who sees herself as a modern day Robin Hood of sorts.  I much prefer her portrayal to that of Michelle Pfeiffer in Batman Returns.

Christian Bale's third outing as Bruce Wayne/Batman might be his best from a performance standpoint but the character seems to have taken a step backward from the two previous films.  Bruce Wayne is emotionally as well as physically crippled but retains an unusual sense of confidence in his abilities after donning his Batman garb.  It's frustrating to see Wayne have to spend so much screen time trying to regain the confidence that his alter ego seems to be possess in overabundance.

For all its faults, The Dark Knight Rises does provide a suitable and satisfying conclusion to Nolan's Batman trilogy.   I really enjoyed the action scenes and I liked the possible directions for the franchise that Nolan sets up at the end.  (Again, I won't spoil anything by explaining.)  I just wish there had been more Batman action and less Bruce Wayne soul-searching this time around since the series had spent so much time and care developing the character leading up to this film.  Still, it's a good superhero movie and remains highly watchable.  It's just not as kick-ass as I'd hoped it would be.

Trivia: Around 10,000 extras were used to shoot the Gotham Rogues scene in Heinz Field. Some of the Pittsburgh Steelers played football players, including Hines Ward, who played himself.  (Source: The Internet Movie Database)

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