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Review: ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ a rousing end to Batman trilogy

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

There’s nothing cheery about “The Dark Knight Rises.” There hasn’t been anything cheery about director Christopher Nolan’s Batman universe at all, really. That was “The Dark Knight’s” whole spiel. Things are getting worse.

Things get worse in “Rises,” even though we’re lead to believe things have actually gotten better. Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has been beaten. A new villain, the often incomprehensible Bane (Tom Hardy), wants to blow Gotham to Kingdom Come. Batman, who isn’t exactly on the greatest terms with his people, will not stand for this, even if it means coming out of retirement and beating the already-frail body of his to hell and back.

The usual allies return  – Commissioner James Gordon (Gary Oldman), who doesn’t fare all that well, Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), who kind of just does his regular thing, and Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine), who really helps the film hit its emotional marks – but there’s new help.

Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) is a cat burglar. You can see where this is going. She’s selfish and sexy and arguably “Rises'” biggest enigma. But we don’t see her much, which is arguably the film’s most unfortunate flaw, even though she’s on a take-no-prisoners quest for vindication.

Who we do see plenty of is John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a Gotham City police officer with a go-get-em attitude. He’s a good guy and he’s on Batman’s side, and “Rises” really wants you to know that. “Rises” is about Batman – there’s no doubt about that, which is nice after “The Dark Knight,” which was enveloped by the Joker – but, at times, it’s almost as if it’s about Batman featuring John Blake. (When you leave the theater, though, that will all make sense.)

Nolan has never really been subtle with what he’s trying to say. “Rises” is no different. There are good guys and bad guys. There are rich guys and poor guys. The good and rich guys, such as Wayne, are especially good, but not as rich as they once were. The bad guys, such as Bane, are really bad, and like the Joker, don’t give a rat’s ass about money.

Except now the bad guys are even worse. The stakes are higher with Bane than they ever were with the Joker, and the sense of doom is noticeably more profound.

“Rises” is big – oh, so big. There’s a real sense of urgency and impending doom; a different, more physical manifestation of fear than the Joker’s in “The Dark Knight.” It’s times like these, apparently, when Batman needs to fly around in something almost out of the “Transformers” films to restore order.

Yet, at times, it’s scaled back. “Rises” is largely the story of Bruce Wayne, who is broken and rises, then broken and rises again. It’s here where “Rises” brings the trilogy full-circle, at times feeling more like the sequel to “Batman Begins” than even “The Dark Knight” did.

Despite that, “Rises” is its own entity. It’s a Gotham that’s in a different place with a Batman and Bruce Wayne who are in a different place.

It’s hard to discuss everything that’s right and wrong about “Rises” without giving too much away. This is a film that needs to be enjoyed by going into it as blind as possible, especially for its ending, and what an ending it is.

Maybe it’s the Batman fan inside me. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m easily wowed. I don’t know. But the last 10 minutes or so of “The Dark Knight Rises” are so flippin’ good that it nearly negated the flaws of the film’s prior 155 minutes.

“Rises” is a bit long in the tooth, though it’s paced well, which is a credit to the film’s direction. Its biggest problem is that it will forever be compared to “The Dark Knight,” which is a bit unfair because these are two very different films.

Bane ain’t the Joker. No matter what Hardy did with it, he would never match the Joker, but that won’t stop the inevitable comparisons. He does well with it, though Bane’s actions are largely more terrifying than his words. (But that might be because many of his words are impossible to understand.)

“Rises” won’t quite leave the same kind of iconographic legacy “The Dark Knight” did. No, “Rises” is more a study of Bruce Wayne and the criminal and financial ways of Gotham City rather than an impudent recreation of some of the more colorful Batman comics. I doubt you’ll see many teenagers walking around in Bane T-shirts from Hot Topic.

But “Rises” is still something to behold. Despite a bit too many flashbacks and some trademark awkward dialogue, it’s the spectacle of cinema at its finest, even if it comes with a serving of despair.

Grade: B+

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