The Dark Knight Rises

Love it or not on the regular screen,it borders on mind altering at the IMAX theater.

The Dark Knight RisesWhile I was admittedly somewhat embarrassed not seeing The Dark Knight Rises during the first several weeks of release, I have no apologies to make after seeing in on the IMAX screen in downtown Indianapolis. That movie theater is a remarkable work of cinematic art, and seeing The Dark Knight Rises was an extraordinary experience from beginning to end.

While I know that most of my friends truly liked this film, several expressed feelings that it drug a bit during the middle third. While I kept that in mind, I was overwhelmed by the whole blasted film, and it was a marvelous depiction of violence, survival, pain and the attempt to make sense out of this bizarre existence of ours.

Christopher Nolan is a remarkable director on many levels, not the least of which is the way he dignifies the villains of his films. Liam Neeson, who appears briefly here, was the powerful, semi-caring Ras Al Ghul in Nolan’s Batman Begins (2005). More importantly, who can ever forget Heath Ledger’s masterful performance as The Joker in The Dark Knight (2008), playing a character that was so overwhelming that a villain was placed in the unique position where Ledger won an Oscar for his performance.

While there are several truly dominating villains in this film, I can only deal with one as I don’t want to ruin a surprise that dominates the ending of the movie. Let me just say that Tom Hardy is remarkable as Bane, a vicious, monstrous terrorist who is forced to wear a gaudy chemical mask over his face in order to survive. His goal is to bring Gotham to its knees while killing anyone who gets in his way, and you can’t help but feel what it must have been like to live in New York after the 9/11 terrorist attack that staggered both the city and the country. It obviously must have challenged Mr. Hardy to play a role where he was all but unrecognizable as an actor, but all you have to do revisit some of his recent performances to grasp his strength.

I thought he was the glue that held last year’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy together, and he was overwhelming as the ex-military son of Nick Nolte who hated almost everything in life including his father in Warrior (2011). When he is on the screen you simply can’t ignore him, and his role as Bane is shockingly mesmerizing.

The Dark Knight Rises has may strengths, not the least of which was a collection of moving performances. Christian Bale’s Batman is always in pain, and he is all the more real because of it. Forget that Anne Hathaway is knockout gorgeous in her role, as her strength lies in the simple fact that she is completely amoral beyond words. Her only goal is to succeed where she can, and basic rules don’t concern her.

Not to be overlooked are the wonderful performances of both Gary Oldman as Commissioner Gordon and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Police Officer Blake. Oldman is continually on the right side of the law as he wrestles with maintaining Batman’s betrayed reputation, and Gordon-Levitt was as good here as a caring police officer as he was in Nolan’s other big hit, Inception(2010).

The film is also dramatically helped by the performances of three great actors, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Marion Cotillard. It was a joy seeing veterans like Caine and Freeman once again demonstrate their acting chops, and Cotillard was a charismatic reminder as to why she won her Oscar as Edith Piaf in La vie en rose (2007).

I should also say before closing that there is very little that is comfortable about this Batman film. Bane and his terrorist villains seek to either create a revolution that seeks to bring the great unwashed underbelly of Gotham to power or destroy it in the process. In particular, Cillian Murphy, the Scarecrow in Nolan’s first Batman, reappears as a twisted judge at court proceedings sponsored by Bane where everyone is already presumed guilty and appears solely for sentencing.

As the well-to-do are cast to the street and chaos prevails, Gotham is left to the strength and dedication of its police force. In that regard, one of the few disappointments in the film is a late scene where the police are charging en masse while armed with little more than clubs as Bane’s terrorists possess automatic weapons. Mr. Nolan stretched reality a bit there, but who really cares.

The ending is a treat you can’t miss for several reasons, all of which you will have to see for yourself. It is a dramatic reminder that for all the glory given to those who fight the good fight, maybe the joy in life amounts to nothing more than sitting with a lover at a café in Florence overlooking the Arno.