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Zimbio Review: 'Dark Knight Rises' Is the Best Batman Yet

(Photos by: Warner Brothers | Getty Images)
The Bottom Line
Should you see it?

Even for those with little interest in these types of films, The Dark Knight Rises is worth a look. It's thrilling to see how a master creates a legend.
Seven years ago Batman Begins proved a comic book movie could be stark and authentic. Four years ago The Dark Knight proved one could be Oscar-worthy. Now with nothing left to prove, Christopher Nolan's final entry in the Batman trilogy is flat out the biggest, baddest, greatest comic book film ever made.

The story, set eight years after the events of The Dark Knight, shows Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) in exile, living as a Howard Hughes-type. He is still despondent over losing his love, Rachel Dawes, whom he couldn't save. Walking with a cane, Bruce has retired the Batsuit (in an awesome underwater vault) and wallows in depression while Gotham City has enjoyed a crime-free bliss despite his absence.

Bale and Oldman at The Dark Knight Rises premiere in NYC (Getty Images)
Wayne's brooding lends a layer of humanity to the character that's much more cinematic than the genius playboy of Dark Knight. As in Batman Begins, Wayne is as interesting as the villains. When he's coaxed out of retirement by Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) and a young idealistic cop named John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), there's a palpable vulnerability to the character, made more apparent by Alfred's (Michael Caine) dismay at the decision. Bruce's father-figure predicts "pain and tragedy" and boy is he right.

The instrument of that pain and tragedy is Bane (Tom Hardy), the hulking experimental powerhouse who is Batman's greatest test in terms of sheer physicality.

Hardy's Bane is not as compelling as Heath Ledger's Joker, but he exudes a dominating power that "the clown" could not match. The Joker killed Batman's love and psychologically toyed with him, but the caped crusader's life was never in real danger. Bane is different. Trained by the League of Shadows, as Wayne was, he is physically superior to Batman and much more threatening, staring out ferociously from behind his signature mask.

The presence of Bane, who is unveiled in a majestic mid-air prologue, and the weakness of Bruce Wayne set the stage for The Dark Knight Rises to enter uncharted territory. The possibility of Batman's defeat hovers over the first half of the film like a storm cloud and by the time he and Bane come face to face, you fear for the hero.

The Dark Knight Rises has the kind of substance only made possible by mortality. To give Rises its sense of doom, Nolan had to leave behind the "fun" of his previous films and other comic book movies. This will dismay some viewers, but it's a necessary and poignant tone to set for a final chapter. The peril of the story depends on it and it punctuates the elemental battle between good and evil.

That's not to say there is no fun. Anne Hathaway supplies a needed respite from the dark tone of the film as Selina Kyle, "The Cat," as newspapers dub her following a string of cat burglaries. She springs Wayne from the doldrums, posing as a maid and stealing his mother's necklace (the same one from Batman Begins). She is the film's most dynamic character, a morally ambiguous figure unseen in the previous two films.

Bane takes over Gotham City, sending it into the kind of chaos the Joker could only dream of. The film's third act is a triumph as Batman recovers from his greatest defeat. As Bruce Wayne's father says in Batman Begins, "We fall so we can pick ourselves back up again," and when the Dark Knight rises, so does the audience, cheering him to the echo.

Two things to keep in mind here: First, Rises should be seen in a theater, preferably on an IMAX screen as Nolan intended. Second, the film is so multi-layered, it's important to see the first two movies in the trilogy before this one. Nolan and brother/co-screenwriter Jonathan Nolan bring the neomodern realization of the iconic Bat full-circle and nearly every major plot point references events from the first two films. Part of the satisfaction that comes with Rises' spectacular, slightly unoriginal, but nuanced conclusion is wrapped up within what happens in the past.

The Dark Knight Rises is the first comic book adaptation where the end is not a foregone conclusion. Nolan layers his story expertly and surprises with so many plot twists, the hero's eventual victory is never assured. His conclusion remains thoroughly gratifying, adding needed background to Bane's character while keeping the Bat firmly in the middle of everything as all the subplots and ancillary characters converge.

Rises doesn't have any loose ends. Questions are answered unpredictably and confidently. Nolan had a plan when he set out to make Batman Begins in 2004. With each film, he's evolved and his finale is the culmination of those years of experience. It's the marvelous result of a visionary at the very top of his game.

Check out footage from the premiere of The Dark Knight Rises here:

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