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Batman & 'Dark Knight Rises' could've risen to the occasion a little better

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How do follow up a movie that has grossed over  $1 billion dollars worldwide (The Dark Knight) and is ranked the eighth best movie of all-time by users on the Internet Movie Database?

You really can’t.The Dark Knight Rises photo: dcist.com

Who knows? Maybe when all is said and done ‘The Dark Knight Rises,’ the final film in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, will surpass the records set by the second installment. But Heath Ledger’s  Academy Award-Winning performance in his penultimate role is a tough act to follow.

That’s all I’m saying...for now.

It’s been eight years since Batman took the fall for the murder of Harvey Dent (Two Face). Still grieving over the death of Rachel Dawes and suffering from a variety of physical ailments, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale)  has placed himself in a self-imposed exile while estranging himself from the public. Wayne has also put himself at odds with Alfred (Michael Caine), and scoffs at his notions that he has to start living his life again.

So if you'd like to be as fit as Christian Bale is in this sequel, check this exercise program

Despite the hardships that have fallen upon Wayne Manor’s chief resident, crime has dropped significantly in Gotham City since the Harvey Dent Act was enacted, thus making the job of  Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) much easier. However, behind the scenes his life is a mess. His life has left him, and he is still carrying the guilt of having Batman take the fall for Dent’s death for the greater good of Dent’s Act. Gordon is about to reveal that Dent was the real culprit behind the actions leading to Batman’s when he is derailed and winds up in the city’s sewers, where he encounters Bane (Tom Hardy), a physically imposing, ruthless, intellectually-sound terrorist who believes Gotham City should abandon all forms of government, attack and punish the rich, and resort to forms of violence and anarchy.  Catwoman photo: totalfilm.com

Meanwhile, Wayne Enterprises’ fortunes are dwindling by the second, as a bad investment in a clean energy project is shut down when it is discovered that it could become a nuclear weapon. Bane is recruited by Wayne’s business rival John Daggett to arrange more investments in Wayne’s name that have very little chance in being successful.

So naturally, Wayne winds up bankrupt, and with a tip from cat burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) in a deal arranged to clear her name, Batman is led to Bane- where he practically cripples him and sends him to his old jail- where only one human being has ever escaped. With Batman out of the way, Bane proceeds to trap all of Gotham’s finest underground, while threatening the citizens of the city with nuclear detonation.

Nolan incorporates some very interesting elements into the film that are briefly touched upon in the other Batman movies, but are brought full front and center in ‘The Dark Knight Rises.’ You’ve always seen Bruce Wayne with money, but it was interesting to see his mindset when he is left with nothing. Moreover, Batman was tested to his fullest physical and mental capacity by Bane. No other villain in the franchise (possibly the Joker) has truly matched him wit for wit. This is Wayne’s truest testament of sound, mind, and body, and he must escape Bane’s prison as if his life depends on it. Not just for himself, but to finally clear Batman's name as well as save Gotham City.

While it’s able to forge a different identity than ‘Batman Begins’ and ‘The Dark Knight,’ it was going to be hard for ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ to top the first two Batman screen offerings by Nolan. I accepted that fact prior to watching the movie, and I was pleasantly surprised for a short time. However, the final 30-40 minutes in the already too long 164-minute ‘Rises’ really misses the mark and left me feeling unsatisfied with the movie as a whole. The final showdown between Batman and Bane is severely anticlimactic, and I was hoping for a better overall ending than the one Nolan provided for the film.

While Bale offers a solid all-around performance, Batman himself might get about an hour’s worth of screentime, he doesn’t even drive the Batmobile, and you see very little of Caine. Hardy (while at times practically inaudible), is a beyond-worthy adversary for Batman as Bane. While I had my doubts on the casting of Hathaway as Catwoman, she shines and is underutilized, as is Morgan Freeman, who returns as Wayne’s other confidant, Lucius Fox. While newcomer Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a solid addition as officer/detective John Blake, his inclusion leaves the door open for a possible spinoff that would receive very little fanfare with Bale hanging up his cowl.

If anything, you have to see ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ just to complete the trilogy and to see Bale as Batman one last time. But if there’s anything the last few days have taught us in the wake of the horrible tragedies surrounding this movie, it’s just entertainment, and it should be looked at as just that.

Contact Joe Vallee at jvallee@philly2philly.com

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Batman photo: dcist.com