In my excitement and almost uncontrollable anticipation of Christopher Nolan's silver screen finale to his celebrated, genre-altering Batman trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises, I made the cognizant decision to forego any and all press screenings in lieu of seeing the film for the first time at midnight with the true blue fans of the character. For those who know me and visit the site regularly, it's no secret that I am a die-hard "bat-fan" - with every piece of my being. I believe with all my heart that Bruce Wayne is the greatest of our heroes... with all his flaws and imperfections. His very humanity is what makes him who he is. Something his comic cohorts don't share. Not only have I spent the better part of my life reveling in the stories of an ordinary man with extraordinary means and drive, become a symbol for good, defeating evil that would rise up and threaten life as we know it - but the last 7 years of my life have been spent watching him be re-imagined, realized and given an on screen treatment so true to the vision of Bob Kane and Bill Finger, that it's hard to imagine anything past its close. It is with great weight on my heart to write that unfortunately, the close I so looked forward to would be marred in tragedy and loss... As I stepped out of the midnight showing of the film, blood rushing through my veins, on my way to a 3:30am breakfast and philosophical conversation with my father about what we had just witnessed, I was made aware of a horrific happening at a theater in Aurora, Colorado, not too far outside of the current residence of a family member of mine. I read the news running rampantly across our Twitter account about a young man who opened fire with a military-grade automatic weapon on a theater full of people, at a midnight showing of the film. Shock. Sorrow. Tears. Frozen. 71 hit, 59 wounded, 12 killed. Yet, for all my tears and sadness, for a group of innocent people doing nothing more than planning to see the most highly anticipated film of the year, none could match the sadness of those who ended up exiting the theater in utter horror and fear (some injured, some not even making it out at all) having not had the privilege and joy of seeing those plans realized... nor their lives lived out. Pain. My heart, prayers and sincere condolences are extended to the families/friends/victims of this horrible tragedy. I cry tears for them, not truly being able to fathom what they must be feeling at this time. Out of genuine respect and love for those lost and the cinema, respectively, I held off writing this review until tonight. I've spent the last few days attempting to grasp and try to make sense of everything that has transpired; even knowing fully that attempting to pit the rational against something so purely irrational and senseless is a pointless venture. On a day when we could have used a real hero, I can only hope and pray that true justice is realized and that the man responsible for this travesty has his day. This... is for #Aurora. -Nate I never thought the day would come. I've dreamt it. I've spent the last year of my life thinking there was a very high likelihood that, because of my love for this character and what Team Nolan has done in realizing the true essence of Bruce Wayne and his plight as The Dark Knight, I may run from giving an truly honest and unbiased review of this film. Making my way in line with the hundreds of other rabid fans, I (in my own custom tee, special ordered for the midnight showing, ticket in hand) waded through the sea of cannon, costumes and conversations to my place with the group for Theater 6 and waited. I thought back to June of 2005, when I was reintroduced to a character whose onscreen exploits I had just about given up on, after the Batman & Robin debacle that buried the franchise in the late 90's. I was going through a particularly rough time in life, and watching Bruce Wayne find his place in society, via the origins of The Batman (via the director of little art house crime thrillers Momento and Insomnia - and featuring a great mysterious young actor in Christian Bale donning the cape and the cowl, as well as the face of Bruce Wayne), gave me hope that I could do the same; and conquer my own fears. It was in this time that I truly found myself and was able to grasp my purpose, to some extent, realizing who I was during a time where I wasn't always sure. I proceeded to see Batman Begins 8 times in the theater over the next two weeks, finding something new to revel in upon each and every viewing. It changed my life. It was stellar. I don't have to sit here and write about the well-documented brilliance of that film nor its successor, the billion-dollar worldwide phenomenon; the Godfather II of superhero films, The Dark Knight. Everyone is well aware of the performance of the late Heath Ledger as Bruce's arch nemesis, The Joker; a truly frightening and compelling tour de force. It was a performance that redefined what villains could be in superhero films, in a film that redefined the genre all together. Lest we forget the performances from Oscar® winners and nominees Sir Michael Caine, (new nom) Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman (all back for TDKR and wonderful, even if given less to do) - let alone the strong performances from Aaron Eckhart and Maggie Gyllenhaal Unfortunately, that film was marred in tragedy, with the gifted Ledger passing before his time, prior to the release of the film, from an accidental prescription medication mixture. Again, plans gone awry. Ledger would go on to win a myriad of well- deserved, posthumous awards, including the Best-Supporting Actor Oscar® for his performance. Still, the community had lost one of its youngest and brightest... far too soon. Disclaimer: I refuse to sit here and compare this film to TDK. It's apples and oranges, and frankly better saved for another time and another Op-Ed. Fast forward four years to now. Team Nolan would have the chance to do something that hadn't been done in the genre ( a genre redefined) before - by sticking the landing on the third film of a true blue trilogy. That being, three movies sharing one story (Bruce's) but still being able to stand alone in terms of tone, with a beginning, middle and end. The Dark Knight Rises was billed early as the end of a journey. The end of a legend. THE END. The brilliant Tom Hardy was cast as the physically and intellectually imposing Bane, Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle, Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a young GCPD beat cop... the anticipation began to spread; people pondering what Nolan might possibly do. That he may go places and do things no other superhero film before it had done. Let me tell you that he does... in spades. The Dark Knight Rises gets its cues from comic arcs such as Frank Miller's celebrated "The Dark Knight Returns", "Knightfall" and "No Man's Land" - but I urge you not to read to much into this, as Nolan and his co-writers, brother Jonathan and cohort David Goyer, are known to pull from but not mimic these stories, in lieu of creating custom stories that take pieces from each in order to maintain the element of surprise. Nolan is well-known in the director-sphere for his coy nature where his films are concerned. Rightfully so. There are more twists and turns than a game of Chutes & Ladders (for all your board game fanatics out there) in the third act of TDKR, none of which will be revealed here. The basic premise of the film is an aging, mentally and physically deteriorated Bruce Wayne 8 years after the events of The Dark Knight has left him pondering his place in both his personal life and as Batman, and in full-on hiding. Hiding from a society that has been cleaned up significantly and doesn't need, or particularly want, him. Bruce is lured out of hiding by the sly, witty grifter/thief Selina Kyle (played brilliantly here by Anne Hathaway; not once referred to in the film as Catwoman) and Miranda Tate (the wonderful Marion Cotillard), who is aiding Bruce with a Wayne Enterprises venture that will help both the city and the world. In the midst of, a vile terrorist threat, Bane (Hardy in a brilliant turn), comes to the forefront, backed by an army, looking to force citizens to take control of Gotham, while defacing all that was built by Bruce and Gordon's pact at the end of TDK. This proves the stroke that will bring Batman out of hiding (much to Alfred's chagrin, and Lucius' joy) to face his greatest challenge yet, while completely unprepared physically, mentally or spiritually for what's to come. If you believed he was put through the wringer in TDK, you've seen nothing. Bruce is tested in every possible way in this film and the result is something so emotionally gripping, I sat on the edge of my seat with a massive lump in my throat from around the beginning of the second act on. It didn't come easily though, the first act of the film has its issues. With so much story and so many new characters to establish, everything moves at a very break neck pace. Even after the spectacular opening where we are introduced to our villain via an awe-inspiring plane commandeering (the prologue, for those fortunate enough to see it this past December), one that would make anyone from the Bond franchise blush, it seems as though there is a ton packed into the first 60 of 165 minutes. Despite the set up pacing, we are treated to two particularly special sequences, one where idealistic GCPD beat cop John Blake (the absolutely stellar Joseph Gordon-Levitt) visits a rebuilt Wayne Manor to discuss an occurrence that needs Bruce's attention and Selina's run in with a slithery snake in a seedy bar during an important exchange, where she shows her acing ability in more ways than one (in quite hilarious fashion, might I add). Hathaway gives us a completely revamped, much stronger Selina than we've seen in past interpretations - and it's the best yet. She plays her damaged, but not neurotic, strong but not without compassion. Coming from a big fan of Michelle Pfeiffer's turn, the Rachel Getting Married actress is a revelation and proves her skeptics wrong by miles. Which brings me to the aforementioned Bane (Hardy). The primary, masked villain of this story, known for breaking the Bat in 1993's "Knightfall" story arc, is the absolute epitome of evil. He, much like Hardy's description a few months back, is a terrorist in every sense of the word. Highly intelligent, highly physical, a precision surgeon in hand-to-hand combat and a man concerned only with carrying out his agenda, takes no prisoners. If The Joker was an agent of chaos, with no plan, Bane is an agent of order... a man who, with every bit of his being, has long plotted and will do any and everything to see his plans carried out. He is skilled, ferocious, visceral and has what Alfred refers to as "the power of BELIEF". He gives Batman a run for his money and presents the first villain in this trilogy that could wipe the floor with Bruce, physically, if he so chose. What Hardy does with this role is brilliant, as 2/3 of his face is covered with the mask (we won't give you why he wears it), thus most of his performance resides in his eyes and mannerisms... and he is beyond compelling. He commands the screen each time he appears and does not disappoint. We've heard the complaints, "not big enough", "can't understand him"... blah, blah. Let me be very clear in this; a massive hulking Luchador mask-wearing comic book Bane would not fit well into Nolan's world, and I understood 99.9% of what he said with no problems whatsoever in my viewings. The portions I didn't, I suppose I wasn't meant to. This is a part of what makes him so menacing, the mystique surrounding him. While Nolan does give back story to support him, it's not enough to bring about much sympathy where he's concerned. He is a lear cut villain and it is very increasingly apparent from the word "go". He has complete disregard for human life and shows it time and again, throughout. Not the hulking, mindless brute you remember from the embarrassing B&R. Hardy is wonderfully cast and proves again why he is one of the industry's most talented, versatile young actors. Technically, the film is absolutely astounding. Capturing over a full hour of IMAX footage (more than any film prior), Oscar®-winning cinematographer Wally Pfister is able to capture such depth and scale that when seen on the 70MM IMAX screen (and you should spring the extra cash to see it the way it was meant to be seen), you feel as though you're in each moment. Every bead of sweat, every emotion, every action sequence is so massive in scale that you can't fight your rising pulse as sole composer Hans Zimmer's primal, tribal score pounds your chest at every turn. It is also equally emotional as it takes cues from the two previous films' more tender moments. While not quite as groundbreaking as the unnerving TDK score, this is a close second with a far less structured feel... fitting for the tone of the film, which blends feel from both Begins and TDK. At times, the film doesn't seem to know when it wants to go into 70MM mode, versus 35MM, but it's less than noticeable for someone not looking. The sweeping city shots are truly something to behold, as are the arial shots during the opening sequence. This is the grittiest, dirtiest version of Gotham we've seen, as much more of this film (compared to Begins and TDK) is shot during the day, giving us a full view of the bleak nature of the film. Seeing Gotham covered in a thick blanket of white snow and ice, while the military Tumblers tread across land, gives us a beautiful, if not harsh and stark, contrast of light versus dark, good versus evil. Quite simply, despite slight early pacing issues and some rather conventional, though COMPLETELY justified, choices late, Nolan does what no director in the genre has done before him and sticks a stellar landing for the third and out. The Dark Knight Rises is one of the most satisfying, rewarding ends to a trilogy and film that I've ever seen. It brings to mind powerfully emotional storytelling the likes of Star Wars: Episodes IV-VI or The Lord of the Rings. It has completely defined an era and redefined what the superhero means to us, by keeping Batman what he's always been... human. This is Bruce Wayne's story, a human story that just so happens to include The Batman - not the opposite. Bale does him considerable justice in his most multi-layered, emotional turn yet. He is absolutely riveting. His human, flawed portrayal is why we vest ourselves in the character so diligently; we can relate on so many levels, even if we don't know what it means to put on a cape and a cowl and defend what we believe in most, with everything we have.
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