By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The batflick question of the moment, of course, is, does The Dark Knight Rises rise as far as The Dark Knight rose?

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The answer from this corner of the Batcave is: no, but it comes pretty darn close.

The Dark Knight Rises is the third installment in director Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy — based on the DC Comics characters — that began with 2005’s Batman Begins, the dark, compelling reinvention of the movie franchise, and continued with 2008’s The Dark Knight, the commercially applauded and critically lauded masterwork that was snubbed at Oscar time despite eight nominations and two Academy Awards, one of them a posthumous prize as best supporting actor for Heath Ledger.

(3½ stars out of 4)

And if there’s an element missing in The Dark Knight Rises, if there’s one spark of electricity that we wish were there that isn’t, it’s Ledger’s villain, the Joker.

That said, the threequel is nonetheless a thoughtful and thought-provoking essay on modern-day morality, as well as a spectacular disaster epic, and a propulsive thriller with expert, dizzying action sequences.

For the astonishingly accomplished Nolan (Inception, Memento, The Prestige, Insomnia), who co-wrote the screenplay with his brother Jonathan based on a story he co-wrote with David S. Goyer, this third at-Bat with the Caped Crusader is a gloomy and disturbing funhouse mirror that’s meant to reflect our collective paranoia in a post-9/11 universe, where fear of terrorism dukes it out with anxiety about financial collapse for the top spot on the worry list.

It takes place eight years after its predecessor left off, when Batman (Christian Bale) took the blame for crimes committed by DA Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) so that the citizens of Gotham City –- which resembles and parallels New York City even more than usual -– can remain hopeful and not feel that a dent has appeared in their appreciation of Dent’s heroic behavior.

Thus do billionaire Bruce Wayne and alter ego crimefighter Batman remain in seclusion, tended to by loyal butler Alfred (Michael Caine).

But now Gotham’s recent peace and prosperity, aided by the disappearance of organized crime, is threatened by an unstoppable terrorist called Bane (Tom Hardy) and sneaky cat burglar Selina Kaye (Anne Hathaway), who would appear to be in cahoots thwarting Batman’s renewed efforts to protect Gotham and its populace.

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Batman’s allies are police commissioner Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman), entrepreneur and business manager Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), and idealistic rookie cop John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), while Wayne Enterprises board member and philanthropist Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) offers Wayne the possibility of romantic involvement.

Nolan and his collaborators are after big game here, exploring themes such as truth, power, wealth, heroism, and justice. But despite occasional brief bursts of self-conscious speechifying, they never undermine the drama.

And, not to put too fine a point on the film’s topicality, but it would take a very stubbornly escapist viewer not to think about Occupy Wall Street when Bane attacks the Stock Exchange and lures Batman out of hiding even as he bankrupts Bruce Wayne.

Enough said.

The scope of Nolan’s noirish vision remains admirable, even if he lingers too long on gun battles, car chases, and fistfights; even if his choice of a voice for Bane makes much of his dialogue difficult to discern; even if he takes a bit too long (2¾ hours) to tell his concluding story; and even if he never quite tops his grabber of a James Bond-like opening sequence.

But he has the courage in a comic book-inspired movie to unmask and disarm his superhero and maintain the melancholy tone throughout, and he gets top-drawer contributions from Caine, Hathaway, Oldman, and Gordon-Levitt.

So we’ll battle 3½ stars out of 4 for the The Dark Knights Rises.  The third jewel in Christopher Nolan’s crowning achievement will once again get a rise out of you.

[EDITOR’S NOTE:  Bill Wine’s review was written just prior to the horrific opening night events in Aurora, Colo. (see related news page)]

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