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In Troubled Times, A 'Dark Knight' Returns

Christian Bale as Batman in The Dark Knight Rises. The final film in Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, which began with Batman Begins in 2005, deals explicitly with our contemporary political times. (Warner Bros. Pictures)

Before a hero can rise, he must suffer a fall, and fall the Dark Knight quite spectacularly did the last time around, taking the rap for crimes he didn't commit, marking himself as a vigilante pariah and even letting Heath Ledger steal the reviews. No way that's happening in this last installment. A comic-book tale that has gotten darker than anyone thought possible is now careening toward a burst of light — possibly a nuclear blast — at the end of the tunnel.

Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy has always focused on the psychology of evil, and this time the director is looking more at evil's sociological implications. Bat gizmos or no, this new movie has both feet planted firmly in the real world.

What's your poison? Terrorists? Wall Street shenanigans? Government incompetence? Nolan's got you covered. This film's bad guy trained in a Middle East hellhole, conspires with stock manipulators and exploits the mother of all police cover-ups.

The Dark Knight Rises

  • Director: Christopher Nolan
  • Genre: Action
  • Running Time: 164 minutes

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some sensuality and language

With: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Anne Hathaway, Juno Temple

Are you troubled by the social inequality making political headlines? Studio heads may identify with billionaire Bruce Wayne, but Nolan knows there are more moviegoers in the 99 percent.

"There's a storm coming, Mr. Wayne," whispers Ann Hathaway's cat burglar. "You and your friends better batten down the hatches, 'cause when it hits, you're all gonna wonder how you ever thought you could live so large, and leave so little for the rest of us."

She's not the only one who has mastered messaging. Bad guy Bane — the bane of all our existence, as played by Tom Hardy in a mouth guard that'll give fanboys orthodontist nightmares — has his anti-government rhetoric down so pat, he can make a new Bastille Day sound vaguely reasonable.

And his diabolical plans for Gotham mix other specifically Dickensian horrors with modernist ones: people's courts straight out of A Tale of Two Cities, a surveillance society on steroids, even underground tremors that will stoke fracking fears. All of it set not in the stylized Gotham of the previous movies, but in a gritty, post-Sept. 11 Manhattan, complete with a still-under-construction tower at Ground Zero. Quite a setting for super-sized superheroics.

I saw the film in 35 millimeter and did not feel deprived, though I'll certainly be heading back to catch it in IMAX at some point. Even without an image five stories tall, the spectacle is considerable, pumped up by a Hans Zimmer score so thundering that it pretty much drowns out the dialogue in some spots.

And if a couple of Morgan Freeman's bat-gizmos seem sort of standard-issue — a big-wheeled bat-cycle, for instance, that's not very interesting until it corners — he and the rest of the characters keep things plenty compelling, whether they're old friends like Michael Caine's protective butler, Alfred, or new ones, like Joseph Gordon-Levitt's earnest police officer.

As you might expect from the creator of Inception and Memento, there are surprises both in the story and in the storytelling. But the biggest surprise may just be how satisfying Nolan has made his farewell to a Dark Knight trilogy that many fans will wish he'd extend to a 10-part series, at least.

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Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

This summer, the superhero bar has been set pretty high. "The Amazing Spider Man" made half a billion dollars in less than a month. Marvel's "The Avengers" is closing in on a billion and a half in less than three months.

And now comes Batman in "The Dark Knight Rises." It concludes director Christopher Nolan's "Dark Knight" trilogy. Our movie critic Bob Mondello says it does so with both epic and real-world flourishes.

BOB MONDELLO: Before a hero can rise, he must suffer a fall. And fall, the Dark Knight quite spectacularly did the last time around; taking the rap for crimes he didn't commit, marking himself as a vigilante pariah, and even letting Heath Ledger steal his reviews. No way that's happening in the last installment. A comic-book tale that's gotten darker than anyone thought possible, is now careening toward a burst of light - possibly a nuclear blast - at the end of the tunnel.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DARK KNIGHT RISES")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (as Character) Oh, boy. You are in for a show tonight, son.

MONDELLO: Christopher Nolan's "Dark Knight" trilogy has always focused on the psychology of evil. This time, the director is looking more at the sociology of evil. What's your poison - terrorists? Wall Street shenanigans? Government incompetence? Nolan's got you covered. This film's bad guy trained in a Middle East hellhole, conspires with stock manipulators, and exploits the mother of all police cover-ups.

Are you troubled by the social inequality making political headlines? Well, studio heads may identify with billionaire Bruce Wayne, but Nolan knows there are more moviegoers in the 99 percent.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DARK KNIGHT RISES")

ANNE HATHAWAY: (as Catwoman) There's a storm coming, Mr. Wayne. You and your friends better batten down the hatches because when it hits, you're all gonna wonder how you ever thought you could live so large, and leave so little for the rest of us.

MONDELLO: That's Anne Hathaway's cat burglar, whispering Occupy talking points into the ear of Christian Bale's reluctant hero. And she's not the only one who's mastered messaging.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DARK KNIGHT RISES")

TOM HARDY: (as Bane) When Gotham is ashes, you have my permission to die.

MONDELLO: Bad guy Bane - played by Tom Hardy in a mouth guard that'll give fanboys orthodontist nightmares - has his anti-government rhetoric down so pat, he can make a new Bastille Day sound vaguely reasonable. And his diabolical plans include everything from a "People's Court" straight out of Dickens; to a nuclear nightmare set not in the previous film's stylized Gotham, but in a gritty, post-9/11 Manhattan, complete with a still-under-construction tower at Ground Zero. Quite a setting for supersized super-heroics.

(SOUNDBITE OF "DARK KNIGHT RISES" MUSIC)

MONDELLO: I saw the film in 35-millimeter and did not feel deprived, though I'll certainly be heading back to catch it in IMAX at some point. Even without an image five stories tall, the spectacle is considerable - pumped up by a Hans Zimmer score so thundering that it pretty much drowns out the dialogue, in some spots.

(SOUNDBITE OF "DARK KNIGHT RISES" MUSIC)

MONDELLO: Still, you get the point. And if a couple of Morgan Freeman's bat-gizmos seem sort of standard-issue - a big-wheeled bat-cycle, for instance, that's not very interesting until it corners - he and the rest of the characters keep things plenty compelling, whether they're old friends like Michael Caine's protective butler...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DARK KNIGHT RISES")

SIR MICHAEL CAIN: (as Alfred) I won't bury you. I've buried enough members of the Wayne family.

MONDELLO: Or new ones, like Joseph Gordon-Levitt's earnest police officer.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DARK KNIGHT RISES")

JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT: (as John Blake) When you cleaned up the streets, you cleaned them good. Pretty soon, we'll be chasing down overdue library books.

MONDELLO: As you might expect from the creator of "Inception" and "Memento," there are surprises both in the story, and in the storytelling. But the biggest surprise may just be how satisfying Nolan has made his farewell to a "Dark Knight" trilogy that many fans will wish he'd been willing to make a whole lot longer.

I'm Bob Mondello.]

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "'DARK KNIGHT RISES' THEME") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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