Superhero mythology has never hewed as close to the real world as it has in The Dark Knight Rises.

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Christian Bale as Batman

Christian Bale as Batman

Superhero mythology has never hewed as close to the real world as it has in The Dark Knight Rises.

That is in keeping with the bold philosophy of writer-director Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, now completed. Reasoning that Batman doesn't have any mutant/alien/supernatural super-powers common to the genre, Nolan jettisoned the catchphrases, the campy villains and the black-and-white moral landscapes that are the coin of the realm of the superhero in general, and Batman in particular.

Even at its most outrageous, there is a recurrent ping of realpolitik plausibility here that distinguishes this movie from all other superhero movies and summer blockbusters in general.

In that spirit, we find our hero a shadow of his former self, semi-crippled, and living in seclusion in Wayne Manor, to the consternation of his faithful manservant Alfred (Michael Caine). Wayne has lived in self-imposed exile in the eight years since the conclusion of the 2008 film The Dark Knight. After Batman took the rap for the death of crazed district attorney Harvey Dent, Gotham City has cleaned itself up with the help of some draconian laws enacted in Dent's memory, successfully locking away criminals thanks to lax attitudes to due process. Since Batman is now a wanted man, the black rubberized batsuit has been mothballed, and anyway Wayne is still in mourning for the dear departed Rachel Dawes.

Another example of Nolan's insistence on keeping Batman earthbound: there is a Catwoman character in The Dark Knight Rises, but she doesn't use a whip, she never makes a single pun on the word purr and indeed, she is never actually called Catwoman.

She is Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), an especially cunning cat burglar who robs Bruce Wayne of his mother's pearl necklace and subsequently warns the dissipated one-per-center of an impending class war: "A storm is 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."

The storm in question is pretty much embodied in the imposing Bane (Tom Hardy), a ferocious terrorist bent on the destruction of Batman's Gotham City. Enlisting the subterranean exiles of Gotham and his own private army, Bane launches an assault from within Gotham, cutting the city off from the rest of the country His plan involves turning Wayne Industries' benignly-intended technology against the city.

Other important figures emerge in the Gotham City class struggle, including Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), an altruistic businesswoman who holds the promise of Wayne's salvation, and idealistic cop John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a resourceful crime-fighter in his own right, who allies himself with the beleaguered Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman).

Nolan co-scripted this movie with his brother Jonathan Nolan and David S. Goyer and thus bears the guilt for a lagging middle section, detailing the subjugation of Gotham with no Batman in sight.

But by the thrilling final act, all is forgiven. Nolan satiates his taste for the big action set piece, but all is grounded in an intricately woven world of fierce loyalty and even more fierce enmity.

Give credit to the cast. In staying true to her character's inner rage, Hathaway fleshes out Catwoman as a complex anti-heroine fighting her own demons, and not a dominatrix run amok. Hardy likewise delivers a scary bone-crusher of a villain, but even with that elaborate steam-punk mask, he employs finesse in delineating a monster who was created, not born.

Finally, Bale does his best work in the role here. Deprived of his bat cowl for long stretches of the film, the actor makes the most of his opportunity to play the humanity behind the myth, in keeping with Nolan's admirable success in rendering the uncomfortable reality flowing beneath the comic book mythology.


Other voices

Selected excerpts from reviews of The Dark Knight Rises.

Tom Hardy as Bane

Tom Hardy as Bane

While director Christopher Nolan and star Christian Bale's epic of criminality and all-consuming conviction ultimately falls a bit short, their Batman trilogy ends with a suitably thrilling mix of guts and glory.

-- Joe Neumaier, New York Daily News


[Nolan] has made a completely satisfying movie with The Dark Knight Rises, one steeped enough in self-contained mythology to reward hard-core fans while giving less invested viewers a rousing, adroitly executed piece of popcorn entertainment.

-- Ann Hornaday, Washington Post


This is a sequel that succeeds, meeting expectations built ridiculously high by fan culture and savvy marketing. In the end, Nolan's Dark Knight rises to the occasion.

-- Brad Wheeler, Globe and Mail


An epic and then-some send-off to a character, and a franchise, that made it safe for superheroes to get serious.

-- Rafer Guzman, Newsday


Christopher Nolan's dramatically and emotionally satisfying wrap-up to the Dark Knight trilogy adroitly avoids clichés and gleefully subverts your expectations at every turn.

-- Lou Lumenick, New York Post


It has the summer's best effects, the summer's highest stakes -- Gotham City Armageddon -- the summer's sexiest villain and the biggest comic book movie thrills and best comic book movie chills of this cinema season.

Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle

Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle

-- Roger Moore, McClatchy-Tribune News Service


The film begins slowly with a murky plot and too many new characters, but builds to a sensational climax.

-- Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times


As a cop tells a younger partner when Batman first reappears, "Boy, you're in for a show tonight, son." And, indeed, it's been quite a show.

-- Charlie McCollum, San Jose Mercury News


If the film is not quite the achievement The Dark Knight was -- and maybe that's the real question -- it's still a fitting end to a very ambitious series.

-- Bill Goodykoontz, Arizona Republic


The Dark Knight Rises ultimately justifies its length (in fact, a good argument could be made for a longer cut) and the last 45 minutes is nothing short of spectacular.

-- James Berardinelli, ReelViews


It is, through and through, a Nolan movie -- a brooding, complicated film that asks that you come to the theatre prepared and that you watch the movie engaged.

-- Stephen Whitty, Newark Star-Ledger


This Knight not only rises, it also cuts deep -- not just as spectacular entertainment but also as harrowing drama.

-- Peter Howell, Toronto Star


It's spectacular, to be sure, but also remarkable for its all-encompassing gloom.

-- Joe Morgenstern, Wall Street Journal


The Dark Knight Rises only rarely starts to tremor under the weight of its own portent, and is not without its own sly humour. Well done.

-- Glenn Kenny, MSN Movies


Potent and provocative, The Dark Knight Rises is the King Daddy of summer movie epics.

-- Peter Travers, Rolling Stone


Big-time Hollywood filmmaking at its most massively accomplished, this last instalment of Nolan's Batman trilogy makes everything in the rival Marvel universe look thoroughly silly and childish.

-- Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter


-- Compiled by Shane Minkin

Randall King

Randall King

In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

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