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Capone says the bloated nature of the still highly watchable THE DARK KNIGHT RISES keeps it from being a masterpiece!!!

Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here. First off, I actually consider this a spoiler-free review. But since some of you may not, I respect that and I'm telling you to read at your own risk.

Why are you reading this? You already know whether or not you're going to see director/co-writer Christopher Nolan's concluding chapter in his three-film Batman story arc; you might even know how many times you're going to see THE DARK KNIGHT RISES. I've seen it twice, and I'll admit, the first time I did left me a little empty and partly unsatisfied with big sections of the story. But the second time brought a lot more together than I'd expected. As hard as it is to believe that a film written by Nolan and his brother Jonathan might be dense and feature a few too many characters for its own good, a repeat viewing did a lot to clear up what I thought were strange choices or rather roundabout ways of getting to the point when a straight line might have made more sense.

But the Nolans have earned the right to take whatever path they want to in closing out their time with the Dark Knight and his eclectic group of supporters and detractors, just as we've earned the right to question their choices. As an overall comment on THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, there are several instances where it seems the filmmakers take the most roundabout way to get from Point A to Point B, when a straight line might have been more advisable. As a result, the film feels like its loaded with a lot of filler, mostly in the form of extraneous characters. As a minor example, is Juno Temple's sidekick character to Anne Hathaway cat burglar Selina Kyle completely necessary? I'd love to see someone make a case that she is. Even returning supporting players (some of whom were unexpected by me in their cameos) seem to just eat up time and scenery. Is it a nice inside joke that the one-time Banmanuel (Nestor Carbonell) returns as the Mayor of Gotham? Of course. Is it necessary? Of course not.

But why pick on these minor characters. Let's pick on someone a little more important to Batman/Bruce Wayne. Let's talk about Alfred (Michael Caine), who spends the entire movie crying for various reason, but mostly he feels like he has failed the Wayne parents in protecting their only son, Bruce (Christian Bale) in keeping him safe. Why this is just hitting him now--eight years after THE DARK KNIGHT--is beyond me. And when he reveals a certain piece of information in an effort to save Wayne's life and then leaves his employ, the impact is…negligible. Why not kill Alfred and have his absence from the film actually mean something? As his role stands, Alfred is just another voice in Wayne's head, one that he regularly ignore, and so do we.

What's even more bizarre about THE DARK KNIGHT RISES is that the titles seems wrong; maybe it should be THE DARK KNIGHT VANISHES. Seriously, there are huge sections of this film where Batman simply does not exist. And even when he does appear, he's a different crime fighter than he was eight years earlier. His hand-to-hand fighting is sloppy; part of that is by design--he's meant to show signs of physical injury and rust. And as much as I loved his new flying machine (called The Bat) designed by Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), seeing Batman spent so much time flying over the streets of Gotham doesn't represent the man who used to enjoy getting in criminals' faces for shock value before he'd skillfully dispatch them with graceful martial arts.

Let's talk about extraneous plot. There's an extended sequence where Wayne is held in a prison on the other side of the earth from Gotham that actually has a way out for those skilled and brave enough to risk it. Now we know he's going to get out, so the drama is slightly undercut. But god, does that sequence seem to go on forever, and while the moment of his escape is fairly rousing, it takes forever to get us someplace we know without any doubt we're going to get to eventually. Bad call on Nolan's part for dragging that out for so long.

And while all of these incremental time-sucks did their best to keep me from placing the film on the same pedestal that I do THE DARK KNIGHT, there is still so much here to love, even if part of that love feels like guilty pleasure. My favorite scenes of THE DARK KNIGHT RISES involve two new characters. The previously mentioned Ms. Kyle, who not only looks great in a stretchy jumpsuit, razored high heels, and cat ears, but also is just a flat-out scrappy, snarling, selfish fighter who lives simply and sees herself as a woman who steals what she needs from people that can afford to go without. She plays both sides of the fence, but there a goodness to her that Wayne recognizes and appeals to.

I also really liked Joseph Gordon-Levitt's portrayal of smart, young police officer John Blake, who becomes a confidant and advisor to Police Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman), and lets on early in the film that he doubts the myth surround Harvey Dent's death at the hands of Batman, whose identity he seems fairly certain of. A lot happens when Gordon-Levitt is one screen, and although I walked into the film blissfully ignorant of exactly what his role in this film would be, I was really pleased with his position in the Batman story by film's end.

But the most talked about character in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES is that of Bane (Tom Hardy), a psychotic mercenary who wears a mask that cover most of his lower face and should muffle his voice. But thanks to a little post-production tinkering, his voice is ridiculously clear most of the time, and his bizarre accent often crosses the line back and forth between Bela Lugosi's Dracula and Count Chocula. Others will debate this, but his strange, inconsistent voice still rings in my ears like a catchy tune. Make no mistake, I'm a unapologetic fan of what Hardy is doing here, even it it made me laugh half the time. The mask itself terrified me, looking like a strange sea creature ready to rip Bane's face clean off. Bane hooks his thumbs into his jacket or breast plate like he's posing for portrait, and there is no end to his confidence nor his ego.

Nolan has the unenviable task of trying to create another foil for Batman as memorable as Heath Ledger's take on The Joker, and that's just never going to happen. But Hardy is such a gifted and unusual actor that he succeeds in hypnotizing us with his cocksure stride, exaggerated gestures, and dark sense of humor. On the few occasions when he and Batman are on screen together, he practically makes Batman seem invisible and dull.

I'm only scratching the surface on the plot of THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, and that's completely by design. The themes of civil unrest, of the working and middle classes rising up to overthrow the well-to-do. These are all things that Bane encourages, although in the end all that happens is that he releases a thousand prisoners into the Gotham population, they torment the rich, and put them on trial for having too much, I guess. The actual citizens of Gotham don't really seem to join in the fight; they're too scared of a much bigger threat Bane has hanging over their heads that I won't reveal, although I'm sure some have. I love that Bane wants to give the citizens hope before destroying them anyway; he's a cruel son of a bitch with a keen knowledge of how to drag out mental and physical torture.

Matthew Modine, Marion Cotillard, and others play less-than-inspired characters, and subplots involving sustainable energy and who gets controlling interest in Wayne Enterprises were about as interesting as sorting my sock drawer. THE DARK KNIGHT RISES has a bloated feeling to it (and I'm not just talking about the way Hardy looks without his shirt on), but it's far from dismissible. There is going to be a great deal of discussion about the way the film ends, but I was quite moved and impressed with it.

And while I tend to begrudge people who dislike a film because it doesn't meet their preconceived expectations, I became frustrated with the missed opportunities and lack of a tighter plot. I don't fault the film for not going full throttle from beginning to end; I'm a huge advocate of character development and pauses in the action for contemplating of the implications of what's just happened. But that's not what's going on in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES; the film just stalls sometimes. But when it's engines are humming, it's a thing of majestic beauty. And if you think my opinions on the film are confusing, and you're not sure how much I liked the film, welcome to my head. Ultimately I'm recommending this movie but with a truckload of reservations. And by the way, if you don't see this movie on an IMAX screen, you're missing out on something extremely impressive. I'm less on the fence having seen it in the format.

-- Steve Prokopy
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