The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


The Dark Knight Rises
The Dark Knight Rises available on Blu-ray Combo pack, DVD and for download 12/4!

I hate when people use the word “epic” to describe a movie, probably because it's often applied to the wrong movies. (Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is not epic, I assure you.) That said, The Dark Knight Rises really did feel epic to me. While not technically a perfect film, Christopher Nolan's conclusion to his Batman trilogy pulls out all the stops, both thematically and in terms of action. The director indicated his ambitions with the dark, brooding Batman Begins, then laid them fully on the table with The Dark Knight. For his big finish, Nolan could have played it safe, going for a lighter, feel-good tone. Instead, he almost literally plunges Batman directly into Hell. The stakes have never been higher for this character onscreen, and despite a few minor plot holes, I was enthralled the entire time.

Set eight years after the previous installment, the film opens with Batman in retirement, having turned into a fugitive. Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is now a recluse, hobbling around Wayne Manor while butler Alfred (Michael Caine) frets over his master's loss of interest in life. Bruce realizes he must get his act together and bring the Caped Crusader back when a masked psychopath named Bane (Tom Hardy) begins terrorizing Gotham. What Bane wants to do is best left for you to discover on your own, but you do need to know about some new characters who play important roles in the story. Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), a.k.a. Catwoman, is a master thief who has the attention of both Bane and Batman. A Gotham cop named Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) proves instrumental in getting Wayne back into costume, while also revealing a special admiration for him. Finally, there's Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), a millionaire whom Wayne believes can be a crucial ally in fighting Bane. Also factoring into key roles are returning favorites Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) and Wayne Enterprises' Applied Sciences guy Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman).

The Dark Knight Rises gives us a Gotham that's in complete chaos. Bane's plan causes the city to nearly crumble under its own social, financial, and political weight. Civil unrest and a forcible taking of power from traditional authority become crucial to the film's plot. Nolan is fearless in exploring the idea of a civilization in the process of collapsing. If Batman Begins was about the hope of a hero emerging in a time of need, and The Dark Knight was about the need to preserve hope in a time of desperation, then The Dark Knight Rises is about the complete extinction of hope. For reasons that tie in perfectly to the events of the previous two films, Bane puts Gotham on the edge of ruin, to the point where even Batman is afraid of what might happen. How can ordinary citizens have hope when their hero is losing his? There's a grim extended sequence in the middle where Bruce is taken away from his beloved city, to a place where he is held captive. He must watch Gotham crumble from afar. Logic tells him that he may as well lay down and die; passion tells him to try, even if it seems futile. As The Dark Knight Rises approaches its grand finale, Nolan continues to plunge his characters deeper into societal despair. This is an amazingly brave piece of filmmaking, in that it stares directly into the abyss – and then pulls out one hell of a satisfying ending.

Bale, Caine, Oldman, and Freeman are as good as they have been throughout the series, with Caine, in particular, getting a show-stopping moment. The new additions to the cast are phenomenal. Tom Hardy brings a frightening menace to Bane; I found him quite creepy, especially in the scene where he is first introduced. Hulking and wearing an ominous face mask, Bane proves to be as intellectual as he is massive, which establishes him as a genuinely threatening foe. As Catwoman, Anne Hathaway hits just the right notes of slyness and seductiveness. (She'll make you forget that awful Halle Berry iteration of Catwoman.) Selina Kyle's shifting loyalties are fascinating, and Hathaway hits every note right. Marion Cotillard and Joseph Gordon-Levitt do strong work, as well, playing characters whose ultimate functions become clearer as the movie progresses.

Nolan somehow manages to top his action sequences with each installment. There are some cool new Bat-gizmos here, most notably a helicopter-like device dubbed, simply, the Bat. But the director also adds a sense of genuine danger to many of the scenes, especially a massive brawl in the city streets that kicks off the third act. The action is exciting, yet also substantive. It's worth noting that, in all Nolan's Batman pictures, the CGI never looks like CGI. He does as many effects practically as possible, which helps to give things a realistic feel. When CGI is used, it is integrated seamlessly. Cinematographer Wally Pfister (who I'm starting to believe is the greatest DP ever) provides an atmosphere that is completely enveloping, so that you are sucked into Gotham's madness and feel the weight of the action scenes to their maximum potential.

Again, there are some little plot holes and details that either don't quite add up, or require a second viewing to fully grasp. (I suspect it's more the latter than the former.) These are very minor, though, and they do nothing to diminish the power of The Dark Knight Rises. That title is prophetic. This is a film about emerging from darkness, about believing light exists where none can be seen. For any tiny flaws it may have, it gets the bigger picture exactly right. As a lifelong Batman fanatic, The Dark Knight Rises left me feeling tingly all over when the end credits started to roll. This is a majestic, intelligent, electrifying, and – yes – epic conclusion to a brilliant trilogy.

( out of four)

Blu-Ray Features:

The Dark Knight Rises arrives on Blu-Ray combo pack, DVD, and digital download on December 4. The film is presented in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, although the scenes shot with IMAX cameras expand to fill the entire frame of your television.

For my money, this may well be the Blu-Ray of the year. The supplementary material, housed on a second disc, runs about three hours and is exceptionally well-produced. It begins with “The Batmobile,” a superb one-hour documentary dedicated to the beloved vehicle. Highlighted by interviews with Adam West, Tim Burton, and Christopher Nolan, it shows how the Batmobile was designed and created for each new screen iteration of Batman, including the animated versions. There is fantastic behind-the-scenes footage of the cars being built and tested, and the segment ends with all the Batmobiles being brought together in the same location. And did you know that the version used in Burton's 1989 film is now owned by comedian Jeff Dunham? He's on hand too, to talk about his purchase.

Next up is “Ending the Knight,” a comprehensive look at the making of Nolan's third and final Batman installment. Starting with an explanation of how the Bane airplane takeover sequence was staged, the individual chapters cover every aspect of the production, featuring plentiful interviews with the director, the cast, and other crew members. These are not mere publicity pieces; they strive to help you understand the massive undertaking that this movie – and the series in general – was. Some of the most fascinating stuff involves the building of the massive sets for the Batcave and Bane's lair. You can see the great attention to detail, which benefits the film enormously. A chapter detailing the use of IMAX cameras to film large chunks of The Dark Knight Rises is another highlight.

Finally, there is a section devoted to the various trailers for the The Dark Knight Rises. A digital copy of the film is also included on the disc.

If you want to take your love of the movie beyond the Blu-Ray itself, you might want to check out the free Dark Knight Rises app. Compatible with 4th generation iPod touch devices, iPhone 4, iPad 2, and the New iPad, the app syncs up with the Blu-Ray, giving you access to some cool features. You can shoot your own video and have the Tumbler drive through it, put yourself in a “RISE” poster, and place character masks onto a photo. You can get the app at the iTunes store.

The Dark Knight Rises Blu-Ray is a must-own for fans of this series. The three hours of bonus material are a real selling point. You will devour them quickly. It's obvious that a lot of care went into them, and the end product is an enlightening look at how the conclusion to Nolan's Batman trilogy came together.

The Dark Knight Rises is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some sensuality and language. The running time is 2 hour and 44 minutes.

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