MOVIE REVIEW: "The Dark Knight Rises" $10/10

Innocent is such a strong word....

The people of Gotham City have had a pretty rough time lately.

In BATMAN BEGINS, their water supply was vaporized, then saturated with a weaponized hallucinogen. The lower class residents of an area called "The Narrows" proceeded to tear each other to pieces.

In THE DARK KNIGHT, a scar-faced maniac caused chaos in the streets and helped turn their political hero into a two-faced villain.

And in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, a brawny Goliath who speaks like he's spent way too much time in the rat hole known as ProTools, captures the city and hands it over to the people. After closing all of the exits, trapping the entire police force underground, and declaring Gotham open for play - the people procede to start fires, rip the rich from their homes, and tear each other apart (yes, again).

Forget evil. The people of Gotham need somebody to save them from themselves. The villains of director Christopher Nolan's Gotham City don't exist to rain fire upon the people, they exist to give the people the means to do it on their own.

That is what I've found so fascinating about Nolan's Batman trilogy. At their core, the movies are a commentary on the moral degradation of society. As the people of Gotham are granted their Utopia in TDKR, we enter a trashed home and see Selina Kyle, a cat burglar who once licked her whiskers at the thought of such a moment, staring at a shattered photograph of the family who once lived there. Her expression says it all - what good is it to be a thief if everything has no value? Be careful what you wish for.

It's been eight years since the city has seen the Batman. After Harvey Dent's death, the city has seen a crime cleanup thanks to tight legislation that has filled their prison with thousands of inmates. But all of that is about to change.

A hulking mass of a man who calls himself Bane blasts his way onto American soil in a riveting airplane action sequence. Once here, he holes up in the Gotham sewer system, building an army of citizens willing to die for his cause.

What is that cause? The movie takes its time to build the answer, but it clearly involves dragging the Batman out of retirement. Tom Hardy has the menacing stare to make Bane a truly terrifying figure (not to mention the delts). Because he wears a mechanical mask covering much of the lower half of his face, Bane's eyes need to tell us everything. They're dark and empty, but incredibly determined. I wonder how much time Hardy spent getting this right.

Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne has become a recluse, spending his days confined to Wayne Manor. Michael Caine's Alfred is doing his best to get his master out of the house, even prodding him to give activist Maranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) a chance in the love department. Meanwhile, Bruce has a run-in with Kyle's burglar. I'm not sure it's possible to roll the eyes any better than Anne Hathaway does in this movie.

All that said, I strongly discourage you from digging for more plot information. Know that Bane wants to bring the Batman, and Bruce Wayne, to his knees. Bane's terror plot constantly reveals the ineptitude of the Gotham City police force. In fact, I found TDKR to have a pretty blatant anti-big government message. When this thing goes down, the Feds aren't there for the people of Gotham. Instead, they turn to a billionaire hero, with his own earned finances, resources and passion, to get them out of this mess.

If BATMAN BEGINS was about the origin of the Caped Crusader, and THE DARK KNIGHT was about The Joker, then THE DARK KNIGHT RISES is all about Bruce Wayne learning to be Bruce Wayne. Christian Bale saves his best work for last, and the script gives the actor plenty to work with. It's ironic, because here we have a director that has become so attached and celebrated when it comes to this franchise - and both he and his main character spend nearly three hours figuring out how to say goodbye.

Christopher and his brother Jonathan Nolan co-wrote the screenplay, and they were wise to entrust most of the movies emotional monologues to Alfred. It takes an actor of Michael Caine's caliber to carry such exposition without making it feel like exposition, and to do it all with a world of heart. Caine has a reaction shot late in the film that is so incredibly perfect, we don't even need the cutaway that follows it. He tells us everything we need to know with his eyes.

There I go again, talking about "eyes" when reviewing a big budget, blockbuster superhero film. That's what makes these Batman films special. We have a spectacular action fest shot with IMAX cameras - nearly an hour of this film plays out on a mammoth six-story tall movie screen. Yet here I am remembering short portions of dialogue between Bruce and Alfred, a father figure telling his adopted son why he doesn't want to let him down.

After a second viewing and a lot of thought, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES is my favorite entry into the BATMAN saga, Christopher Nolan or otherwise. It's as dark as a Batman film needs to be with a tremendous amount of heart, not to mention a few fun twists and an ending that couldn't have been any stronger.

See this one before somebody spoils it for you.

THE DARK KNIGHT RISES is one of my favorite films of the year so far. It earns a Leshock Value of $10 out of a possible $10.