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“Bane Capital”

Grade: B+ (RENT IT)

in memory of the victims of the Century 16 tragedy in Aurora, Colorado

THE PROBLEM WITH “The Dark Knight Rises,” Christopher Nolan’s final chapter to the superb series he rebooted in 2005, is that its titular Knight fails to rise at all, or at least, it takes two full hours for the caped crusader to land on his feet.  The fact that Master Wayne (Christian Bale) spends most of the movie in bed is just one of the puzzles at the heart of this inert ending.  Never has an superhero film felt so atrophied by a listless and lifeless lead, all its action postponed until the final thirty minutes, which is too little, too late.

At a staggeringly long 164 minutes – you’ll feel every sluggish minute of the first hour – Nolan seems intent on draining, bat-like, the life out of Bruce Wayne and his alter-ego.  Why end the popular series this way?  Its starter, “Batman Begins,” was devoted to Wayne’s gradual evolution from a Gotham orphan into a Bhutanese ninja, but here, for some odd reason, Nolan appears intent on rolling back the clock to return us to those early days of self-doubt, followed by gradual self-actualization. “The Dark Knight Rises” should have gone out with a bang, with Batman/Bruce Wayne at the top of his powers.  Instead, we’re given a bat in need of a blood transfusion.

Cinematographer Wally Pfister dims the lights low to match a mirthless script by Nolan and his brother Jonathan. “The Dark Knight Rises” not only leaves a sour aftertaste, but the nostalgic wish to return to the campy antics of Tim Burton’s finer “Batman Returns,” now twenty years old.  Remember the waddle of DeVito’s Penguin and the cattiness of Michelle Pfieffer’s Selina Kyle?   You won’t find any of that fun here despite an ensemble of A-list actors: Michael Cane as the faithful Alfred, Gary Oldman as commissioner Gordon, Morgan Freeman as Bruce’s prop-man, the ravishing Marion Cotillard as Miranda Tate, a philanthropist and executive at Wayne Enterprises.  The two stand-outs are Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a do-gooder policeman, John Blake, and the only breath of fresh air in this gloomy spectacle: Anne Hathaway as cat-burglar Selina Kyle.  But why gesture, at the end, toward Blake’s future identity if Nolan plans to end it there?

It’s eight years after “The Dark Knight” and having taken the blame for the death of Harvey Dent, Batman has retired his rubber suit.  A new threat menaces Gotham, however, and demands that Batman once again take flight though, here, he is slow, very slow, to heed the call. As the arch-nemesis Bane, Tom Hardy wears a pressurized dog-muzzle and sounds, laughably, like a cross between the Swedish chef and Darth Vader. The film’s most exciting sequence, which may correct your slouching sleepily in your seat, is his terrorist attack on a football stadium, but even that spectacular assault is followed by Bane’s muted address to the terrified sports-goers.  I couldn’t help but identify with Bane’s audience at that moment: trapped, they appear more bewildered than enthralled.

Not for nothing, the constant threat that Bane poses to Gotham City is a network of bombs ready to detonate.  Whether you catch it in Imax or 35-millimeter, “The Dark Knight Rises,” a misnomer of epic proportions, is set on that shaky ground: it’s a bomb that never goes off.  More accurately, it’s the shell of a bomb that can’t find its fuse.

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