"In Dark Knight Rises," a hulking, muzzled goon called Bane announces his place in the pantheon of Batman villains with the following words:
"Mfflph nrophxing, brngshyll vlorxxer!."
Or something like that.
We're used to plots that are unintelligible ("Pirates of the Caribbean" 2-5), but this is something new for a blockbuster — a character whose very speech is unintelligible.
Seriously — you're going to understand about one-third of what the dude says, especially with the Hans Zimmer music blaring over everything.
On the other hand, who cares? A picture is worth a thousand words, and one look at burly Bane in his space-age wifebeater and you get the message, loud and clear — the guy is going to beat the tar out of the Batman and bring Gotham City to its knees.
He's a suitable heir to The Joker, and that's important. Christopher Nolan's "Batman" series didn't really take wing until he gave the caped crusader a memorable adversary — today, we all accept that Heath Ledger gave us one of the great modern movie villains, but the performance, with its high-pitched vocal eccentricities, was a great risk at the time.
Bane is in the same vein — no one but Nolan would dare build his movie around a pivotal character with garbled speech. And given the director's absolute control over every detail, you have to consider the possibility that he did it on purpose, that he meant Bane's voice to be more an expression of rage than of coherent thought.
To that end, he selected an actor who could get ideas across with sheer physicality. Enter Tom Hardy, star of the criminally neglected "Warrior." Anyone who saw him in that film will understand why Nolan wanted him as the embodiment of ill will, targeted fury and, here, focused psychosis.
Hardy brings a little of "Warrior" with him — "Bane" is part MMA icon, part Ernst Blofeld (you hear it in the inflection, in such dialogue as "You have my permission to die") and a large dollop of "The Humongous" from "Road Warrior."
Bane himself is a mystery man — a sketchy past as a mercenary who did dirty work for the mining industry, now in league with a crooked financier out to rig the stock market. An early action sequence has Bane busting into the stock exchange, grabbing a snotty trader behind the head and slamming him into a Bloomberg terminal. The crowd goes wild.
Financial fraud? Rigged trading? Wall Street bashing in its most literal form?
It's here you start to get a whiff of what's on the mind of director Nolan, whose movies transcend popcorn entertainment and arrive thick as novels with plot and resonant themes (there is even a Hurricane Katrina reference). Where "Dark Knight" probed the nation's post-terror psyche, "Rises" seems very interested in the 1 percent/99 percent divide.
Indeed, Bane comes from hunger, and it's that drive that makes him such a formidable match for rich kid Bruce Wayne, beset at the outset of "Rises" by self-pity, disinterest in the affairs of his household, his flagging corporate empire, his philanthropy.
Ugh — who wants to listen to an Occupy Wall Street lecture on corporate responsibility? Well me, if it comes from Anne Hathaway in a skintight suit. Her Catwoman is the movie's most amusing invention, as a wisecracking, working-class girl who's turned into (yes) a cat burglar, and explains economic unrest to Wayne while crashing a posh society ball.
"There's a storm coming," she says. "You all are going to wonder how you could live so large for so long and leave so little for the rest of us."
The storm, led by nihilistic, anarchic Bane, looks a lot like the French Revolution, complete with Bastille Day, tribunals, public executions, a reign of terror that Batman and a few allies (Joseph Gordon Levitt, Marion Cotillard) work to undo.
So the movie is another Hollywood attack on capitalism? Not hardly. Bane, in Nolan's scheme of things, is what's bound to happen if men like Wayne practice a form of capitalism that limits prosperity to a very few, that confuses enlightened self-interest with destructive selfishness (that latter is always the true villain in Nolan's trilogy).
And Nolan, who directs in khakis, blue blazers and cufflinks, is hardly a revolutionary.
His movie is a massive corporate enterprise designed to make a billion dollars, and almost certainly will. It's overlong, overplotted, but comes together brilliantly in the final moments, sending one of the movies' darkest franchises out on a rousing note.
REVIEW | sss1/2
The Dark Knight Rises
Directed by Christopher Nolan, with Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Marianne Cotillard, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman. Distributed by Warner Bros.
Running time: 160 minutes
Parent's guide: PG-13
Playing at: Area theaters