Bane seems like a bad, bad man.

That is, of course, the point of the prologue from "The Dark Knight Rises," which was screened tonight at Universal Citywalk's IMAX screen with Christopher Nolan in attendance to set it up for us.

When "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol" opens on December 16 in a limited run for a week before it goes wider on the 21st, any of the screens that are playing the large-scale film format IMAX will also be playing this special "Dark Knight Rises" footage, which will not be released online.  Let me urge you to make sure you attend one of those screenings, and not just for the "Dark Knight" stuff.  I think I was fairly effusive the other day in my review of "M:I - GP," and part of what impressed me was the way Bird used the IMAX format in the scenes that were shot that way.  Now, seeing what Nolan's done with the IMAX cameras, I think the double-feature makes the best case yet for what a smart filmmaker can accomplish in terms of immersion without ever once using the term "3D."

Nolan's introduction for the footage was fairly brief, but he spoke about IMAX in glowing terms.  He's a believer, and he pointed out that the format was actually created the year before he was born, but that it remains the best format ever created.  He talked about how important it was to him as a filmmaker to give the moviegoing experience a sense of grandeur, something that he misses from his own childhood, and he talked about how "various forces are chipping away at that."  I love that, and I agree with him.  When I was living in Chattanooga as a kid, there was a 70MM screen downtown as part of the Chattanooga Choo Choo hotel that remains the single largest screen I've ever seen, at least in my head.  I saw films like "Raiders Of The Lost Ark" and "The Right Stuff" there, and I would get lost in those gigantic images, pulled into them to such a degree that I remember them as things that really happened, not just as movies.

As with the bank robbery that kicked off "The Dark Knight," the sequence we saw tonight was this movie's opening introduction of Bane, the bad guy played by Tom Hardy.  It is a spectacular bigscreen sequence built around practical stunt work and some amazing camerawork, and my first impression of the whole thing is that I don't really recognize the Bane that Nolan has created for this film, and I like that.  I like that he's taken this comic character which I've always seen as somewhat ridiculous and, in less than ten minutes, turned him into something between a cult leader and a crime lord, a figure of real terror.

The voice that Bane uses in the film is strange and strangled and sounds like someone broke his neck at some point.  He is obviously a guy who is already in play before this film begins, a man whose reputation has grown to the point where the CIA is actively afraid of him.  And by the end of this opening scene, it's clear why they're afraid of him.  He's willing to do anything, and he's capable of some truly original thinking when it comes to attaining his goals.  I will say that the mix on the sequence we saw tonight could use some tweaking because while I believe Nolan's goal is to make it hard to understand everything Bane says, it really felt like I only picked up about 10% of what he said, including an emphatic "The Fire Rises!" at one point.

I don't want to describe this stuff beat for beat because it would be a shame to steal that pleasure from you.  I've gone out of my way to try to avoid paparazzi photos and behind-the-scenes reports so I know very little about what Nolan's got in store for us next summer.  What I saw here just raised more questions than anything else.  This scene takes place on the international stage, a long way from Gotham, and there was nothing here to indicate why Bane's attention might eventually turn to the Bat and his situation.

The quick cuts we saw after the prologue included a few shots of Anne Hathaway, one in her Catwoman outfit and one in something that looked like a prison jumpsuit.  There was also one quick shot of Joseph Gordon Levitt in his police uniform.  It was notable for what we didn't see, including Marion Cotillard and Michael Caine and more than a few short shots of Gary Oldman.  I loved the overall look and feel of the stuff, and more than anything, there's a feeling that this is a film where Gotham has spun deeply out of control.  We saw very little Batman, but I'll say this… the last shot in the entire thing made me cackle.  It is a fiendish way to end a sneak preview, and I expect big reactions from audiences when they see it.

I can't wait to see the film when it's released July 20, 2012, and I am deeply impressed by this first glimpse.