Now that they've officially announced the beginning of production, Warner Bros. appears to have kicked off their viral campaign for "The Dark Knight Rises," and the result is our first look at Tom Hardy as Bane, one of the film's big villains.

It's interesting how closely this appears to be following the model they followed with their "Dark Knight" campaign.  I guess Warner feels like there's no reason to change something that built to a billion-dollar worldwide gross.  They've got very different elements at play this time, though, and while I think the reveal of Heath Ledger's look as The Joker was one of those lightning-bolt pop culture moments thanks to the iconic Joker/Batman relationship.  I'm not sure Bane holds anything like that sort of grip on the audience's minds.

Instead, what I hope works is the air of mystery about the overall film, and when you look at what Hardy's wearing, it kicks off the mystery with what appears to be an intriguing visual cue.  That mouthpiece is, if I'm not mistaken, a skeletal hand.  Who exactly is this version of the character?  A weapon unleashed by the League Of Shadows?  Who designed his gear?  Who pulls his strings?

I hope that even with reveals of characters like Selina Kyle aka Catwoman, played this time around by Anne Hathaway, they come at it sideways instead of just giving us a shot of the typical spandex clad… er, wait a minute.  I just considered a spandex-clad Hathaway, and decided that is what I want after all.  Scratch what I just said.

The point is that there are some big questions that are built into this third film, and I think starting everything with some creepy chanting that evidently, thanks to Batman fans who will evidently swarm over any site that has anything to do with Batman at all and strip the code down to its base.  Here, they uncovered the Twitter hashtag #thefirerises, each tweet of which added one pixel to the picture that has now been completely decoded.  Thank god JoBlo was playing along, because I still don't understand how this stuff works.


I have feeling it's going to be a long year with a whole lot of this sort of thing, and we'll certainly share the most interesting parts of it here.

"The Dark Knight Rises" opens everywhere July 20, 2012.