And so Christopher Nolan’s Batman saga comes to a close. Batman Begins was the birth of a legend, The Dark Knight was the escalation of evil and The Dark Knight Rises is the grand finale that brings everything full circle. I think that is an essential quality of the film to keep in mind: it is a finale; it’s not just a sequel, it is Christopher Nolan’s final word on a character that he has explored for nearly a decade.
I am going to leave the plot summary intentionally brief and vague to avoid any potential spoilers.
After the events of The Dark Knight, Batman has been out of the game for eight years and Bruce Wayne has become a shut-in. After years of relatively low crime in Gotham thanks to legislation known as “The Harvey Dent Act,” a new villain has come to the city with a mysterious agenda of his own: Bane. As a result of a confrontation with Bane, Commissioner Gordon is seriously wounded, which leads Mr. Wayne to rethink his retirement. What follows is a brutal battle between The Dark Knight and Bane, giving way to a shocking turn of events in Gotham that makes The Joker’s plan look like a cake-walk. The effects of Bane’s full-out-assault on Gotham are felt not only by Batman and his allies, but the entirety of the city as well. The only way to truly combat these attacks is for a united front inspired by the symbol of Batman in a rebellion-fueled war on Bane and his legions.
The nature of traditional storytelling in film, especially superhero films has become commonplace. This is by no means a bad thing; it is a form of comfort in a way – the clear path that is laid out for a protagonist, and what he/she must do to reach their goals. What threw me off at nearly every turn was how The Dark Knight Rises acted against those conventions in a way that made you uncertain for what was going to happen next. Even when I had my mind dead-set on how certain plot points were going to play out, various twists and turns had me doubting myself and ended up shocking me – Christopher Nolan incepted me dammit! I really think that Nolan intended this uncomfortable uncertainty, a theme represented in the character of Bane, played ferociously by Tom Hardy. The jarring nature of his peculiar voice and face mask combined with his brute strength left me completely intrigued. (And the critics who say “he’s no Joker” probably make similarly stupid complaints about burgers not being on the menu at P.F. Chang’s.) Anne Hathaway was brilliant as Selina Kyle (they never actually refer to her as Catwoman.) She had a magnificent ability to switch from faux damsel to vindictive femme-fatale in a heartbeat. And of course there is our hero, our Dark Knight: Christian Bale, the truest representation of Bruce Wayne/Batman on screen to date. As an actor, he goes through almost as much hell as Bruce Wayne does in the film, adding yet another notch on his career belt of physical torment. There is a lot to digest in this film, and may require a second viewing. The Dark Knight Rises brings characters, plots and themes from the entire Dark Knight trilogy to a close in a beautiful, respectful fashion without sacrificing the individual film’s own intense narrative. The tagline of the film is “The Legend Ends,” but The Dark Knight Rises cements Batman’s permanent place in our society. As the man said in Batman Begins: “As a man, I’m flesh and blood. I can be ignored, I can be destroyed. But as a symbol — as a symbol I can be incorruptible, I can be everlasting.” The Dark Knight is dead. Long live The Dark Knight.
Final Grade: A