We finally get to see the conclusion of an epic trilogy. Christopher Nolan has delivered to us two phenomenal Batman movies that I believe redefined superhero movies for us. They were more grounded and less flashy, they had stories with deep meaning, and discussed some philosophical ideas while still keeping us at the edge of our seats. So does The Dark Knight Rises (2012) deliver what we’ve come to expect from Nolan?
Eight years have passed since Batman (Christian Bale) vanished after taking the blame for the death of D.A. Harvey Dent. Batman took the fall for Dent’s crimes, a move that he and Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) both hoped was for the greater good. Criminal activity in Gotham City was crushed by the anti-crime Dent Act which was founded upon the lie of Dent’s pure reputation. That is, until a cunning cat burglar named Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) emerges with a mysterious agenda. Far more dangerous is the appearance of Bane (Tom Hardy), a masked terrorist whose ruthless plans for Gotham drives Bruce Wayne out of his self-imposed exile. But even if Bruce Wayne becomes The Dark Knight once again to protect the city that has branded him an enemy, Batman is no match for this powerful opponent.
Sometimes in a sequel, the movie will rush through some setting or character development on the assumption that you have seen the previous movies. That’s not an unreasonable assumption, but it makes for some pretty sloppy writing. In The Dark Knight Rises, key events from both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight are still weighing heavily on the main characters. We see Bruce Wayne draw inspiration from events that caused him to don the cape and cowl in the first place. We see Commissioner Gordon grieving the fact he is protecting the villain who attempted to kill his family. These plot points are developed enough in this movie to be significant within their context, but if you haven’t seen the previous two movies you may not appreciate their impact.
Bane is an intriguing villain. I’ve seen Bane in other media; in the 1990’s Batman cartoon show, The Batman & Robin movie, and even in the recent Arkham Asylum video games Bane is depicted as being little more than an immensely muscle-bound thug. The Dark Knight Rises shows us Bane as he is in the comics; he’s highly intelligent and physically monstrous. There’s this menacing discrepancy between his voice and his physical appearance. Thanks to his mask he sounds almost like Sean Connery speaking into an Optimus Prime voice box. Hardy gained thirty pounds of muscle for this role. As if that wasn’t enough, we learn that Bane knows all of Batman’s tricks of distraction and leverage. Batman cannot face this guy and hope to win. He is a genuinely unstoppable menace and an outstanding villain!
Anne Hathaway brilliantly plays Salina Kyle, Catwoman. Unlike Bane, we don’t get to hear much of her back story. She is manipulative, smart, cunning, and sexy. She can really take care of herself; she’s just about as tough as Batman is. People try to take advantage of her or overpower her and she twists the whole thing around to her advantage, sometimes without her oppressors knowing it until later. Catwoman and Batman share a lot of similarities, which makes the dynamics between their characters really interesting!
The Dark Knight Rises is almost like a superhero movie without the superhero. Bruce Wayne’s alter ego, Batman, doesn’t show up a whole lot. When he does it's great, but this story is about Bruce Wayne having to become Batman again after his self-imposed exile. Thanks to Bane, Bruce has lost literally everything; his wealth, home, physical wellbeing, freedom, his gadgets and even his anonymity as Batman. There is nothing else that can be taken from him; he is at his lowest low. It’s harder to become Batman again than it was the first time, but his wounded, emotional arc is deep and interesting.
The story in The Dark Knight Rises can be interpreted more politically than philosophically than the previous two movies. Bane is an anti-capitalist villain with a plan similar to the Occupy Wall Street movement to destroy Gotham City, and their only hope is an unpopular billionaire entrepreneur. I could see some viewers getting politically offended by the story, but I don’t really think that Christopher Nolan was going out of his way to make a political statement. I think Bane simply saw the flaws in the society of Gotham (namely the class discrepancy which was a plot device in the previous movies), drove a wedge into it, and let the world crumble around him. You can infer political and philosophical concepts from any movie. People will get different meanings from the same movie based on their views. You shouldn’t write off this movie just because you see a political analogy that contradicts your own views. It’s still a good movie.
My biggest complaint is that the tone of The Dark Knight Rises was much more somber and even more depressing than the previous ones. In The Dark Knight, The Joker rigs two ferries with bombs and invites each one to blow up the other before they are blown up themselves. But the passengers on each boat refuse to kill the others, showing that even when faced with death they still choose to believe in good. In The Dark Knight Rises as soon as Bane shakes the foundation of the social stratification, the lower-class immediately seizes the upper-class with hardly any provocation. These don’t sound like the same citizens who refused to blow each other up eight years ago. The Dark Knight Rises shows us a much darker view of people, and it didn’t settle well with me. We also see Batman sink to his lowest low and stay there for most of the movie. We see Gotham essentially destroyed, and see people lose hope. Sure, we need to see a good conflict or the story wouldn’t be interesting. But so much of the movie is spent in a somber tone it almost becomes depressing.
The Dark Knight Rises was painstakingly well crafted to give us a satisfying sense of closure to the trilogy. It gets a little bit convoluted here and there, and the pacing slows down in the middle. It’s easy to get swept up in some political allegories. If you take it at its face value, The Dark Knight Rises brings the trilogy home with a bang, even if it doesn’t quite meet the exceedingly high standards of its predecessors. Catch this in theaters if you can; I may go see it again. I’ll be getting this on Blu-Ray to complete my trilogy.
There are a lot of movie Trilogies out there now; Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, The Dark Knight, Indiana Jones, and The Matrix to name a few. Which is your favorite movie trilogy? Comment below and tell me why!