And here we come at last. The final entry in our Batman on Film Series. Best for last? Maybe. Maybe not. After all, this film remains incredibly controversial amongst fans of not just the Christopher Nolan Dark Knight trilogy, but fans of Batman as well. Some find it a fitting end to an epic trilogy. Others find it a disappointment after the high achievement of The Dark Knight. And even others just down right hate the film.
In the opinion of your humble narrator: This is an epic achievement in the superhero film genre, action genre and Batman franchise. Is this film flawed? I cannot lie. Yes. It is flawed. There are plot holes and contrivances that, honestly, are hard to overlook. However, the truth of this film cannot be denied. It pays off one of the most sprawling and epic superhero tales of all time, bringing in elements from throughout the franchise to tie into a climactic conclusion. The conclusion to this trilogy delivers on such an emotional level that those plot holes, tropes and contrivances can be forgiven. That is a rare feat for a film to accomplish.
Our story starts 8 years after the conclusion of The Dark Knight, Gotham City, is safer and relatively crime-free due to the passing of the Dent Act, which was created after Harvey Dent’s death, which denies criminals parole hearings and keeps them locked up. With most of Gotham’s underworld locked up indefinitely, Bruce Wayne retires the mantle of Batman, while Commissioner Gordon turns Dent into a martyr who died for the city, when in fact his final hours were spent in a murderous rampage. The appearance in Gotham of the hulking mercenary, Bane, and the sexy cat burglar, Selina Kyle, as well as the hospitalization of Gordon, draws Wayne out of retirement and soon The Batman is back on the streets of Gotham City, much to the distress of the ever faithful Alfred. After a brutal fight with Bane leaves Batman physically broken, he is sent to a hellish prison while Bane holds Gotham City hostage with a nuclear bomb.
Batman comic fans will notice the similarity of many Batman stories. Among them is the obvious Knightfall which features Bane’s first appearance in the comics and the breaking of Batman’s back. The Nolan brothers also drew inspiration from The Dark Knight Returns with the story of an older Bruce Wayne coming out of retirement to once again become Batman and the devastated Gotham landscape invites comparison to the No Man’s Land story arc.
You are as precious to me as you were to your own mother and father. I swore to them that I would protect you, and I haven’t.
It seems odd that while this is the final film in the trilogy, this is the story of how Batman truly becomes a hero. The first film, gives the audience the backstory of Bruce Wayne’s tragic past and his drive to avenge the deaths of his parents. While the second film focuses on Batman’s race to end The Joker’s chaos, he makes selfish decisions that lead to tragedy. When faced with the choice between saving Harvey Dent, the man who in turn could save Gotham City, or save his beloved Rachel… he chooses Rachel. And the universe repays him by both killing Rachel and deforming Dent into the maniacal Two-Face. The quote that rings through that film (and the trilogy) “You either die a hero, or live long enough to become the villain” is especially poignant as Batman ends the film, in the eyes of Gotham, as a villain while Dent dies a “hero.” The Dark Knight Rises is the story of Batman’s redemption and his final rise as the hero he was always meant to be. When he is drawn out of retirement, Alfred can see right through his motivations. He knows that Bruce is willing to lay his life down, not for the greater good, but because he feels he has nothing left to live for since Rachel’s death.
How can you move faster than possible, fight longer than possible without the most powerful impulse of the spirit: the fear of death.
This is why he ultimately fails in his fight with Bane. This is why he fails when he tries to escape the pit. His motivation is flawed. Years ago his father asked him “Why do we fall? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.” The message is clear. You don’t give up. You pick yourself and keep fighting. This is why when he makes the climb out of the pit the third time, without a rope to keep him safe, he learns to fear death, but he successfully escapes. The juxtaposition of the imagery of Bruce’s childhood trauma and the image of him climbing out of the pit are masterful. Bruce finally becomes the hero he was always meant to be when he climbs out of the pit. He has learned to pick himself back up and keep fighting. This is the reason he is able to defeat Bane in the second confrontation. He is driven and is motivated as the hero of Gotham. Once again those words ring true, “You either die a hero…” After Bane is defeated, Batman only sees one way to save the city: take the bomb over the Bay in his aircraft and let it detonate. He knows the sacrifice he must make. He doesn’t hesitate. He doesn’t question it… and in the one of the most emotional moments of the entire franchise, he sacrifices himself for the good of the city.
A hero can be anyone.
Of course, as we see in one of the last shots of the film, Bruce Wayne fixed the autopilot on his “Bat” and survived the explosion. He left a legacy of Batman that will resonate with the citizens of Gotham forever. But, as literlaly the last shot of the film shows, he also left John Blake clues to allow him to take the mantle should it be needed. Because a hero can be anyone. The Batman is a symbol, and, echoing Batman Begins, it’s not who you are underneath, but what you do that defines you.
I’m so sorry. I failed you. You trusted me, and I failed you.
Michael Caine returns as Alfred, in a somewhat diminished role than the previous films. However, his emotional impact can’t be denied. The purpose of his character this time around is to deliver some heart-wrenching dialogue that pleads with Bruce to end his seeming quest to die. Eventually he realizes he can longer be a part of this and leaves. Bruce dismisses his oldest companion and the closest thing he has to a father figure without heeding his advice. But perhaps that what Bruce needed all along? To lose everything, not just his money, but his surrogate father, his city, his control… to realize that he indeed does fear death and loss. Caine’s delivery at Bruce’s funeral is one of the most devastating moments captured in superhero cinema to date, a genre that is filled with tragedy and loss.
There’s a storm coming, Mr. Wayne. You and your friends better batten down the hatches, because when it hits, you’re all gonna wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us.
The final film introduces two major new characters. The first of which being Selina Kyle, whom most comic book fans will recognize as Catwoman. The film never officially calls her “Catwoman,” but makes certain the audience is aware that she is a “cat burglar” and the way she wears the goggles of her outfit on top of her head certainly make it look like cat ears. As Halle Berry found out in the catastrophic spinoff adaptation of the character, the mantle of Catwoman is a hard one to fill. Julie Newmar christened the role in the 1960s “Batman” TV show, Michele Pfeiffer brought it to a dark place in Batman Returns while Anne Hathaway did more than fine job filling out the catsuit this go-round. The role requires sex-appeal, danger and shovelfuls of attitude, and Hathaway held nothing back looking sexy and lethal simultaneously.
You can watch me torture an entire city and when you have truly understood the depth of your failure, we will fulfill Ra’s al Ghul’s destiny… We will destroy Gotham and then, when it is done and Gotham is ashes, then you have my permission to die
Of course, it is impossible to talk about The Dark Knight Rises without talking about the terrifying awesome portrayal of Tom Hardy as the monstrous Bane. Batman Begins‘ Scarecrow focused on fear while The Joker in The Dark Knight was all about wreaking chaos out of order. Bane is neither of those things, he is just a seemingly unstoppable juggernaut. Nolan has said for the character of Bane, he imagined a classic movie monster with an impressive brain, and that is what he and Hardy deliver. Improving on his 1-dimensional comic book counterpart, Bane is a man whose intellect defies his massive size. In previous films Batman may have met his physical match in R’as al Ghul or had his intelligence challenged by The Joker’s insanity, but Bane matches Batman intellectually AND overpowers him physically, making him perhaps his greatest challenge in the series. Tom Hardy gained 30 pounds of muscle mass to play the role and adopted a posh, cultured accent that adds to the menace.
Ah yes, I was wondering what would break first. Your spirit… or your body.
The most memorable scene in the film is the breaking of Batman by Bane. What makes this all the more memorable is the fact that while Hans Zimmer composes a magnificent score that resonates throughout the entire film, this scene is completely without music. All you hear is the awesome sound effects of Bane’s steps (they practically thunder when he walks), the wet smacking punches of Batman’s futile strikes, the devastating blows by Bane, the screams of Batman in agony and Bane’s constant running commentary. Never has there been a hero/villain fight with SO many quotable moments. Even more chilling is the fact that Bane’s henchman are just standing around without interfering. They know their leader has this well in hand, and he does. Batman’s fall is inevitable. Much has been made by critics that the reveal of Miranda Tate being both R’as Al Ghul’s daughter and the ultimate mastermind of the villainous plot reduces Bane to a henchman role. To that I say: then doesn’t that make Darth Vader a “henchman”? Yet he remains probably the most recognizable screen villain of all time. This reveal doesn’t diminish Bane’s effectiveness, yet adds a layer of complexity (the fact that he did it all for the love of Talia) to the monster. This is an empty criticism. Bane has cemented himself as one of the greatest villains of all time.
I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss. I see the lives for which I lay down my life, peaceful, useful, prosperous and happy. I see that I hold a sanctuary in their hearts, and in the hearts of their descendants, generations hence. It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.
The Dark Knight Rises for all of its flaws, delivers on such an emotional level, that any sins, legitimate or exaggerated, should be forgiven. An emotional climax to a phenomenal series with a now-iconic villain and a masterfully told tale of a hero’s redemption. The Dark Knight Trilogy has replaced Star Wars as this generation’s epic saga.
THE DARK KNIGHT RISES
2012 • 165 Minutes • 2.35:1 • United States
Color • English • Warner Bros.
Cast: Christian Bale, Gary Oldman, Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Anne Hathaway, Marion Cotillard, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Matthew Modine
Writers: Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan (Screenplay) based on the story by Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer based on characters created by Bob Kane