So finally here it is; the epic conclusion to Christopher Nolan’s Batman re-imaging delivers both an incredibly good movie and a well rounded third part for a trilogy that has been all about deconstructing the hero myth. Usually, the third part of a trilogy - or any extended franchise - tends to be an underwhelming mess, as if no one knew where to take the story or what to do with the characters. Whether or not Nolan had a plan since the beginning is hard to tell, but The Dark Knight Rises could convince me that he did. Nolan tells a long coherent story across three films; amazingly all three films could work by themselves, but together they form an almost perfect three-act opera.
This is the third act of the story. At the end of the second act Batman (Christian Bale), our hero, was at his worst; he had taken the fall for Harvey Dent’s death, leaving Gotham without a symbolic hero, Batman, or a real life paragon, Dent. Dent’s death was the slap in the face Gotham needed to get its act together; nine years later it is finally at peace. Bruce Wayne has become a recluse in his own mansion, and no longer ventures at night as the cape crusader. This is, obviously, the calm before the storm.
In the process of cleaning the streets, Gotham’s government has grown; the Harvey Dent Act, which allowed the police to round up criminals and arrest without a trail might sound too Orwellian for everyone to stay in place. From this background a new masked face emerges. Bane.
Bane (Tom Hardy)’s first line in the film is, “nobody cared who I was, until I put on the mask”. Like Bruce Wayne, and the Joker, before him Bane knows that to be somebody, you need to be more than just somebody. You need to be an idea, an idea that people can look up to or fear. Bane claims to stand for the people; he rants on and on about oppression and corruption, urging the masses to rise against Gotham’s elite. Like most populist crusaders, I am not quite sure he even believes half the stuff he says. And when the people of Gotham sit around in total apathy; he threatens to blow up the city instead.
A few reviews out there have been claiming that Bane is a tad uninspired for a Nolan villain; I disagree. Sure, he is not Heath Ledger’s Joker - and unfortunately the mask prevents Tom Hardy from articulating and emoting properly - but Bane is a brilliant follow up. In TDK, the Joker wanted to prove to Batman and Gotham that people are intrinsically selfish and evil - by the end of the film he is proven wrong. Bane argues that people can and should govern themselves - it is the city, and the structures of society, which are corruptible. He is a true anarchist. And there already was an organization in the first film that advocated in the name of anarchy.
Yes, Rises spends quite a bit of time reframing everything that happens in the first movie with the League of Shadows. A trans-national secret society, who’s primary goal is to burn society to the ground so humanity can get a fresh start. The plan is intrinsically flawed, but you can see how Bane fits into the picture. Could it be possible that he is leading the league after the Death of Ra’s Al Ghul?
Aside from Bane the film introduces a such a large array of characters, that I am starting to doubt this will be the last installment of the franchise. The first is John Blake (Joseph Gordon Levitt), a young hotheaded cop who has become Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman)’s protege. Gordon is the only one who knows Harvey Dent had gone two face before Batman killed him. Blake believes in what Dent stands for but senses there is something fishy about the Batman killing Dent story.
The new roster also includes two new romantic interests for Bruce Wayne: Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), who never referred to as Catwoman in the film, and Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), an investor in Wayne Enterprises. One looks like a good girl who might be bad, while the other is a bad girl who might be good, and both are drawn to either Bruce or Batman in one way or another. Both Hathaway and Cotillard do a fantastic job in their roles. I think we all felt unsure when the news of Hathaway being cast as Selina Kyle emerged. But thinking back, we all thought the same when Ledger was cast as the Joker. Hathaway is no Heath Ledger but she is a convincingly alluring Catwoman - whether Nolan wants to call her that or not.
There are also new gangster, politicians, rival millionaires, and commissioners in the story. The first half of the film spends a bit too much time introducing them all and explaining who is doing what, why, and with whom. It is all pretty straight forward except for the fact that Catwoman pops up in every segment, either because she is stealing something for someone, or for herself. But once the pieces fall into place, the second half of the film delivers a might spectacle. When Nolan first delivered a “realistic” take on Batman in the first film the feat was admirable; it is even more incredible that he managed to stick with the concept for three full films.
Audiences are already debating on whether two was better than three or vice-versa. Rises is more straight forward than The Dark Knight and it feels much more like a comic-book movie. In fact comic book fans, who have been largely ignored in this re-imagining, will get a kick out of a few character cameos. Both are qualities that I, for one, respect and enjoy. In truth, the trilogy works best as a whole. Individually the films lack focus; even TDK is too much of an anarchic visceral gut punch without the other two to frame it. It is a masterpiece, but I was overwhelmed when I saw it; Rises has left me wanting for more.
Yes, Nolan has announced that he does not intend to do any more Batman films. But this is Warner’s prime franchise; they can’t do more Harry Potter films, the last Twilight comes out later this year, and DC doesn’t have any other A-list superhero that is cinematically viable. Not to mention, that both TDK and Rises have broken box-office records. Not continuing the franchise, is not financially responsible. They won’t be as good - especially if Nolan leaves - and they might not be as successful - especially if Nolan leaves - but, hell, even if they get halfway to where Nolan’s trilogy did they’ll end up as decent movies.