Director: Christopher Nolan
Screenwriters: Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan
Length: 2h 44m
Synopsis: It has been eight years since the death of Harvey Dent, and as no one has seen him no one has likewise seen Batman or Bruce Wayne (Bale). Dent’s false reputation had allowed Gotham’s law enforcement to crack down harder on crime than ever before, and the city came to enjoy all of its long overdue good fortune. However, a masked radical named Bane (Hardy) once trained by the League of Shadows has recently laid camp in Gotham’s underground, with an entire army of hardened criminals at his disposal. His plans are to seize the city and finish what Ra’s Al Ghul started by destroying it and its people. Bruce dons the cape and cowl again despite his many lasting injuries and the hatred of the police, but after everything he has done it is Bane’s physical and mental fortitude that may finally be his undoing. The frightening organization of Bane’s forces checkmates the city, and Batman falls to his hand in one-on-one combat, afterwards taken to an inescapable prison halfway round the world. Without its greatest hero Gotham now faces its most trying of times, and Bruce is made to suffer knowing that he’s helpless to save the city he loves. Will this finally be the end of both Batman and Gotham?
Analysis: Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Trilogy (as it’s being called) will go down in American film history as one of the all-time great feats of comprehensive storytelling. Not since the original Star Wars trilogy have we been able to follow the arc of one protagonist so seamlessly and with such interest as we have with Nolan’s Batman. We’ve seen a fair amount of trilogies and quadrilogies since those first three Star Wars, including Spider-Man, X-Men, Star Wars episodes I-III, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Matrix, Bourne, and The Lord of the Rings. Regardless of scope, all of these multi-film stories, like the Dark Knight Trilogy, can have their focuses narrowed down to a single central character with a prominent arc. But what sticks out about them is how so few have a sense of comprehensiveness – a moral, theme, or idea that spans the breadth of the entire series despite each film having its own predominant thesis. What allows Luke Skywalker and Nolan’s Batman to stand separate from this lot is how by the end of their stories we have become so invested in them that the hope of conquering evil becomes secondary to the manner in which that is done, and the reason for this is that we care more about the sake of our heroes’ virtue than our desire to see them encounter an improbable “best case scenario.” It is better that our heroes have a fitting end than one that inappropriately finds them standing above another bested foe. This is because in cases where the conclusion of one film is also the conclusion of several, such as it is with Rises, victory anymore means a triumph of definition, and not necessarily a defeat of the morally corrupt. It is of utmost importance that our heroes conclude their sagas by successfully defining who they are and what they stand for and become the symbols they sought to be, which burst through the boundaries of their own universes. Christopher Nolan may never return to Gotham, but his impeccably defined Batman will forever be etched in the granite of American film culture.
It is most appropriate that Bane is the main villain following the occurrences in The Dark Knight, where we last left our hero even higher on the Most Wanted list than when he started. Willingly taking the blame for Harvey Dent’s death, with only Commissioner Gordon knowing otherwise, Batman’s legacy has become seriously tarnished. No longer is he a symbol of good for the innocent and fear for the malevolent, but a lightning rod for the hatred of all those who admire the false legacy of Gotham’s White Knight. Since Dent’s death and the dissolving of organized corruption Gotham has enjoyed great prosperity, even to the point where the police have become a little overly secure. Bruce Wayne, relegated to hiding in his estate, is left to endure the pain of knowing his imprint on the city he loves is but the representation of what he fought so hard to eradicate. He takes satisfaction in believing his sacrifice was for the better, but is nevertheless burdened by the fact that the purpose of Batman had been turned on its head. What was created out of nobility had become the bane of his existence, and so it is Bane who has come to unknowingly take advantage of this conversion.
Selina Kyle (Hathaway), or Catwoman (though she’s never referred to as such), plays a rather enigmatic role in relation to the film’s larger themes, but she is most definitely in line with some of the more secondary ones. Her antics prove influential but aren’t much of a worry for Batman, as he is able to tell from the start that she’s not as much of a ne’er-do-well as she would have him believe. All the same, she is clearly not as selfless. On several occasions she plays a temptress of sorts by reminding Batman that he could wash his hands of Gotham at any time and still consider himself accomplished in its fight for survival. He of course resists such temptation, and in fact inspires Selina to join his cause – if only in a small way. Being someone who sits on the fence between good and evil, or, rather, between reluctant moral fortitude and social impropriety, we can presume that Selina harbors at least a degree of fear regarding the failure of her integrity, and it is this very fear which motivates her to ultimately stand on the side of good (though to her credit she seems to never walk away empty-handed). It is this same fear which helps drive Bruce Wayne to become Batman. However, after the line between Batman and Bruce Wayne became blurred, that fear was replaced by a special sense of obligation and determination that didn’t permit him to have any. But in order to raise the status of Batman beyond even his former glory and fulfill his true purpose Bruce learns that he must re-embrace his fears, as it is only with them that he can realize his greatest efforts in thwarting Bane and saving Gotham. Fear helped create Batman, and so only with it can he again become his own ideal.
Speaking of the indistinct line distinguishing Batman from Bruce Wayne, make note that it is no coincidence that there exists a correlation between the strength of Batman as a symbol and Bruce’s actual health. As the film begins, Bruce can get around okay but must endure the long-term effects that his hobby has had on his body – permanent concussion damage to his brain, no cartilage left in his knees, et al. And without giving away too much, I can say that Batman’s standing takes a much harsher turn for the worse later on. And because the symbol of Batman is inseparable from the city in which it serves, as Gotham’s fortunes go so too by extension goes Bruce’s. It is this very link which the parental Alfred is suspicious of, and is therefore seriously concerned that the only surviving member of the Wayne family he cared so much for is destined to share what he suspects is the same fate as the city’s – a painful, bitter, and fruitless end. But as the strong connection between Bruce and Batman is nevertheless somewhat indeterminately presented, don’t be too sure of your horoscopic abilities.
The central theme on which the entire film would seem to rest is the notion that no matter the efforts taken to do so, the truth cannot be suppressed forever. No matter how deeply it is buried, or for what purpose, the truth will eventually find a way to surface. Significant occurrences demonstrating this can be noted from start to finish (none of which I can divulge spoil-free), but one subtle yet noteworthy example is presented in an exchange between Bruce Wayne and an officer named Blake (Gordon-Levitt). After claiming to have long since figured out that Bruce was in fact the man behind the mask, Blake explains that the telltale signs were all the false smiles that were flashed to the public over the years. As an orphan himself, Blake understood Bruce’s deep-seeded, undying anger and learned to carry on by hiding it behind those same practiced smiles. Bruce, as well as all of Gotham, comes to appreciate that while lies can offer temporary relief from the unfortunate truth, what is real will nevertheless always rise to daylight. Indeed, by the end the true Batman is shown to Gotham, and the city is left to comprehend its worthiness of him. The Dark Knight told us that sometimes the truth isn’t good enough, and that during times of great darkness people deserve a lie that rewards their faith. Here we are told that even a truth comprised of pain, betrayal, deception, and fear can be faced and overcome with enough courage, will, and faith to challenge it. For Batman, this realization allows him to rise higher than he ever has before, basking in allegory under the light of rectitude. The Dark Knight has most certainly risen, and is greater now than he has ever been before.