Author’s Note: The most mild of spoilers are included here, and do not extend farther than a plot summary that extends ever so slightly farther than that which is easily gleaned from trailers and pre-release word-of-mouth. Seeing as how the film is exceedingly highly-anticipated, I have taken great strides to avoid any and all spoilers. Regardless, if you want to stay completely in the dark, wait until after you’ve seen the film to read this. Enjoy.
What comes to mind when you think about the perfect trilogy?
Two come to mind, for me: Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings, and Sergio Leone’s Dollars trilogy. That’s all that comes to mind; don’t send me hate mail on this one, please. The perfect trilogy is something to behold, due to just how difficult it is to get all of the right elements in place thrice, let alone just once. Batman Begins ushered in a new era of superhero movies, where it’s more than allowed to go subtle, delicate, and dark, three things which were wholly absent from each Batman movie that came before. I theorize that Christopher Nolan (see: Memento, Inception) paved the way for art house directors to tell these stories, a thing which has worked perfectly since then (see: The Avengers). These directors understand that, while Batman, The Avengers, Spiderman, etc. sell tickets, they never quite work perfectly as just action movie alone. The blend of the real and the unreal, and how to harness that blend, is Nolan’s greatest assert. It is also what made the second installment in the trilogy, The Dark Knight, one of the best films ever made, no matter the subject matter.
This is why expectations for the final film in the trilogy were incredibly (and almost dangerously) high. I’m not going to ruin the movie for you, so I’ll recap things: nearly a decade after the fall of Harvey Dent, Bruce Wayne has sent himself into self-administered exile. Dent’s death proves to be the fire that Gotham needed, and under a new law, the city has entered a new era of prosperity, rather than one of bloodshed and despair. Then, on the anniversary of Dent’s passing, Wayne is given a delicate wake-up call that Gotham may not be the utopia which everyone sees. What follows is a series of twists and turns, leading from the disappearance of a senator, to a hostile takeover of Wayne Enterprises, lead in part by the one they call Bane. To anybody with any familiarity of Bane as a character, it’s easy to see the dark place this particular road leads.
As far as plots go, Rises is the best kind of convoluted. It rewards the diligent viewer time and time again, and while it does occasionally get bogged down by slightly incomprehensible directions, it reaffirms that Batman is the kind of hero that deserves intrigue as much as balls-out action. There are definite themes of the disenfranchised taking back what they are owed, and the toll one must pay for exorbitant power. Bane, while being a truly bad dude, represents the marginalized and downtrodden of Gotham, serving as the flip-side of Batman’s heroism: in essence, Bane is the personification of the chaos that Joker stood for in The Dark Knight. There are clear and present parallels to be drawn between any great revolution, and there’s no surprise that things take the turns they do. Nolan ends the film on an open-ended note: it’s almost as if Nolan wanted to pass the torch along to the next person who wants to tell the story, even though he’s decided to bow out.
Finally, a take on the cast of characters: Anne Hathaway, arguably the weakest link present, delivers the finest performance of Catwoman to date. Rather than feeling like an over-sexed burglar railing off hackneyed cat puns, the character is expertly layered, painting a picture of a woman doing what she has to to stay alive, rather than for fame and fortune. Catwoman is a silly character, but against all odds, Rises makes me feel something I’ve yet to feel for the character: respect. Tom Hardy’s Bane is more menacing than he has any right to be, but takes that fear and humanizes the monster behind the mask. Everything in that character could have gone wrong, but it is a mark of Hardy’s abilities that he managed to cast his character in a new light. Even his voice, hard as it is to understand in the beginning, grows on you very quickly as you begin to adjust to the sound. As for Joseph Gordon-Levitt, he shines as always, bringing a true and clear humanity to a film that can feel too large for its own good at times. There are a lot of other new characters introduced in the first act, which makes it slightly difficult to stay on top of things if you aren’t trying, but just keep in mind: it all pays off.
People are far too quick to add a tag to movies like Nolan’s Batman films, and it feels insulting at times. You hear things thrown around all the time: “X is the best X movie I’v seen in years!” People will undoubtedly add the “superhero” or “comic book” tags to The Dark Knight Rises, and indeed, the series as a whole. However, The Dark Knight Rises serves as a remarkable ending to the finest deconstruction of the hero genre since Watchmen, and stands as proof of what a dedicated and loving film maker can do – no matter the genre tag you attach.