When Christopher Nolan began his take on the character of Batman, he surely had no idea how his film would change the perception of superhero films in the eyes of the public. His idea was merely to create a film presenting Batman as larger than life, show how a man could become a symbol for something greater, much like the comic version has become to fans. But now Batman Begins and The Dark Knight have become the UR examples of what superhero movies are measured against, and like a double edged batarang, this is true for the final film in Nolan’s trilogy.
Picking up eight years after DK ended, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale, looking weary and unable to summon those powers of playboy youth he once had dominion over) has become a Howard Hughes-esque recluse, nursing wounds both physical and psychological from the past years. His dear guardian/confidant Alfred (Michael Caine, heartbreaking in his desire to see his dear friend live a normal life) tells him he needs to stop playing at vigilante and concentrate on what the actually life after Batman will be, but rumors of a brutal mercenary, Bane (Tom Hardy, turning brute strength into a delicate art) in Gotham, as well as a mysterious “cat” burglar “ (Anne Hatheway, layering her voice and body with sly playfulness) tempt him into the cape one again.
Elsewhere, he is pursued by Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) who wants him to invest in a clean energy project that could cement the cities’ need, and John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) an idealistic young officer who is working with James Gordon (Gary Oldman) to keep the city safe, despite his haunted conscience. Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) also keeps up his supply of reliable gadgets coming; with a particularly impressive flying vehicle being his Cote de Grace this time.
With this being the final film in the director’s series, Dark Knight Rises works to raise the stakes and travel deeper into Bruce’s character then ever before, and mostly succeeds in the task of showing our favorite dark hero as deeply altered and the effect his double life has had on the perception of his future. We see Bale, leaning on a cane and understand that his resolve can no longer match his body, and know that he is headed for a fall, but we also know that as long as there is life in his body, there must also be a rise.
His greatest challenge comes in the form of Bane, whose synthetically chilling voice belies a man of frightening strength and resources, and who orchestrates the destruction of Gotham with religious devotion. Tom Hardy is unrecognizable even without the clawed respirator grafted onto his face like a skeletal mask, with a massive body and presence in every scene he’s in. The showdown between the two is an exercise in skilful brutality, and terrifying in its implications; if the Dark Knight cannot fell this foe, what hope does the rest of the city have?
All the rest of the performers bring their A-game to characters of similar motivation, with standouts including Anne Hatheway who toys with Bruce even as he insists that there is more to her than an opportunist, and still finds heart as one of his few allies in the growing storm. Their chemistry is pitch perfect, and provides a much needed lightness to his time as the tortured hero of Gotham.
Scenes from Rises stick in the mind for their poetry of action and ideology, even when that ideology is slightly hard to accept or requires comic book logic to come to light. The journey of Batman from a vigilante, to a symbol, and at last immortalization as a legend is beneath all the things we come to expect from a thrilling action movie, explosions, and ticking clocks, and those who are in it for these along will no doubt be satisfied. But for the pursuers of the myth, the fans and critics who saw the first movie and recognized a spirit that went beyond the images on screen will no doubt find flaws that will nag at the mind.
This is fine, accept them and do not fear them. For the story of Bruce Wayne, passionate yet in a way, helpless in his struggle to preserve the innocent will always be a story for our time, just as memorable as Indiana Jones or James Bond. Yet these are static characters, doomed to be archetypes that can never learn from their mistakes or escape the formula of their making, entertaining, but never reaching for anything higher. The Dark Knight Rises however shows us the power for transformative change, and ends on the note that this power is not limited to becoming a symbol, but can also work to bring back the man who was thought lost so many years ago, and at last give a lasting resolution to the man who would be Batman.