Having redefined the superhero movie with Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, director Christopher Nolan faces the arduous task of following up the greatest entry in the genre and bringing a close to his own innovative take on one of our most beloved pop culture myths. For the most part he succeeds with The Dark Knight Rises, a grand, ambitious and timely conclusion to his epic trilogy. It not only provides the requisite thrills we’ve come to expect from a film of this sort, but is also a commentary on the economic disparity that’s come to define our society. It is Nolan’s final word on the theme of heroism.
The citizens of Gotham City have lived in relative peace over the last eight years since Batman (Christian Bale) went into hiding, having taken the fall for the crimes of district attorney Harvey Dent, so that the city might have a symbol to look up to. No one has made the connection that billionaire Bruce Wayne has been ensconced in his mansion for the same period of time, having yet to recover from the emotional trauma caused by the death of his lifelong companion, Rachel Dawes. His trusted butler Alfred (Michael Caine) has continually implored him to get on with his life, but his charge refuses, even ignoring, the charms of one of Wayne Industries’ business partners, Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard). However, all of this is about to change. A mysterious terrorist named Bane (Tom Hardy) has come to Gotham with the intention of turning the status quo upside down with the help of the cunning jewel thief, Selina Kyle (a tough and sexy Anne Hathaway).
Nolan and his brother Jonathan, who co-wrote the film’s screenplay, keep a great many subplots in motion and it’s to their credit that none of them get shortchanged, though that ends up being a bit of a liability as the film is too long. Still, what’s most satisfying about the film is seeing the characters who’ve been in all three movies wrestle with the fallout from all that’s happened over the time the trilogy covers. Gordon has lost everything – his wife has left him with the children in tow – and keeping a lid on the Dent conspiracy is eating him alive. Yet he continues to follow his own moral code, despite its great cost. Oldman, of course, brings the proper amount of gravity to the role, refusing to buckle under the character’s burden, soldiering on nobly. In a similar situation, Alfred is at loose ends trying to get Wayne to live a fulfilling life and makes a great sacrifice in order to rouse him from his emotional stupor. Caine steals each scene he’s in as he underscores the emotional toll that Alfred’s promise has had on him.
Bruce Wayne is the focal point. It should come as no surprise that he gets more screen time than his caped alter ego. Not only is the notion of redemption at the core of the film but also the need to adapt. Wayne fails to recognize the animosity that’s grown as the financial gap between the haves and have-nots has widened. In a great twist, he’s forced to come to terms with this in an unexpected manner. But most of the work the character has to do is on himself. He must come to terms with his grief as well as the fact that the price of the sacrifice he made for Gotham was too high. After a harrowing bout with Bane, he’s forced to rebuild himself emotionally, physically and morally and it’s only by doing this that he can assume the mantle of the Bat and play the role of hero. It’s obvious that the Nolans see America in their hero and are calling for a redefinition of what our country should be for all of its citizens. The tattered versions of Old Glory we see in the film aren’t there by accident.
While the movie is a grand production, it’s not without its faults. It’s a bit too long. There are plot holes that are hard to overlook. Bane is far too hard to understand at times. Hans Zimmer’s score is overused and much too bombastic. And a span of 11 minutes on a time bomb at the film’s end sure takes a long time to get to zero. While this could not be helped, you can’t help but miss the sense of grand, dark fun that Heath Ledger brought to the previous entry as the Joker. He casts a very long shadow that this movie never truly escapes.
Yet, making a film comparable to The Dark Knight is not only a tall order but very rare. This final entry in the series is nothing if not wildly ambitious. It’s not every day that a Hollywood film tackles the themes and issues this one does. The dangers of identity theft and a plug for cleaner energy rub shoulders with pointed commentary on the disproportionate distribution of wealth. There is also the notion that heroism comes in all forms and that everything from the grand gesture to a tiny kindness are needed to right a society and keep it on track. Nolan ends the series just as he started it – by challenging the viewer not only to look at this well-known character in a different light but also by imploring us all to find and nurture that better part of our nature and let it emerge.
Contact Chuck Koplinski at firstname.lastname@example.org.