When last we saw Batman (Christian Bale) in 2008’s The Dark Knight, he was speeding off into the darkness, having assumed responsibility for the murder of Gotham City District Attorney Harvey Dent. Because he understood that Gotham’s citizens needed an unmasked, white knight that they could idolize, rather than a shadowy vigilante who flaunted society’s laws in order to protect it, the Dark Knight sacrificed his reputation to help his city recover.
The Dark Knight Rises takes place in Gotham eight years later. Organized crime has been smashed thanks to the "Dent Act." The streets are safe. And Batman’s alter ego, Bruce Wayne, has become a recluse content to hold fundraisers (at which he never appears) and reside in his mansion (from which he never leaves).
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Wayne is snapped out of his complacency by cat burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), who makes off with a string of pearls—and, more mysteriously, Wayne’s fingerprints. The prints are necessary to pull off the first part of villain Bane’s (Tom Hardy) monstrous plan.
We meet Bane in the film’s opening minutes as he commandeers a CIA airplane in midair—not by taking control of the cockpit, but by grabbing the plane with a larger aircraft and towing it into the cargo hold. All at 30,000 feet.
Bane’s plan recalls Batman’s sky-high capture of Hong Kong moneyman Lau via "Skyhook" in The Dark Knight. If anything, it’s more audacious: Instead of picking up a man from a skyscraper in a moving aircraft, Bane picks up an entire airplane.
This echo and amplification of the previous film shows that Bane is not just a bruiser who can deliver (and take) a beating. Trained by the League of Shadows—the assassin ring run by Ra’s Al Ghul (Liam Neeson) that was intent on destroying Gotham City in Batman Begins—Bane also has brains to complement his brawn.
He knows who the Batman is, knows how to break him, and wants to see the Caped Crusader and his beloved city suffer.
And suffer it does. Without spoiling too much, Bane and his crew aim to finish what Ra’s Al Ghul started years before. His plan involves isolating Gotham, robbing its citizens of their dignity, and turning the population against itself—all in the name of equality.
Bane is the ultimate Occupier: His goal is to "return control of the city to the people," freeing "the oppressed" from prison while stripping the haves of their property and privilege. Director Christopher Nolan’s depiction of Bane’s reign of terror is delightfully reactionary: As the masses run amok, criminals are freed, and honest citizens are thrown out onto the streets, even those who felt that wealthy Gothamites were profiting unfairly come to realize the woeful and unjust consequences of Bane’s redistributive scheme.
"This was someone’s home," Selina Kyle says to a young accomplice as she looks at a smashed picture frame, just one more piece of detritus strewn about a desecrated living room. "Now it’s everyone’s home!" her companion gleefully proclaims.
The film’s defense of private property and profit is subtle. In another scene, we’re informed that the Wayne Foundation has stopped funding boys’ homes across the city. Is it because Wayne is a callous member of the One Percent?
Nope. It’s because the Wayne Foundation is funded by profits from Wayne Enterprises. And the business’ lack of profit—brought about by a financially disastrous green energy project—means there is no cash for the Foundation. Which means there’s no money for the boys’ homes.
Nolan’s Batman triptych is not merely a tale of good versus evil, in which the hero triumphs over the villain. It’s also about the salvation of a city—a whole society, even.
Gotham is redeemed not by the purging fire of an Al Ghul, Joker, or Bane, but by the self-sacrifice and dedication of a rough man who understands that defending the liberal order and the freedom of those who live within it may on occasion require working outside of that order. The good and righteous may condemn that man in a fit of moral posturing, but they are more than willing to depend on him in a time of crisis.
In other words, the ends may sometimes justify the means—even as the just must publicly disavow those means as unlawful.
The Dark Knight Rises is by no means perfect. At 165 minutes long, it pulls the neat trick of feeling both a little flabby and a little rushed. A few characters—such as the Wayne Enterprises board member who brings Bane to Gotham and hopes to strip the company from its heir—amount to little more than fonts of exposition to move the plot along. Bruce Wayne’s relationship with Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) gets nowhere near the screen time it requires for the emotional payoff Nolan seeks at the picture’s climax.
Also missing is that special quality that keeps audiences coming back to the screen time and again. In The Dark Knight, Heath Ledger—whose performance as the Joker was so relentlessly transfixing that it scored him a posthumous Oscar—filled that role. Hardy, as good as he is, simply isn’t as magnetic.
But these are quibbles. The performances are all top-notch, if not quite Oscar-worthy; a special nod goes to Michael Caine, whose turn as Alfred has provided the entire trilogy with a consistent emotional and ethical center. Joseph Gordon-Levitt (who plays a young cop and protégé of Gary Oldman’s Commissioner Gordon) and Hathaway inject new life into the series with their charismatic performances.
The cinematography is nothing short of astounding, and the action sequences are more coherently shot and edited than those in The Dark Knight. If possible, hurry to an IMAX (not a Lie-max) to experience the film in its true glory. And Hans Zimmer’s score—like his scores for The Dark Knight and Inception—immerses the audience in Bane and Batman’s world, and even provides clues to the onscreen action.
The Dark Knight Rises might not reach quite the heights of its predecessor, but it is a worthy, epic conclusion to a stunning trilogy that has raised the bar for an entire genre.
(Reprinted with permission from SonnyBunch.com)