Following the critical success he received for “Inception,” Christopher Nolan returned to his beloved Batman series one last time with “The Dark Knight Rises” in 2012. He would wrap up the trilogy in grand fashion, finishing up loose ends left after “The Dark Knight” and putting a definitive ending to Bruce Wayne’s career as the Caped Crusader. In many ways it served as a love letter to that universe, but also to frustrate many viewers with its odd plotting. This film seems to be the point where many fans started to turn against Nolan, though critics still received it well.
The new villain on the block is Bane, played by one of Nolan’s new favorites, after his excellent work in “Inception,” Tom Hardy. Batman fans might have been disappointed that Nolan went with Bane as the villain in the final act of the series, as there were other iconic baddies that would have been interesting to see get the Nolan treatment: Penguin, Riddler, Mr. Freeze, Clayface, Croc (who gets a sly brief nod), Egghead, Bookworm. It would be intriguing to see what Nolan could have done with any of those (OK, maybe not those last two oddities from the Adam West TV show). But Bane does play an important role in the comics, which are referred to here.
The movie opens with a bang, like “The Dark Knight” did, but this time in even more daring fashion, as Bane, along with a group of minions, hijacks a CIA jet in midair, extracts a VIP he was after, and sends the rest of the plane plummeting to the ground below. Nolan manages to get another great cameo by a lesser-known actor, popular to HBO geeks, Aidan Gillen, who was Mayor Carcetti in “The Wire” and can currently be seen as Lord Littlefinger Baelish in “Game of Thrones.” Bane’s stunt immediately sets the tone for the rest of the movie. He’s taking over, and there’s nothing anyone can do to stop him.
Littlefinger would have made a great Batman villain. Too bad he couldn’t fly.
Well, this is a Batman movie, so there’s bound to be someone who can stop him. But that someone who can stop him (Christian Bale) has taken to being a recluse. No longer the socialite he once was, after Rachel’s death, Bruce Wayne has taken to shuttering himself away from the public eye, deep inside his cavernous mansion a la Howard Hughes (though not to the extent that he’s pissing in Mason jars, like one of his visitors suggests). If there’s one animal that can disturb a small furry creature from its slumber, it would be a cat (Anne Hathaway), who manages to nab his fingerprints with little effort.
Hathaway’s version of Selina Kyle is incredibly self-confident, as she is so slinky and slippery that she’s able to get out of hairy situations without any trouble at all. But she’s got bigger things in mind. This Selina is one of those types who can’t wait to see the unjust system of wealth, corruption, and poverty in the city of Gotham come crashing down. As she expresses this desire to Bruce as they run into each other at a swanky party, she unwittingly foreshadows the plot that Bane is preparing to unleash upon the city. The revolution will come, but it won’t be one that anybody in Gotham wants.
The movie does start a bit slow, but in contrast to “The Dark Knight,” it works more as a slow burn building to something bigger, more consequential, with each element being integral to the grander ideas.
Eventually, Bruce does find himself face-to-face with Bane, and is woefully unprepared to deal with this new threat. As he was in the comics, Bane is again the man who broke the Bat, especially referred to into the scene where Bane cripples Bruce, an image ripped directly from the iconic panel. Bruce finds himself exiled to a prison somewhere on the other side of the world, and Gotham is rife for Bane’s takeover.
If the Joker only craved sheer chaos, Bane is the complete opposite, as every move he makes is carefully calculated. It makes him a formidable villain, and he has some grand ideas, which he uses to placate the city as he takes it over. That makes for a different kind of villain, one who in some ways appears more admirable than the other Batman villains in the series, though his seemingly well-intentioned ideas eventually give way to his ulterior motives. He does have the most pleasant demeanor of any bad guy, as everything he says through his breathing mask is delivered in such a kind, gentle tone that it doesn’t sound so bad when he’s telling one of his henchmen that it’s his turn to die in a plane crash or when he lets Bruce know his plan to torture him while he destroys Gotham. His voice is also mixed horribly with the rest of the movie’s sounds, so it has a much higher register than everything else and threatens to destroy your TV’s speakers if they’re not up to the task.
His plot comes to a head, at where else, but America’s greatest passion, a football game. The event is a nice detail that serves both to breathe life into Gotham as a major city, and as the venue of Bane’s takeover. The venue in real life is Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field, and the actors portraying the football players were members of the Pittsburgh Steelers. It’s fun to see Troy Polamalu and Hines Ward in a movie, though Nolan does unforgivably get a detail wrong here: Ward would never be on kick return duty.
HInes Ward was NOT a kick returner.
But thankfully he makes it to the end zone, as the rest of the field, along with all of the players on it are demolished (anyone who’s eager to see quarterback and probable rapist Ben Roethlisberger get killed in a movie might enjoy this). Bane announces to the city that he’s in charge now. He also has a really complicated bomb and the only person who can defuse it he kills in front of everyone.
“SOLD — to the man in a cold sweat.”
But Bane demonstrates that he isn’t such a bad guy, he essentially upends the system in place. All (well, nearly all) of the city’s police were working at the game, and the ones who are still alive are buried under the stadium. He lets the captives trapped in Gotham’s prisons free and sends the wealthy fleeing to seclusion, because the ones he does find, he’s putting on trial. They’ll be judged by none other than the Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy) in a short but fun cameo.
Bane promises an inviting form of social anarchy, where the tables are flipped between the social classes, sort of. The citizens basically end up in hiding while the crooks patrol the streets. Of course, the ultimate plan is to blow up the city. But the character does a good job of mimicking those (all?) politicians who talk a good game and promise their constituents the world, while simultaneously plotting their demise.
It’s odd in this case that Bruce represents order, rather than justice. But that’s the place Batman has held in other mediums, such as the animated series. The most interesting antagonists in any story usually have good ideas on what’s wrong with society. But something about their plan, whether their methods or their ultimate goal, are twisted in a way that will cause either a massive downfall for society or themselves to be the only benefactor. Bane (and by association, Ra’s al Ghul and the League of Shadows) is one of those. So, Bane, in essence appeals to the will of the people. It’s poetic that when he takes over Gotham’s version of Wall Street, the thugs he has planted inside the building are posing as a shoe shiner and a janitor. He’s symbolically implementing the will of people, as he overthrows the wealthy and powerful by taking control of their money. But Batman opposes this.
Bruce believes he is actually fighting for the people; that was his stated purpose for creating the Batman. But in reality, he is fighting for the police and the wealthy, both symbols of power and oppression, as he attempts to restore order to the city. Even Bruce is a multi-millionaire mega-corporation owner, even if he is a philanthropist. In all of this, the losers are the people of Gotham. Under Bane, they only find promises of freedom, but with only those loyal to him reaping the benefits, and only until the bomb goes off. Under Batman, things return to the way they were, where the rich and powerful regain control of the city. That seems to be the way things work in the real world as well.
Nevertheless, it is compelling that Bruce is forced to redeem himself for the sake of the city. Bane has stranded him in the prison with a TV and little hope of escaping, planning to force Bruce to watch as Bane dismantles Gotham. But Bruce finds the will within himself to get back on his feet. As his prison mate tells him that his problem is that he isn’t afraid to die, as it basically makes him dead already. Bruce needs to find a reason to live, which he sees in his city becoming as crippled as he is as he watches.
Bane makes a formidable opponent to Batman. But he should have had a breathing mask that didn’t break so easily.
The movie does go a bit sour when you try to make sense of Bane’s plot. It’s revealed near the end of the film that his plan is to blow up Gotham using a device that was converted from a nuclear energy source to a nuclear bomb. But blowing up the city could have been accomplished as soon as they got access to the energy source. OK, so Miranda (Marion Cotillard), who turned out to be a traitor to Bruce, wanted to see Batman suffer for killing her father, Ra’s al Ghul. But then sending him to the prison in the desert seems like a waste since she and Bane had Batman all wrapped up in the sewers of Gotham. Maybe they just wanted to see him and the people suffer. That’s understandable, but for how calculating this duo seems to be, they certainly needed some work on their endgame.
And why the hell is there a timer on the bomb? The device was built to be a nuclear reactor, which would have no need for a timer. It was converted into a bomb by Bane’s crew. But their intention was to either detonate it on their own or let it detonate by itself because from decay. Either way, they don’t really care, so they would have no need to install a timer. It’s things like this and the villains entire plot that are built to create suspense, but since Nolan seems to intend his approach to Batman to be realistic, then these issues make the events of the movie seem to be necessitated by the story. That’s bad plotting.
There’s no reason this makeshift bomb should have a timer.
That’s disappointing, because the story Nolan has created is quite satisfying. Bruce sacrifices Batman, regardless of whether he himself lives or dies, for the sake of the city, which will always see him as a hero and the symbol of hope that he originally intended it to be. And in case of emergency, he has entrusted all of his Batstuff as a failsafe to Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), real name Robin, who over the course of the movie has proven himself worthy of being a successor.
Whether Bruce has somehow ridden off into the sunset with Selina or is blown up with the bomb which he dragged out over the ocean with the use of his arial vehicle, the Bat, is left up to the viewer to decide, in traditional Nolan fashion. It makes for a great story either way, and it really doesn’t make a difference for the future, since the sure thing is that Batman is out for good (and so was Nolan). The biggest negative on that front will probably be that it turned out that Ben Affleck will be the next Batman, rather then Gordon-Levitt (or anybody else).
Although “The Dark Knight Rises” never reached the heights of “The Dark Knight,” (who could ever top The Joker), and despite the clunkiness of the baddies’ plot to destroy Gotham, this movie ended up being a much more even experience than the 2008 movie. Bruce had a better plotline here. Hardy will always be welcome no matter what role he plays, and despite being a character whose only visible facial features are his eyes, he manages to be expressive enough to pull it off, and it’s a very intelligent and well-written part. After the Halle Berry debacle, the Catwoman character was in need of major overhaul, much like Batman was prior to Nolan’s movies. So, anything would be redeeming in comparison, and Hathaway proved to be adequate even though she probably wasn’t the best fit for the role. Gordon-Levitt is solid as a common cop who is just trying to do his part to help the people of Gotham.
Though this may be the last superhero film Nolan directs, he has left a legacy in his series that will push future comic book films to a higher standard. Since Marvel Studios has become a major box office force, that can only be a good thing. Unfortunately for fans of other heroes sorely in need of big screen representation (Wonder Woman, anyone?), this certainly won’t be audiences’ last taste of Batman, for better or worse (“Batman v Superman” might be pretty bitter). As for Nolan, he has produced some excellent, but nonetheless flawed work, and as his career has progressed, both the bad and the good have become more pronounced. He’s very ambitious, and with the backing of big studios that he lacked early in his career, that ambition has led to some enjoyable, but increasingly frustrating experiences. At age 44, he still has a lot of movies left in him. Every Nolan movie is a major event, and it will be always be intriguing to see what he comes up with next.