A young boy sings the American national anthem in front of a filled football stadium. Patriotism has never been more beautifully presented. Togetherness is what binds the people together. An hour later in the movie, the flag of the United States in the middle of its financial district has been ripped to shred. Gotham is torn. The people are divided, both physically and spiritually, and the Batman is nowhere to be seen.
Eight years after the events from The Dark Knight, the death of Harvey Dent coerced the politicians to create the Dent Act which allows the law enforcement officers the power to arrest criminals and retain them without parole or bail. Organised crime as a result has been eradicated and Gotham has become a safer city where its citizens can live without fear. The Batman, allegedly responsible for the death of Dent and others, has gone into hiding leaving no clues where he might have escaped to.
To celebrate eight years of change, a party is being held at Wayne Manor except Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) excludes himself from meeting senior figures like Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) as he has chosen a life of a recluse since hanging up the cowl and cape. The abuse his body has suffered has partially immobilised him and he’s unable to protect the contents in his safe from a devious cat burglar he later discovers is called Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway). Wayne Enterprises is also losing money as an expensive energy project, originally helmed by Bruce over three years ago, is costing a great deal to remain secret. Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) and Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), a board member from Bruce’s company, attempt to encourage Bruce to come out of retirement and reignite the energy project in order to provide the city with sustainable fuel.
Unfortunately a nuclear physicist has been captured by a brutally savage villain called Bane (Tom Hardy) who wants to use him to transform the energy project into something far more dangerous causing the Batman to come out of retirement too. The Police force still has a problem with crooked cops however one officer, John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), is eager to make a difference and impresses Gordon enough to become his right hand man in the battle to save Gotham.
There is no better word to describe The Dark Knight Rises than ‘epic’. Actually add to that ‘magnificent’. Throw in a little ‘spectacular’. Wrap it with a dash of ‘phenomenal’ and you arguable have one of the greatest trilogies in cinematic history. The audience experiences the heights of the tall towers of Gotham to the lower sewers were Bane and his mercenaries reside. From the emotional depth of those who are alive, to those who die fighting valiantly. The advancement of technological feats balance beautifully to the sombre moments of human tears. In IMAX, it’s even better – far better than any 3D movie you will see this year as Director Christopher Nolan completely enchants you into this collapsing city filled with bewildering inhabitants, malicious villains and tragic heroes.
Yes. TDKR is a conclusion of the Bruce Wayne story, as it was foretold in TDK, for he could never burden his shoulders with the weight of the city’s expectations forever but even as the credits roll you could not ask for a better ending for a man who has given everything for its safe keeping – especially now that it experiences and explores terrorism, identity theft and class (dis)order.
The main plot of the movie is not dramatically indifferent from the inspired comic source such as the Knightfall series and The Dark Knight Returns. Nolan also took inspiration from Charles Dickens’s novel A Tale Of Two Cities which revolves around the uprising of peasants against the aristocracy in both Paris and London, mirroring the actions taken by the ordinary citizens of Gotham whom ravage the wealthy and enjoy their spoils.
No other character represents this well than Selina Kyle who is clearly trying to escape her past and uses her ingenuity, as well as her athletic abilities, to manipulate the wealthy in order to make a fresh start in life. Unlike other citizens, Kyle is extremely resourceful and is able to deal with the fire that is rising around her. “There’s a storm coming,” she tells Bruce while they dance at a party and confidentially believes she’ll survive because she’s ‘adaptable’. Hathaway personifies Kyle in such a manner that it eclipses Michelle Pfeiffer’s version Batman Returns. Hathaway is sexy, devilish and exciting to watch.
The other end of the spectrum lies Bane who opens the film in a stunning plane vs plane action sequence worthy of any major Bond movie. Bane’s purpose here is to complete the mission Ra’s Al Ghul started from Batman Begins but unlike Al Ghul, he has a whole army behind him using the rejected military toys from Fox’s Applied Sciences division. Bane clearly has the ability to infiltrate the most complex of places illustrating he has incredible strength as well as destructive ingenuity describing himself as a ‘necessary evil’. With the mask covering his face, Hardy was only able to express his emotions through his eyes and he does this incredibly well. Much like the eyes of the Joker in TDK, it contains a mixture of tragedy and malice. His voice, while occasionally unclear, is petrifying at times reflecting well his coarse mannerism of using just brute strength to kill people.
A worthy adversary then for a physically inapt Batman who struggles for much of the film trying to understand his place in the city. We don’t see Batman for nearly an hour into the film and when we do he is treated like a criminal – which of course results in an amazing chase sequence involving dozens of police cars and motorbikes. In some of the most dramatic and pensive scenes between Bruce and Alfred (Michael Caine), the years in exile have done nothing to heal Bruce’s broken heart and while Alfred forever encourages him to move on – Bruce stubbornly feels otherwise. Caine has never acted so poignantly before in a Nolan film, especially during a scene when he discloses to Bale a secret he too has been hiding for the past eight years. It is moving. Especially to see Bale as a broken Bruce Wayne where the physical strains really have sunken deeper then his skin, leaving no space for emotional remorse. We get a true sense of despair from his face that he is lost. But worst still… he does not wish to be found.
There is even greater interaction between the police and how they operate. While TDK was filled with corrupt cops, TDKR contains a number of law enforcement officers who are willing to make a difference and even put their lives on the line. Heading up the change is Blake who impresses Gordon with his shrewd detective skills earning a position to shadow Gordon for much of the movie. Blake’s role in the movie is extremely significant for he possess the belief, ideology, philosophy, spirit and drive of both Gordon and Batman combined. While Gordon is out of action for a good third of the movie, he certainly gets more than a character moment for the final third as he engages in a number of the action sequences. The middle part divulges into Gordon’s state of mind as he struggles to live with the lie around the true nature of Dent’s death and wishes he could put things right but it isn’t until the arrival of Bane does he get an opportunity to.
So – the perfect comic movie? Better than TDK? The simple answer is no. The reason why TDK worked so beautifully is because it revolved around three basic characters who collided with each other in complex ways. TDKR however has a magnitude of characters, stamping their own beat to drive the story along creating an impact on a grand scale. Nolan clearly wanted to illuminate how the impact of Bane’s arrival was affecting the different characters in different ways, but in doing so it becomes a tad too complex thus losing that simplicity TDK projected so well. Bane is very different from the Joker and so the two cannot truly be compared as the Joker challenged Batman in a psychological way while Bane simply beats and tortures Batman to a pulp. Also the romance that blossoms between Bruce and Tate isn’t entirely convincing and happens almost too soon, even though the set up to it is considerable. The sexual tension between Batman and Kyle however is and widely accepted as the better of the two.
Where TDKR redeems itself however is in the magnitude of its scope – which is just astonishing. The visual landscape of creating Gotham from elements of New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and London creates a gritty environment. The exploding buildings and burnt bridges creates a danger that seems dreadfully real, which in turn means the risk taken by all the characters is life threatening. Nolan has raised the bar with the action in this movie by elevating the scale and expanding it beyond the freeways and rooftops – and into the sky with the Bat (Batman’s new bat-wings) while giving the keys to his Batpod for Kyle to enjoy. The number of extras used for the large scale battle scenes are incredible; ignoring the use of CGI, we get to see real human bodies being beaten, broken and buried under even more bodies.
During the promotional tour of the film, Nolan has stated that to date TDKR is the biggest story he has ever told but it comes second only to the emotion headwinds the characters have to face. “When I started this journey with Batman,” he continues, “I didn’t anticipate that I’d now be finishing up the third film. But stories have a beginning, middle, and an end, and a trilogy of films naturally lends itself to telling a complete story.”
Unlike any other superhero movie over the years, none have connected with the audiences as much as Bruce Wayne and his alter-ego Batman have. Nolan has always expressed that these characters belong to the people and are meant to reinterpreted and reinvigorated for future generations to enjoy. While the world waits with anticipation when Batman will return to our screens over the next few years, he can always be found in his natural home. Nolan may have concluded Batman’s epic journey in TDKR but in the comics he will continue to live, breathe and fight crime… forever.
Written by Vaskar S. Kayastha