"If you make yourself more than just a man, if you devote yourself to an ideal...
you become something else entirely."
Over the past seven years, audiences have watched and re-watched the uniquely polarizing Bruce Wayne rise past a childhood tragedy to become the Caped Crusader in Batman Begins, and learn how to go to to toe with maniacal yet disarmingly calculating villains from the underworld in The Dark Knight. With the third and final act of his story, The Dark Knight Rises, we move past the glitz and glamour of Bruce and the virile heroism of Batman to reveal the man behind both facades.
Eight years has passed and District Attorney Harvey Dent's presumed heroic death still weighs heavily on Gotham City, and particularly on Commissioner Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) who's been itching to reveal the truth about his demise and the brave efforts of the Batman. Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has become a hopeless recluse, and subsequently hung up his Batman gear. The streets of Gotham are bustling with their regular activity, and the bad guys are safely tucked away in prisons as part of the Dent Act. Moreover, there isn't a single trace of The Joker who ravaged the city in The Dark Knight.
Batman has completely settled into a full-on outcast state of mind, wallowing around his mansion all day in his bathrobe and a stench of self-pity, when a new villain by the name of Bane (Tom Hardy) swoops down on the city wreaking new havoc. Donning a shaved head, Hannibal Lecter-like muzzle over his mouth (which makes him barely audible), and the stature of a two-ton cinder block, this character already seems more intense than the previous fella with green hair and playing cards. However, he does share a similar sentinment with the Joker--introduce a little anarchy to Gotham, and flip the balance of power from the rich to the poor, the powerful to the powerless.
But Bruce continues his internal struggle with the consequences he brought to himself, including the loss of his beloved Rachel, while his life quietly goes stagnant. At this time audiences learn along with Bruce how dependent he is on his formidable alter ego, and what little he feels he has to live for. This is the catalyst that leads him to put back on his charcoal armor and get in the ring with the newest--and biggest-monster in town. But this villain has something Batman never experienced--the pain of losing a loved one, and the struggle to simply survive. This is when Batman has to rely on Bruce to finally acknowledge the pain he suffered as a child, the pain he's stifled for far too long. Only then can both he and Batman rise against their foes.
Write/director Christopher Nolan delivers a more stripped down story of a fallen hero in this third and final act. We see Batman broken and bruised at the hands of Bane, but, unlike the two prior films, we also see Bruce's spirit seep right out of him. Gone is the lavish playboy millionaire lifestyle he hid behind for years. Gone is the foreboding, menacing character he became in The Dark Knight. Essentially, he becomes human. And Bale of course nails every bit of it.
The full circle character development fits in nicely with the seamless crafting of the three act tale in its entirety. It becomes an astoundingly polished precursor to a familiar story, one which showed how Nolan thought of every detail--down to the pounding elements of the suspenseful musical score--to ensure that every character we've already known and appreciated was assuredly accounted for.
It's no easy feat, but, even with the addition of Bane, optimistic rookie detective John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), the duplicitous Gotham philanthropist Miranda Tate (played effortlessly by Marion Cotillard), and Batman's new competition, Selina Kyle/Catwoman (Anne Hathaway), the wide plot becomes deftly streamlined for the greater purpose--rebuilding the Batman. Because none of these characters are anything without him, and vice versa.
If you can get past Bane's muffled speech, which does minimally impact the delivery of his story, you'll notice the barrier he represents for Batman. By posing a threat to his city, Bane's ennacted mayhem forces Batman to come out of hiding to be his costar in the extravagant and violent one-man show he has planned for the city. Unlike in The Dark Knight, where the exchange between the Joker and Batman was pivotal, the dialogue between the latter and Bane is more physical than verbal. It's the one unimpaired language Bane can muster, and one which surely gets the message across. With all the challenge Hardy faced enveloping the character, he still manages to make Bane as equally nuanced as he is loathsome.
On the other hand, audiences will see a slightly different Catwoman in this movie than they've seen in previous films, one which can only be described as inspired by the late Walt Disney himself. While Hathaway has the physique of a leather-clad temptress, she has no idea what to do with it. She was effective enough, but doesn't blow you away as someone like, say, Michelle Pfeiffer did in Batman Returns. Some feminist critics may want to high five Hathaway for her brave portrayal of Catwoman, while the rest of us will wonder 1) when Selina became a petty jewel thief and not the office slave she was in Batman Returns, and 2) why this Selina/Catwoman seems more conflicted about her motives and not very sure of herself. It's an ambitious effort for Hathaway--and you can certainly tell she was enjoying herself the entire time--but one that was not without its awkward moments. Admittedly, that could be the fault of Hathaway and the screenplay. Also, her relationship with Batman seems a bit forced and comes out of nowhere (as does Miranda's relationship with him). However, where Nolan chose to take Catwoman's story may be the reason Nolan took a softer route with this new kitty.
In true Nolan form, each character holds a significant level of importance to the main goal of the story. Morgan Freeman returns as Lucius Fox, the once ousted Inspector Gadget character, who gives Batman all the toys he needs to get back out to the murky playground. And Bruce's trusty Butler Alfred (Michael Caine) gives him the heart he's long since deserted. With all the emotional elements of this gigantic story, each time Caine stares back at Bruce it may actually make you shed a single tear.
Even Gordon-Levitt's smaller but significant piece in Nolan's puzzle is more brilliantly laid out than you'll ever guess by the ending credits. Nolan even took the time out to pay a few quick but respectable nods to past characters and plot traits in the franchise, giving the audience a little wink each time.
That's the thing with Nolan; you never know exactly what to expect from the story because he redefines the stories that we already know, which makes us see them in a different light. While some of the characters or circumstances may not be exactly how we remember them from previous adaptations, he always leave a lasting stamp.
The Dark Knight Rises is the taut and satisfying finale to a beastly franchise that not only proposed new interpretations of a beloved tale, but it also re-engineered what we imagine a superhero movie to be. With themes including love, protection, war, pain, and capitalism, this third film further embodies each moral, without preaching any of them. A truly provocative ending to a wonderful franchise.