Sometimes it’s hard to know what message a series is really getting at until the end.
After Heath Ledger’s death in 2008, a lot was unknown about the future of Nolan’s Batman universe. Christopher Nolan wasn’t sure he wanted to do a third movie, and Christian Bale said he wouldn’t do it unless Nolan was involved (which is the same reason he wouldn’t do the Justice League, incidentally). He did it though, and it’s a good thing he did.
The Dark Knight Rises doesn’t waste any time, beginning immediately with exposure to Bane. He and his crew successfully wreck a plane, kidnapping one man in it. Bane’s person is immediately established, with a line such as “It doesn’t matter who we are. What matters is our plan.” My thoughts? This is going to be an awesome movie.
You see, Bane is one of Batman’s most frightful villains. The only villain in the comics ever to put the bat out of commission for an extended period of time, his intelligence is often overlooked for his brutal strength. However, he was one of the most intelligent enemies Batman ever faced. The very reason he was exposed to venom (the drug that was the source of his strength in the comics) was because he was a prisoner who was a little too smart for his own good, rallying the other prisoners around him. He’s smart, and he knows how to foster loyalty. The first look at Bane is downright bone-chilling. It’s a redemption for him as a villain, who was represented as a mindless thug in Batman & Robin.
Of course, we all pretend that movie doesn’t actually exist. Maybe I shouldn’t have brought it up.
Our look at Gotham begins with a ceremony honoring the memory of Harvey Dent. Commissioner Gordon has prepared a speech, but he decides it isn’t the right time. That speech will become important later in the movie.
It turns out that Bruce has been effectively retired for about eight years. He has some unexplained injury, which forces him to walk with a cane. He’s become a recluse, never leaving the mansion for any reason, much to Alfred’s disapproval. His lack of physical capability works against him when The Cat (Selina is never referred to as Catwoman in this movie, just The Cat or Selina), disguised as a maid, steals his mother’s necklace. That scene plays another role though, than just the introduction of Catwoman. It shows a contrast. We all know that Bane is coming to Gotham, even if he hasn’t said it yet. If Bruce doesn’t shape up and quick, Gotham is doomed.
He does shape up, largely because of some encouragement from our replacement Robin, Officer Blake. He somehow manages to have more intelligence than all of the rest of Gotham (Commissioner Gordon included) and figures out who Bruce is. That’s mighty impressive, considering he would have just been a teenager when the Bat hung up his cape. That’s a minor plot hole, but it is one that made me scratch my head.
When Batman shows up with his bike, two of the movie’s coolest moments happen, practically back-to-back. A young officer asks what it was (Batman’s bike), and the older officer says “You are in for a show tonight, son.” Then, after a bullet whizzes past Batman, he looks back at the young cop, who promptly says “sorry.” Then the older cop says “Put that thing away before you hurt yourself!” That was pretty awesome.
Batman’s battle with Bane eventually proves to be close to deadly for Batman. He gets knocked temporarily out of the picture, and with Gordon in the hospital, everything goes south. Why? Well, for many reasons. One of them is more important than the others, however. Remember that letter Gordon almost read at the beginning of the movie? It had the truth about Harvey Dent.
In The Dark Knight, Batman said “Sometimes the truth isn’t good enough. Sometimes people deserve more. Sometimes people deserve to have their faith rewarded.” It sounds really great, but it doesn’t sound so good when Bane is uncovering what Gotham’s leaders did. The deception. The betrayal. Batman was right, people do deserve to have their faith rewarded. Hiding the truth from them is exactly the opposite. It is betraying their faith.
So things get bad. Bane takes over the city. There’s a nuclear bomb that’s going to wipe out the city. And there’s a surprise visit from another well-loved DC villain(ish). Batman effectively beats Bane by breaking his mask, then the tide shifts, Bane eventually dies, and Batman takes the bomb outside the city. All is well and good.
All is so well and good, in fact, that Nolan has left no room for any addition to his universe. If they were willing, I almost wouldn’t want them to do another one, because it would practically ruin the ending of The Dark Knight Rises. Well played, Mr. Nolan. Well played.
The film is a meditation on many things. It’s about doing what’s right, even when you haven’t been for eight years. It’s about moving on from past loss. It’s about the ultimate triumph of good over evil, even when evil has had control for a very long time. More than that, however, it’s about the devastating consequences of our mistakes, even those that are done with good intentions. A liar is a liar, even if he’s doing it to protect someone. Because at the end of the day, that someone isn’t really protected. Lies get found out far more often than we care to admit. And that’s when the dam breaks.
Take care to your actions. Because the consequences of them just might manifest themselves as your worst nightmare. Or as a mercenary with super-strength and an appetite for destruction.
Is it better than The Dark Knight? No. The Dark Knight was and always will be the best Batman film. But it’s good. It’s worth it. And it’s a beautiful and fitting ending to Nolan’s glorious Batman trilogy. I said before and I’ll say it again.
Well played, Mr. Nolan. Well played.