After the conclusion of The Dark Knight, Bruce Wayne-and Batman (Christian Bale) have gone into seclusion for eight years, while Commissioner Gordon (a fine Gary Oldman) has publicly maintained the lie-at Batman’s behest-that the late crusading attorney turned vengeful, psychotic Two-Face, Harvey Dent was the man solely responsible for preserving the safety of Gotham City. Two events combine to shake Bruce/Batman out of his self-imposed exile: an attempted theft by attractive, athletic jewel thief Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) and the deadly machinations of Bane (Tom Hardy), a masked, mercenary/arch villain who has his own reasons for terrorizing Gotham City. At first, these combine to result in the financial downfall of Wayne Enterprises…enter Marion Cotillard as Miranda, a socialite with an interest in the sole remaining asset—a clean energy program which—if placed in the wrong hands-can be corrupted into a nuclear threat. In the meantime, Alfred (a poignant, persuasive Michael Caine) is duly concerned that Bruce/Batman is not only overmatched, but only too willing to lay down his life.
There are a number of reasons why The Dark Knight Rises proves to be a reasonably satisfying climax to the trilogy. The action sequences, from the opening skyjacking/kidnapping pulled off by Bane (the gas-masked Hardy sounding like a young, garbled Sean Connery) to the climactic battle are crisply edited for maximum effect, without being overly jarring. The acting is generally top-notch, with some unexpected pleasures. Besides the aforementioned Oldman and Caine, Christian Bale turns in his most intense, driven Bruce Wayne/Batman yet (with echoes of Bale’s Rescue Dawn outing) while Marion Cotillard is alluring and enigmatic as Wayne’s potential love interest. Joseph Gordon-Leavitt is a worthy addition as an energetic, idealistic cop, Tom Conti also turns in some nice work as a Bane prisoner and possible Wayne sympathizer, and there are some noteworthy surprise appearances. While Tom Hardy makes for a reasonably menacing villain—when he can be understood through the mask…the film is stolen by Anne Hathaway as a quipping, daring cat burglar caught in the middle between Bane and Wayne. While the film drags a little in the middle, there is a momentum and undeniable emotional pull in its last quarter…
Which brings me to some concerns. The Dark Knight Rises presents a Gotham City which has settled into a tenuous peace built on a potentially fatal lie, with a populace markedly split between the haves and the have-nots. Bane’s plan involves the ruination of Wayne, and the physical, financial, and moral destruction of Gotham City—by galvanizing the citizens to take Gotham back from the rich and upend the legal system. The movie presents a harrowing, if extreme reflection of our society’s current plight, and those who would seek to take advantage of it—and it’s especially despairing in its presentation of mob rule and governmental indifference. Yet, within the logic of the movie, it is unlikely that Bane would gather so much devotion from Gotham’s citizens, given his avowed intent of destroying Gotham in a few months. In any case, Gotham itself seems increasingly like a place that is not worth saving.
Because of the recent tragedy in Colorado, one might become uncomfortable viewing the hostage situations and wholesale slaughter presented in The Dark Knight Returns. After watching this film, and especially in light of recent events, one might be reminded that the horrors depicted on the screen, no matter how real they may seem, are but shadows and only pale beside the horrors that real life can inflict on us. In the movies, however, a superhero might arrive and save the day—alas, real life usually doesn’t offer that salvation.