Though it’s true that the Joker is nowhere to be found in “The Dark Knight Rises,” this film is less about the character and much more about the taint he’s left on Gotham city as a whole. In the end of “The Dark Knight” the Joker won, even when he wasn’t able to prove that humanity is deep down a rotten vile stain on civilization. “The Dark Knight Rises” examines the fall out of the Joker’s reign of terror, and how it ultimately affects any attempts by the Dark Knight to thwart the new terrorist threat by the name of Bane. Eight years later Alfred is a crusty man servant, Commissioner Gordon is a grief stricken officer dealing with a painful divorce, and Bruce Wayne is a recluse who spends his days locked inside the mansion. When we meet Bruce again he’s aided by a walking stick and can barely find the strength to chase after Selina Kyle who makes use of his priceless jewels in one instance.
But when Bane systematically begins bringing down the walls of Gotham around him from the inside out through its failing economy with a master plan to steal the fortunes of many executives, Batman is called back in to duty and he must find a way to take back the city that is still healing from the loss of Harvey Dent. The Nolan brothers masterfully handle multiple sub-plots that feature not only the effect the Joker had on Gotham, but the impact Batman has had throughout the course of his journey as a hero. While the Joker inspired many a lunatic to rise up and cause havoc, we meet Detective Blake, a valiant and courageous police officer who believes in Batman and is fueled by his heroism to pay homage to the Dark Knight and prove that the man behind the mask is a man of good and nobility.
The Nolans brilliantly juggle every single sub-plot relying on a more ensemble story that’s told through the eyes of various individuals in Gotham who are affected by Batman in one way or another. But in the end the film is the journey of Bruce Wayne whose faith in humanity is gradually restored when he bears witness to the bravery of Gotham’s denizens, many of whom refuse to lay down and die at the feet of the imposing and horrifying Bane as he rises to power. The most compelling sub-plot is set on Joseph Gordon Levitt’s character Blake who spends the entirety of the movie witnessing the downfalls of being a hero and what you can achieve when you have faith in the right people. Levitt gives a truly excellent performance as this admirable hero who forms a symbiotic relationship with Batman who feeds off of his virtues and vice versa.
Tom Hardy is a monster as the elegant madman Bane, an egomaniacal brawler with a god complex who breaks every character he lays eyes on and will stop at nothing to ensure the downfall of Batman. Bane plays the role so well that he’s ultimately the better villain than the Joker. Some movie fans will take issue at that declaration, but Bane is just so much more well realized than the Clown Prince, and as the layers unfold within the narrative, this third film proves to be the ultimate closer to Bruce’s origin where he must rely once again on the enemy that he swore to defeat in “Batman Begins.” Though the Joker left Gotham in shambles, Bane takes those shambles and hopes to build an empire out of it where chaos reigns supreme and the wicked rule the world. Bane puts so much more on the line in this narrative and Batman’s fate is ultimately left in the hands of the massive juggernaut who is so cold and calculating he puts the fear of God in to Catwoman.
Anne Hathaway is marvelous as the femme fatale Catwoman who constantly teeters back and forth between cruel turncoat, seductive sidekick, and under appreciated avenger. Thankfully Nolan resists all temptation to set the film on her journey, always keeping Batman at the forefront of the film. As an added benefit Nolan doesn’t always seem obsessed with the Batman as former filmmakers have, relying on a dual battle of Bruce and Batman throughout the narrative that offers a spotlight to Bruce Wayne, a rarity seen in live action Batman films. Chris Nolan and Jonathan Nolan allow enough room for the supporting cast to grab their moments of conflict and moments of self-realization while “The Dark Knight Rises” sends ripples through the world of Gotham encouraging the city to stand up become heroes, because not all avengers need a mask and fancy gadgets.
It’s going to take a grand feat for the next director and writing team to accomplish with Christopher Nolan has. His film ends as a narrative teeming with subtexts, themes on morality and heroism, and the message that evil only conquers when good men stand by and do nothing. Christopher Nolan ends a near perfect trilogy of dark and intelligent Batman films with a near perfect third leg in a marvelous re-imagining of the Dark Knight that presents multiple layers of commentary on society, terrorism, corruption, and capitalism and how Batman is needed in a world that has to be constantly guarded from the darkness. It’s a wonderful finale to Nolan’s radical vision of the Dark Knight before Warner’s inevitable PG reboot.