An Everlasting Symbol fighting for his Immortality
Alas, the batman trilogy is complete, and director Christopher Nolan wraps up one of the bolder, darker, existential superhero franchises to date in The Dark Knight Rises with an imperfect but climactic end. This series, principally infused with post-911 urban chaos and corruption that questions the distinctions between justice, revenge, and heroism, clings to a dynamic of precarious, self-righteous terrorism attempting to overthrow sets of established mores and structures in order to reconcile a city’s (Gotham’s) seeming undoing.
Yet, there are still a few Gothamites who believe in their city, namely Batman/Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), whose identity toggles between a façade of a spoiled playboy, private philanthropist, and cape crusading soldier. He, among others, is known dutifully as an idealist in the words of arch-enemy Ra’s Al Ghul in Batman Begins, a character and film that respectfully haunt much of this third installment.
We pick up four years after The Dark Knight and eight years in film time, with Gotham still lingering from the aftertaste of Harvey Dent’s death, supposedly at the hands of Batman. He took the rap in order to preserve Dent’s legacy and the people’s faith in its public leaders, a move necessary at the time but one which has turned on itself. The relatively clean streets now emerged due to a polarization of wealth, the haves and the have-nots (the 1 percent and the 99 percent one might say), which have manifested themselves in extreme proportions.
This gradually fuels a violent “Occupier” storm, led by a baddy named Bane (Tom Hardy), whose brute force and glaring physicality make him an indisputable menace that would be foolish to challenge. In the first scene of the film, deftly, aerobically shot, Bane and his minions hi-jack another plane to steal a scientist for a sadistic plan. Bane, with an indeterminate background, coyly told, is a dangerous creature, but a nearly incomprehensible one with his ironclad breathing muzzle filtering his voice with distorted combinations of Hardy’s British tongue and Darth Vader commands. His villainy comes not in his personality, but his potent punch, the antithesis of Heath Ledger’s Joker, which was one full of twisted facial features and monstrous, anarchist characterizations that relied more on mental maneuvering than bestial dominance. Needless to say, Bane grows on you.
So, Bruce Wayne, who now hobbles around with a cane, starts to get that itch again, to come out of Wayne Manor after years of exile, as Gotham begins to get bitten. Alfred (Michael Caine) is less than thrilled, and the state of Wayne Enterprises under new head Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) has rapidly, financially declined. Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) has also run into some trouble, quickly donning a hospital gown for a lengthy recovery. Wayne looks at the paper and resembles a less bearded Rip Van Winkle, and with old friends thrown out of the fore, new encounters must emerge.
Still delirious with Michelle Pfeiffer’s 1992 psychotic portrayal of Catwoman and soured with Halle Berry’s more recent clunky residue, Anne Hathaway provides fresh air to Selina Kyle. This time a less heady cat burglar, Hathaway combines her chic fashion and bravado with a refined animalism. This spawns a bartering relationship between her and Batman, further muddying any characterization of
good and evil. That is precisely what Christopher Nolan, and crusader creator Bob Kane, have challenged, a conventionality that likes classifying and categorizing its villains and heroes.
Batman is a “symbol” for Gotham, and one that is ambivalently seen as good, but more importantly incorruptible. However, this symbol is only as good as the person that creates it. Intentions aren’t inherently good and evil, they are perceived as such and rely on each other’s binary identity, further articulated when Bane tells Batman, “There can be no true despair without hope.” Bane, continuing a mission enacted by former mentor Ra’s Al Ghul, does not see Gotham blowing up into ash as an evil act, but instead as a teaching moment, one that will eventually restore a better world. Bat-Bruce must choose between a vision of justice, which as the late Rachel Dawes professed, is better seen as harmony, not revenge.
These short, prophetic quips have become the backbone of thematic work for the series, too often told and less portrayed. The film’s chaos, which includes Bane’s thuggish army’s infiltration of the sewage system and subsequent detonations of the city, including almost enveloping Hines Ward, mimics the film’s muddled sentimentalities. With a framework aware of its unjust economical undertones, it submerges itself into deeper water and in doing so grasps at conventional, third act plot points for flotation.
Nolan’s cinematic palette, even with its simplified, sometimes claustrophobic shots, still produces visceral flares of large proportion. These eventually surge into its powerful conclusion, given an incessant punctuated score by Nolan buddy Hans Zimmer. One battle, particularly ambitious, includes a contemporary front line attack a la Kenneth Branagh’s epic ending to Henry V, with more advanced weaponry of course. Other key additions include Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) a rich philanthropist with sketchy past, and most notably John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a young, noble cop who might be considered one of those idealists, not ready to watch the world burn.
Amongst the revolution manifesting itself in the streets comes a Godfather-esque montage of collective Robin Hoods, hordes of thugs infiltrating the wealthy’s edifices and viciously ripping their material innards apart. Their split-second ravenous volatility is a combination of mob mentality and deviated principles, the consequence of a city out of balance. Bat-Bruce must constantly walk this uneven tightrope, fighting the influence of his multiple personalities and Bale continues to embody this struggle, shifting deftly from apathy to duty.
Selina Kyle meanwhile, once a lone Robin Hood, seems disappointed in this grand scale larceny. There is some care hiding underneath that black mask and a realization that this is a battle unable to be fought alone. Bat-Bruce knows this too, as his own mortality becomes grossly dependent on others.
“Your compassion is a weakness your enemies will not share” threatens R’as Al Ghul in Batman Begins. Nolan is deeply aware that this is Bruce’s constant inner battle, repressing him from uncontrolled anger in order to lead by example. A Dark Knight knows compassion may make him weaker, but he also knows it makes Gotham stronger.