Review: Dark Knight Rises

Director: Christopher Nolan
Screenplay: Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan
Cast: Christian Bale, Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy, Joseph-Gordon Levitt
Runtime: 164 min.

“Theatricality and deception can be powerful agents.”

With those words of wisdom began not only the journey of the Batman, but Christopher Nolan’s remarkably meticulous and grandiose tale of the denizens of Gotham City. For all of the ferocity and determination of Bruce Wayne, and the pomp and circumstance of the Joker, and the dedication of James Gordon, and the loyalty of Alfred Pennyworth, it is the humanism of Gotham that drives the entirety of the series.

And it is Dark Knight Rises that offers a catharsis for those people, and for those that would test their mettle.

Dark Knight Rises introduces us to a world that we have never previously known. Opening eight years after the conclusion of The Dark Knight, Gotham is experiencing something along the lines of Pax Romana – crime rates are infinitesimal, the ‘Harvey Dent Act’ has provided the district attorney with the ability to imprison the criminal element with ease, the police are untested, and the Batman and Bruce Wayne have vanished into this air. As Gotham revels in its newfound hope and harmony, the Wayne Corporation is in disarray and the diminishing underbelly silently awaits some forthcoming reckoning from the aptly named Bane … the veritable yin to the Batman’s yang.

It is here that I feel it appropriate to deviate from any synopsis of the film. In viewing the film, I noted that the studio did an admirable job of revealing just enough in the trailers to generate interest while holding enough back and allowing for vagaries to the otherwise uninformed viewer. So long as one has not read spoiler-laced reviews or discussed the film at-length with someone who has seen it, Dark Knight Rises will surprise and intrigue you from open to close.

As Christopher Nolan’s universe is steeped in humanism, so to is the very backbone of the film, which is comprised of the efforts of a stellar supporting cast. Michael Caine’s sagacious and fatherly Alfred offers the greatest emotional impact in the film, and carries the burden of an entire city’s fragile faith with astonishing grace. The legacy of the Wayne family – which may well be the legacy of Nolan’s universe – is breathed into life by Alfred’s discussions with Bruce, and it is difficult to imagine any other actor offering as much in so little screen time as Caine.

Gary Oldman’s grizzled and skeptical Gordon is the war hero that Gotham no longer praises, yet he is loath to concede that his time may have passed. Oldman somehow balances a world-weariness with a willingness to sacrifice everything to protect those that he cares about, and his dedication to the tasks at hand is palpable. It seems significant that Oldman is often discussed as an underrated or understated actor, as his Gordon fits that mold ably – he may not be capable of the remarkable feats of the Batman, but he is never hesitant to try.

Morgan Freeman’s Lucius Fox and Marion Cotillard’s Miranda Tate form a balance, of sorts, for Bruce Wayne. Freeman is, as usual, jovial yet logical, representing the scientific foundation of Bruce Wayne. It is a role that suits him perfectly. And Cotillard is passionate and hopeful, pushing Bruce to take a leap of faith and trust those that he seeks to save. The quietly sultry nature of Cotillard adds a wonderful layer to the film.

And Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Blake is … well … Gotham City. Gordon-Levitt’s role in the film is relatively minor, comparatively speaking, yet he distills all of the hopes, lies, strengths, and weaknesses of the people that the Batman protects into a single, believable, relatable character. He is the ideal everyman, yet he works with the knowledge that he is capable of so much more.

If there exists a weakness to Nolan’s filmography, it is that his female characters are somewhat lacking. I would not quite suggest that they are disposable or one-dimensional, but they are oftentimes dependent on the actions of the male leads. Thankfully, Anne Hathaway elegantly disposes of this narrative.

Hathaway, as cat(woman) burglar extraordinaire Selina Kyle, is simply magnificent. She has been bloodied and battered by the trappings of both the high society and underbelly of Gotham, yet she boldly soldiers on, for better or worse. She recognizes that she is flawed, perhaps intrinsically so, and the viewer can feel her inner turmoil. Hathaway balances a mighty ego and a near crippling self-awareness in a manner that truly must be seen to believe.

Tom Hardy’s Bane is likely to form the crux of the many varied opinions that Dark Knight Rises is sure to generate. There are already widespread criticisms of his voice, his build and general appearance, and his mannerisms … and, to me, those critiques could not be more off-base.

Hardy is the personification of menace and doom, and what he may lack in charisma he more than makes up for with sheer force of will. As an amalgamation of Ra’s al Ghul and the Joker, Hardy’s Bane blends a sense of purpose and determination with a decided tinge of insanity into an ominous figure that the Dark Knight trilogy had not previously seen. Moreover, the physicality that he brings – both in terms of size and strength – balances the equation that the Batman so often dominated in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.

It is here that Dark Knight Rises truly distinguishes itself from its predecessors. The altercations between Bane and the Batman are brutal and visceral, with Hardy’s calculating calm striking a startling counterbalance against Bale’s raw power and anger. The specter of physical violence has never been more ubiquitous, and Nolan has never filmed the violence so clearly, and so cleanly. Gone are the quick-cuts, shaky cameras, and roaring music, replaced with fixed angles and the sounds of strikes and breaking bones. It is a welcome change.

Despite the all-around brilliance of the cast, it is Christian Bale’s portrayal of Bruce Wayne and the Batman that makes Dark Knight Rises a truly great film. For the first time in the series, Bale is the focal point in the film, whereas the stars of the previous entries were the origin (both of the Batman and Gotham City) and the Joker, respectively. Bale is a truly sympathetic character, conveying a powerful figure lost in his own personal hell, suffering the trials and tribulations of a man that has sacrificed most everything for the anonymous faces of the city he protects. The losses he has endured have all but crippled him – physically and emotionally – and we are taken hand-in-hand with Bruce Wayne as he rebuilds himself from ashes. Bale is incredibly charismatic and far more relatable than a character of his stature seems capable, and he flourishes as the man behind the myth. Truly, it was a triumphant performance.

From a technical standpoint, Nolan’s direction and editing is simply brilliant. Despite it’s near three hour runtime, Dark Knight Rises moves at a relatively breakneck pace and never resembles a bore. Some elegant transitions and beautiful cinematography mask a plot that is shallow at times, yet I cannot in good conscience label that as a flaw. Nolan seamlessly blends excitement with emotional tumult, and neatly wraps up dozens of plot points from all three films in the series. It is spectacle and grandeur defined, without the trappings of style over substance. And Hans Zimmer’s score is the blood that pumps through the meticulous circulatory system that Nolan has created, and a pervasive sense of humanity sets everything in motion.

Dark Knight Rises represents not only a masterstroke in the tumultuous history of trilogies and their final chapters, but a paradigm in technical filmmaking. It is the best of the Dark Knight films, the best film of the year and, perhaps, Christopher Nolan’s magnum opus.


  1. “..Dark Knight Rises will surprise and intrigue you from open to close.”

    Personally, I with Neil Gaiman that the 1st act spells out exactly what will happen in the following two acts. I hadn’t seen a single movie frame of the movie previously, just a few posters and the occasional image. However, I do have a lot of background from reading the comics and was able to figure out all the character associations and were the twists were happening early on. Still, I don’t remember such a predictable movie in a very long, long time.

    Also unfortunately nothing that Nolan does manages to raise Bane beyond a b-character. It didn’t help that all of his audio is clearly overdubbed and sounds like it is coming from a nice studio. However, his chummy Sean Connery like voice doesn’t sound menacing at all but often sounds like he’s going to invite you over for tea. To the point I had problems stopping myself from laughing almost any time he talked as he seemed so silly.

    Catwoman was quite well done, with once again Christopher Nolan drawing heavily from Batman: Year One.

    Which reminds me of Batman Returns, which similarly failed (in my opinion) with DeVito’s Penguin but succeeded with Catwoman.

    Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character was also great, despite the very obvious character beats.

    I really wanted to like this movie, but just found it to be such a disappointment and I expected so much better from Nolan.

  2. In terms of spectacle, this film owns. The film continue to show Nolan’s weakness in the editing and continuity department. Character’s action also do not feel organic.

  3. Such a great review Domenic and not just because I completely agree! lol To me this is the best of the trilogy as an overall piece of narrative cinema. The Dark Knight might have the rewatchable edge purely for the sake of The Joker but I think this works better from start to finish; it flows better, it feels more momentous and like it “means” more if that makes sense. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE The Dark Knight, and in time and after repeat viewings I may change my mind. But right now TDKR is my favourite of the three.

    Again very nice reviwe. Here’s mine btw:

  4. I hate to say this, but this is my least favorite of the trilogy so far. I am re-watching tomorrow, so this may change.

    I do think, however, that the confrontations between Bane and Batman are the best of the trilogy by far – outstanding, really, with very simple and straightforward fight choreography and photography. (I was also a fan, however, of the quick editing of the TDK.) I think that Bane was the star.


      I’d also like to comment about Bane.

      When I found out Bane was in BATMAN AND ROBIN, I was fearful that this would mean Batman was in danger of getting his back broken like in the comics. In fact, it was a bit of a relief that Bane was turned into a mindless joke.

      However, when I watched THE DARK KNIGHT RISES and saw that they actually went through with the back break, I literally gasped. It was definitely the hardest scene to watch.

  5. Superman 3, Batman & Robin, Spider-Man 3, X-men 3 and now The Dark Knight Rises looking back I realize that there really hasn’t been a good 3rd superhero movie (in my opinion). It’s always the 3rd movie that things go off the rails. Now the Dark Knight Rises doesn’t quite fail as badly as all those others did, as mentioned there are some really good aspect of the movie, but it still feels like it went completely off the rails.

    Let’s hope Iron Man 3 manages to break the cycle.

  6. Still kind of in shock how much of a mess this film is. Whatever good exists in DKR is smothered by the most over-indulgent plotting for the sake of plotting scene slog of recent memory, I feel brow-beaten into a kind of stupor. Found myself just tuning out because every scene is people talking out plot, like 5 seasons of the wire compressed into 2 hours, 45 minutes without any chance to breathe. The stuff that needed more time to develop organically is rushed over so we can have a heart to heart with Matthew Modine or Detective Blake and a kid. It feels devoid of charisma, people just hitting their marks, and buried within some fleeting emotion, some glimmer of the film that could have been. Would never have guessed it would be this disappointing.

    • Rot — I completely agree with you, but I still enjoyed the film. There were so many iconic movements and AWESOME images that it overcame the narrative/editing problems.

      Mario Cotilard’s character was completely wasted, though.

    • I do think it would have been better if it had been two full-length movies instead of one. I especially wish that bruce wayne’s journey into darkness had been more fully developed and longer – with some deeper truths and darker inner struggles confronted, and even more physical struggles.

      Come to think of it, I do wish almost all of the story lines could have been more fleshed out.

      But I’m not giving up on it until I see it again, now that I know what to expect.

      • I repent! I was wrong – this movie is awesome. I re-watched again this morning and was blown away, especially with everything up to and including the Bane sewer fight. I kept on waiting for the parts that I didn’t like and found that they all worked perfect for me this time. Even the IMAX sound and picture were a lot better than I remembered them.

        The 2 things that still “bothered” me were the Matthew Modine stuff – totally unnecessary – and the recovery – I wish it could have been longer and more in-depth.

  7. We’ll see how it holds up on rewatch, but after seeing The Dark Knight again last night and then watching The Dark Knight Rises today, I’m pretty definite that I liked Dark Knight Rises a fair bit more than Dark Knight. It’s more coherent, the story, while still hitting a lot of plot, feels tighter and more on point, the women are written and performed much better, and the action is photographed and edited much more clearly.

    But then, I liked The Dark Knight more when I saw it initially in theatres than on rewatch, so we’ll see if Dark Knight Rises holds up on rewatch. I certainly enjoyed watching it today a whole lot more than I enjoyed watching Dark Knight last night.

    • Someone else mentioned it being ‘more coherent’ too… That is like the absolute last word I would apply to this film. From Bane’s voice to the editing to the byzantine plotting it feels incredibly incoherent. I still do not understand the blood transfusion Dr Pavel thing in the opening sequence and I have had months to digest it.

      • It seemed much less complicated than The Dark Knight to me. In The Dark Knight, I have no idea how Joker managed to get Rachel and Harvey kidnapped, no idea how his “plan” to get arrested managed to work with all the variables involved, no idea how he set up the two ferries, no idea why we spent like half an hour watching a story about mobsters that turned out to be largely a MacGuffin, no idea how how that chase in the tunnel is spatially possible, etc. I had no issues like that with The Dark Knight Rises.

        The Dr. Pavel thing – I thought they did that so when the wreckage was found, they would assume the decoy guy was him and he’d be declared dead. EDIT: I do agree that was a really unnecessarily complicated way to do it, if that was indeed the reason.

    • Voncaster, not really.
      The 99 percent speeches were lies to convince the Gotham criminals, and some of the Gotham civilizians, to be on Bane’s side. Bane just wanted to accomplish the League of Shadow’s goal from Batman Begins. Civilization is too corrupt and unfix-able. Thus humanity have to have a rebirth in order to improve itself.

      • I was mostly being snarky internet kid. I should apologize for that.

        I do think there are real world ties to the Dark Knight that I haven’t quite wrapped my head around.

        The 1 vs 99 is clearly referenced in the movie. And whether its just a reference and nothing more or if there is some meaning behind it I have not worked out for myself. Having the savior be of extreme upper society is at the very least interesting.

        I also think terrorism is an interesting part of these movies. Joker and Bane are terrorists. But they are also like-able characters on some level. They are charismatic and operate outside of society’s rules. Nolan also tries to set his Batman in a mostly realistic world. So the terrorism (microwave and fusion machines aside) seems more real than than the Burton films and a lot of other comic book movies.

        Combine that with real world terrorism that is going on outside of the movies and Its a whole stew of ideas.

        I haven’t worked out my stance on it all.

  8. I should mention I didn’t see this in IMAX and even though I paid to see it in the upgrade version (AVX?), the image was unfocused and did not look all that impressive. Maybe had I seen it in the right format I would have liked it a bit more.

    • The first Batman vs Bane fight was out of focus a lot of the time. I think it was probably intentional to show the effects of the fight on Batman, but the out of focus scenes did stand out when most of the movie was crisply in focus.

      • I don’t think it was terribly out of focus, though … but maybe I’m being far too comparative, given the ‘meh’ choreography and filming of the previous altercations in the series.

        • Goon — It is a fucking superhero film. It like complaining that Star Wars is stupid for having human looking creatures, even though it takes place in faraway galaxy.

          • Dude, i gave this thing 5 stars 😛

            5 stars largely on the visceral experience, doesn’t mean this thing isn’t nitpickable in a ‘who cares way’ or at least for shits and giggles.

            Like, how Batman continues to use the gravel voice even when he’s talking to himself or with people that already know his identity…

          • I love Bane’s voice because with the mask plus his mannerisms and his tone of voice there’s a strange blur between his true zealot statements, and lies meant to just rile people up/provoke people.

            That said, when I get this on blu, I’ll be watching with subtitles to pick up what I missed the first time.

          • Personally, I found Bane’s voice to be one of the biggest problems with the movie. Maybe it was just the accent but he came across as way too friendly and at times literally made me laugh.

            Also there was a complete disconnect with the voice, it clearly sounded like it had been overdubbed in a studio. It never sounded like it was in the environment that Bane was in.

          • I thought the “way too friendly” aspect was the thing that worked the best – that tone combined with the things he was saying, and his menacing appearance actually made him way more scary to me.

        • Yeah, he’s up there for one reason: it looks cool. Some of the things people pick at, I believe, are fair game. Some things people are just being plain silly.

          Overall, this was a fucking great summer blockbuster. Of course there are plot inconsistencies (just like in The Dark Knight and Batman Begins), but there always will be with something of this scale that involves a superhero. For me, I can easily overlook those for the sake of the bigger picture.

          I thought everything flowed. I re-watched both Begins and TDK recently and both held up well for me. This one, I’m also going to say, is the strongest film of the three. It worked for me on all levels. That first fight against Bane? The best in the trilogy.

  9. I know people like to shit on him, but is it possible that the Nolan brothers actually missed David Goyer with the story and script? Because in my opinon rises is the weakest of the series.

  10. Very detailed and thorough review without the spoilers! Planning to go into this without reading or discussing too much from those who have seen it. Have enjoyed the franchise especially the last one with The Joker. Looking forward to this one, thanks for the review!

  11. I too think Rises is the weakest in the series. For the most part I enjoyed the film, but I’m in agreement with Rot (my “go-to guy for summer blockbusters”). The plot is fine – I found it relatively coherent, but the excitement in most of the action sequences seemed fairly conventional and already done. Once again Nolan shows he can’t really film a proper action sequence. One minute Cotillard is in the truck, then she’s not. Then she’s driving the thing but then she’s in the passenger seat. Then there’s a pullaway shot and it seems no one is in the truck. Maybe it’s a nitpick, but it bugged me.

    Just the action in general was uninspired I thought. A bomb is going to go off in 23 days. No it’s going to go off in 18 hours. The last minute disarm the bomb (with the jammer) just seemed stupid to me; or at the very least lazy. Then Gordon dropping the thing and having to struggle… to… reach… it… just.. in… time. Boring.

    The best parts of the film are the character moments. Wayne’s decent into darkness, JGL’s back story and his arc, Catwoman’s struggle with her own sense of right and wrong (also a lesbian side story that wasn’t really fleshed out with Juno Temple????). Alfred “vs.” Bruce. All of these moments rang true. And I DID really like Bane. I can see why it wouldn’t work for some people. It’s either goofy or kind of awesome. Luckily I found it to be the latter. It was very Darth Vader-esque and I can appreciate that.

    Seeing Batman get his ass kicked was kind of cool, but most of the fights were pretty poorly choreographed I thought. The street chase was nothing new (done better in BOTH of the previous movies). Just nothing about anything in this film was SUPER exciting. It was enough to keep me interested and watching, but that spark just wasn’t there.

    some was great “So that’s what that feels like.”
    some was awful “Why do you need the “thing”? That “thing” that I can enter my name and birthdate and wipe myself clean from every database in the world? Yeah, that “thing.”
    Levitt: “It’s dichlorihydronatedfasdf! They’re making explosives. They’ve made a circle of explosives around the stadium to trap all the cops!”

    Wait, what? How do you know this!?

    Lots to say about this on the Cinecast tomorrow that’s for sure.

    last note: the review above is awesome. I don’t agree with all of it, but nice writing!

    • There were 2 Bain moments that really did it for me:

      1. When Daggett is yelling at him because Miranda took over the corporation. And Bain just lays his hand on Dagget’s shoulder – palm up – and says “Do you feel like you’re in control?” I’ve never seen such a non-menacing act look so menacing.

      2. At the end of the sewer fight, when Batman first tries to distract him with exploding pellets and then tries to hide in the dark. Bane says something like “You just adopted the dark, I was born to it.” etc, etc., then grabs Batman by his neck from his “hiding place” and chokes him out.

      Joker was more interesting, but the sheer physical menace of Bane I thought was more threatening than anything else in the trilogy.

      • As far as Bane goes, I thought he was awesome. Tom Hardy really took that role and made it something special – not in the way that Ledger did Joker, but he didn’t need it to be. The fight scene between Bane and Batman though – wow, I thought that was phenomenal. Not having music during it – in a film with music blaring 98% of the time – was so effective. It was brutal. Just plain brutal. I can’t wait to see it again.

        • I cannot believe Andrew did not like the hand to hand fights. It was basically an homage to the slow light-saber fights from the old trilogy.

          • I actually didn’t mind seeing Batman get his ass kicked that first time in the sewers (as I mentioned somewhere above). I liked the use of no music in that scene to make it more dramatic and again, I like Bane’s voice – so just cool to hear his taunts. But the fighting itself just felt really slow and laborious. It didn’t have the flash and the thrill of the Batman fights I’m used to.

          • The fights reminded me of the fights in Haywire, which I loved – slower and more laborious, yes, but also more impactful and brutal. When Bane beat Batman up in the sewers, I felt every hit in a way I don’t remember from previous Batman films. It was awesome.

            Also, more spatially coherent. The first big chase scene with all the motorbikes still had some issues with that (I couldn’t keep track of which bikes were going where and where Batman was in relation to them or to the cops probably three quarters of the time – but a rewatch and/or IMAX might help with that). The sewer fight? Again, totally coherent. The fight at the end, after Batman returns from the prison, very coherent.

    • I kept waiting to see what was going on with that Selina Kyle lesbian storyline. I guess I don’t know why it was hinted at but not developed. Unless to demonstrate the true sexual prowess of Bruce Wayne/Batman.

      • I thought maybe it was there to show there would be no love interest between her and Batman. But then there was, so I’m confused about that whole thing. Why is it even in there? Maybe it’;s just supposed to throw us off the love trail scent? Make us think she’s gay, but then surprise us at the end with it? Or maybe I’m reading into it too much and it’s a just a roommate that is her friend.

        Dunno. No matter what the explanation I just thought it was weird.

        • The character originated in Batman: Year One which Nolan has already taken a lot from. His Catwoman seems to be very much based off of Year One, so to me it made sense to include that character. As Rick points out, it seems to be a very big sister, almost motherly relationship at times in the comic and that’s what I got from the movie as well.

  12. I should also mention I liked the CGI effects. The city exploding was a great shot. It was very minimal with almost no sound. Just watching the city crumble was pretty awe-inspiring.

  13. Sorry. One more thing: the way everything was tied up was the best part of the film. Those last 10 minutes or so was really well put together.

    Personally, I might’ve made the directorial/editing choice to NOT show Bruce at the cafe. Just Caine’s face would’ve done the trick.

    • I agree with all of this.

      I would’ve loved a bit more ambiguity in the ending. Between the repaired bat signal, the bequeathed items to Blake, and the revelation that he had fixed the autopilot, I don’t think we really needed to see him to know/infer that he was alive. I also think it would’ve been nice to give that moment entirely to Alfred, as the other three bits were given entirely to the respective supporting characters.

      • Yes, yes, and yes.

        I actually thought that when – SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS BUT IF YOU’RE IN HERE AND READING THIS BUT HAVEN’T SEEN IT YOU’RE STUPID – they showed Alfred’s face, they were going to cut to black. That would have been perfect. But I wasn’t displeased by what Nolan chose to show.

        • Maybe Nolan is so tired of answering the questions about the ending of Inception that he just say, “Here, isn’t it clear now?”

        • Yeah, I wasn’t upset with having that shot at the end, but I would’ve been just fine without it, too. There was enough hinted that we could make the assumptions without knowing for sure. But it certainly didn’t ruin the movie for me or anything.

  14. For some reason I had read in a lot of places (and people telling me in person) that the first hour or so of the film is very slow and the last half or so is like a roller coaster ride that never slows down.


    I thought the pacing of the movie was pretty consistent throughout. Up/down/up/down/up/down/up/down/up/up/.

  15. “I too think Rises is the weakest in the series. For the most part I enjoyed the film.”
    I thought you did not like The Dark Knight?

  16. Love the film, but you do have to take a giant leap of faith in certain moments…


    Can anyone explain how Bruce Wayne can get back to Gotham after he climbs to his freedom? If I am not mistaken, that’s in the desert and last I check, Wayne is completely broke. And it’s not like he can hitchhike back to Gotham and no one notice.

    • To the best of my memory, there’s a two to three week lapse between his escape from the prison and his return to Gotham. Given his resourcefulness and paranoid nature, it wouldn’t shock me if he had fail-safes in multiple locations around the globe. Or, maybe I’m projecting too much from my comic readership?

      I think it’s better than a ‘suspend your disbelief’ answer, right?

  17. OK – the most important aspect that hasn’t been discussed is: Catwoman vs. Black Widow. Who looks better in the spandex?

    I guess I’m just a stereotype, because I like the extra booty that Scarjo displayed (oh my god! she looks like one of those rap guy’s girlfriends!), although Hathaway wore the hell out of her suit, too.

    I already know Andrew’s answer.

  18. Maybe I have missed it in this thread, but is there a profound subtext to this film? I get the feeling the film is trying to say something, and that it is subverting the Occupy movement thing in a way (Bruce Wayne is the 1%) but I have yet to read anything laying it out, in the way that after Prometheus there were long essays on its meaning.

    The assumption was Nolan would not return to the universe unless he had a significant story to tell. On the surface DKR doesn’t feel all that significant other than to round off the trilogy.

    • I just took the film as being about overcoming challenges and never backing down, because to take any Occupy commentary at face value Bane has to be telling people the truth.

  19. “You are here because the outside world rejects you. THIS is your family. *I* am your father. I want you all to become full members of the Foot. There is a new enemy: freaks of nature who interfere with our business. You are my eyes and ears; find them. Together we will punish these creatures. These… turtles.”

  20. TDK trilogy explained (from reddit)


    Nolan’s Batman films are often praised for how they mesh topical socio-political commentary with explosive super-hero action. Batman Begins focused on poverty vs. opulence, corruption in authority, the failure of law and order, and the nature of justice as opposed to revenge. The Dark Knight mixed comic book icons with themes of post-9/11 anxiety, the breakdown of civility and decency in the face of chaotic terror, and the question of “how far is too far?” in dealing with overwhelming threats. Finally, The Dark Knight Rises examines notions of assumed power vs. true power, the need for hope in the bleakest of times, and liberation from and revolution against the constraints of capitalist society. Although the topical nature of these three films certainly adds to their overall cinematic quality, there are a series of more personal themes prevalent throughout the trilogy, the importance of which may be overlooked in the process of viewing each film as a contained story. The core element of the trilogy-the fall and rise of Bruce Wayne – is a personal character arc defined by duality, rage, grief, redemption, and finally acceptance and ties with the evolution of Gotham City as a whole.

    In order to fully grasp the true quality of the storytelling craft inherent in Bruce Wayne’s arc, one must first understand the nature of the man and the mask as three intertwined yet separate entities. Bruce Wayne is not a complete human being – there is a part of him that was ripped away the night his parents died and he has replaced that lost innocence with what Bruce and Alfred refer to as “the monster” (“I am using this monster to help people” – BB). The third piece of this persona is the symbol of Batman: the ideal that the people of Gotham associate with the name, and which in the end inspires them to act on behalf of their city. This symbol is what Bruce was originally hoping to establish, and transcends the identity of any one man.

    The Bruce we meet in the prison at the start of Batman Begins is fueled by the desire for vengeance. As we learn in a later flashback, he was denied the closure and satisfaction of murder Joe Chill and so he has put himself in a position where he is guaranteed to be accosted by criminals on a daily basis; he can exact what he believes is the closest thing to vengeance he is ever likely to have. Every criminal he beats is Joe Chill to him. As Ra’s al Ghul says when he first finds Bruce, “you have become truly lost” (BB). Bruce beats these fellow prisoners out of necessity to quell the rage of his darker half; he himself takes no pleasure in the action because he already knows the truth in his heart: that Justice and Vengeance are never the same. It is this truth, learned from Rachel Dawes, that inevitably puts Bruce and Batman at odds with the League of Shadows.

    Just as Bruce molds his monster into a productive force, Ra’s al Ghul and the League of Shadows aimed to mold Bruce into the figurehead of their twenty-year old plot to eradicate Gotham from the face of the earth. The League helps Bruce create the physicality of Batman and his methods of fighting crime. They give Bruce the tools to confront his grief and anger and use them as the driving force behind his developing second persona. Most importantly, they give him the will to act in the face of apathy and overwhelming odds. The rift between Bruce and his mentors forms when they also attempt to convert him to their own ideal of uncompromising justice. Deep down, Bruce has already developed a sense of morality from Rachel. He combines this with his training, and gives his monster and ideal: there is always hope, and that with dedication and perseverance, Gotham can be brought back from the brink of darkness, just as Bruce was. He gives his darker half a face and name, and saves his city from annihilation. In the wake of his victory, however, he learns two truths about what he has done in bringing Batman to Gotham. The first, from Rachel, is that the Bruce Wayne has become the mask that hides the monster. Batman is now the crutch that Bruce relies on. In using it to move past his parent’s death and save the city from the League, he has given it much more control. The second, from Gordon, is the escalation: Batman has the capacity to inspire hope and action in the people of Gotham, but he also makes Gotham a target. His presence will serve as a beacon to draw out madness worthy of fighting a man dressed as a bat. This realization is expanded upon in The Dark Knight.

    The Gotham City the audience sees at the beginning of The Dark Knight is much cleaner that what we saw in Begins. Though the key figureheads of the mob are still at large and Crane’s drugs are still making a small circulation, Batman, with the help of Gordon, is making definite progress in cleaning up the city. The emergence of Harvey Dent as the public face of Batman and Gordon’s crusade builds hope in the people of Gotham. Dent also inspires Bruce in a more personal manner. When Bruce sees Rachel with Harvey, he realizes that Rachel will not wait forever for Batman’s fight to end, and so Bruce begins to look for ways to put Batman to rest so he can be with Rachel. He puts his faith in Harvey as the one who can continue the push for justice when Batman is gone. Likewise, Harvey relies on Batman to do the things that he, as an elected official and the “White Knight” of Gotham, cannot be associated with. The Joker also sees the importance of Harvey Dent as the figurative spirit of Gotham. When Harvey survives the explosion that kills Rachel, the Joker takes advantage of Harvey’s shattered emotional state and converts him, leaving a corrupted perversion of the man that once stood for hope and justice. Bruce is spared a fate similar to Harvey’s by once again relying on the monster, this time to such a degree that Bruce Wayne is all but consumed by his alter ego. However, there remains a faint shadow of the man that clings to the knowledge that Rachel had chose him over Harvey, and so Alfred burns Rachel’s letter in order to preserve what is left of Bruce Wayne. Ironically, Harvey gives in to his twisted sense of vigilante justice because he wrongly believes himself to be like Batman in taking matters into his own hands.

    In The Dark Knight, the Joker is the antithesis of Batman in his own philosophy that anyone can be brought down with the proper push. Harvey Two-Face is the proof that the Joker is indeed right. As he stands over Harvey’s body, the monster (and what is left of Bruce ) realize the true nature of what they have created with Batman, and what they now must do with this symbol. Batman and Gordon cover up Harvey’s actions and allow his untarnished legacy to become the symbol of hope that Batman was meant to be because he was the hero the people believed Gotham needed, and Bruce decides to reward them for that faith. The true hero of Gotham adopts the consequences of Harvey’s actions and becomes a symbol of darkness.

    The Dark Knight Rises is the conclusion to two stories that began the night Martha and Thomas Wayne were murdered: the intertwined salvations of Bruce Wayne and Gotham city. In Begins, Bruce dedicated himself to ensuring that Gotham would never produce someone like him again. In The Dark Knight, he learned that Batman would be whatever Gotham needed it to be, even if that meant standing as the paragon of the darkest depths of the city’s soul.

    Despite being the longest of the three films, The Dark Knight Rises features less of Batman than the other two. The film is not about Batman; it is about what Batman has inspired in the people of Gotham and Bruce Wayne’s personal journey toward a life without his alter ego. Eight years after Bruce hung up the cowl, the legend of Batman has become infamous among the people of Gotham, though some remain stout in their belief of his original ideal of hope. However, although the essence of Batman is now beyond any one man, Bruce still relies on his monster. He has added his grief over Rachel’s death to his original grief over the loss of his parents and is unable to move on with his life. He believes that Rachel would have chosen him and so dwells on what might have been. For a time, he attempted to do good as Bruce Wayne by investing in a clean energy project that would help the world. When he learns that the reactor could be reprogrammed as a weapon though, he shuts the project down. Bruce and Batman have learned the hard way what happens with the malicious take control of another man’s tool for good. Bruce thought that Harvey Dent was ideal replacement for Batman until the Joker turned him into a monster. Similarly, Thomas Wayne built the Gotham rail system as a means to aid the people of Gotham, but Ra’s al Ghul almost managed to use that system to deliver Gotham to its own destruction. So, Bruce shuts down the project and hides away with his grief. The buildup, established over the previous two films, adds complexity to the plot of the third movie, which could otherwise be seen as a deceptively simple stop-the-bomb story.

    Bane claims to be “Gotham’s reckoning.” His aim is to fulfill Ra’s al Ghul’s original plan of destroying Gotham, which the League of Shadows sees as the pinnacle of decadence and injustice, even more so now that it’s “peace” is based on a lie. Bane is also Batman’s reckoning; he plans to exact brutal revenge on Bruce for possessing the arrogance to fight against what the League of Shadows believe is the natural order of things. Bruce and the monster are lured out of retirement even though Alfred is correct when he tells Bruce that he isn’t Batman anymore. At this point, it’s not about being the symbol. It’s about indulging the monster and, hopefully, dying in his quest to save the city. Alfred tries to make him realize there is another way besides death, and that the more victorious action would be to keep on willing. Bruce created Batman as a mean to move on from his parents’ death, but in truth, Batman was only a distraction and an indulgence to Bruce’s rage. Learning to live without Batman would be acceptance of life, but Bruce doesn’t feel he can do that until he gives himself to Gotham. Even knowing that Rachel chose Harvey does not help Bruce realize how he can stop. The catalyst for Bruce’s final push beyond his pain is Selina Kyle. Bruce falls in love with her and finally has a reason to not want to be Batman anymore. Selina wants a clean slate and a new life, and she helps Bruce realize that he wants that too. He challenges her to believe in something beyond herself, as he had to do when he first became Batman. Even after she betrays him to Bane, he still believes in her because he needs redemption for the trust he put in Harvey Dent. Bruce’s inspiration eventually draws her back to Gotham, where she kills Bane and saves Bruce. Bruce brings out redeeming qualities of Selina and in doing so saves himself.

    When they first meet, Bane sees through Bruce’s anticipation of his own death, (having undergone similar training), and so he breaks Bruce and throws him in a pit to rot and watch the extent of his failure. In that hell on earth, Bruce learns to embrace the basest of human instincts: the fear of death. He leaves the monster behind and rises from the darkness of the pit, now at last a complete soul. Bruce proved Rachel’s letter wrong: he no longer needed Batman. Gotham did, however, and so Bruce puts the mask on one last time. Bruce Wayne, armed with the will to live, defeats Bane at the end of the film. He only wears the mask because of its necessity to the people of Gotham.

    Side note on Bane: I’ve read criticism of the “impossible” line he utters when he sees the fiery Bat Signal that state it makes the character come off as unrealistically arrogant. While it is true that this version of Bane is shown to be much too cunning to assume that only he was capable of escaping the pit, remember that Bane didn’t escape; he was rescued. Talia was the one who escaped, and by all accounts she is the only person Bane cares about, and it would be natural to assume that this person you are emotionally reliant on is capable of things that no one else can do. Just some interesting insight into the character.

    Batman’s effect on the people of Gotham in The Dark Knight Rises is best exemplified by two characters: John Blake and Commissioner Foley. At first glance Foley’s arc could seem like an underdeveloped cowardice-redemption-heroic death subplot. When viewed against a broader context though, Foley is quite important to the theme of the film in that he represents most of the people of Gotham. John Blake was always a believer; he didn’t believe that Batman was the killer most people made him out to be, and sought him out when he knew the city needed the Dark Knight to return. John was exceptional, and for this reason he was chosen to carry on the legend of the Batman. Foley is the average citizen. He believes Batman is a villain because that’s what he was told by Gordon, the only talking witness to what actually happened. When Bane took Gotham, he sheltered himself and relied on Bane’s false hope, again because that’s what the authority had told him. He didn’t trust Gordon about the bomb because Gordon had been revealed as a liar in the Harvey Dent murder. But when Bruce lights the flaming signal, Foley is inspired with the will to act. He takes up arms, fights, and ultimately dies defending his city. Foley embodies the victory of Batman; the people of Gotham were possessed with the will to act and therefore had overcome Thomas Wayne’s failure. Foley shows what Batman was and is capable of as a legend and an inspiration for good.
    By the end of The Dark Knight Rises, John Blake is frustrated with the limited authority and facilities provided by law enforcement. He did not have the means to lead the citizens to safety or stand up against those obstructing the bridge that led out of the city. After witnessing the extraordinary feats that Batman was able to achieve, Blake knows that the Dark Knight would not have let this barricade stop him from doing what was right. Blake realizes that he cannot accomplish enough as a police officer, or a detective, and gives up on the system. Thus, he makes the perfect candidate for the heir to the Batman legacy after coming to the conclusion that becoming a vigilante is not just about taking the law into your own hands, but about having a righteous will to act. In order to save Gotham, Batman did not answer to anyone other than himself. But even though the idea of Batman was always about circumventing the law to do the right thing, it was never about being above it. This entity set its own standards, and thus became more than just a vigilante- it became a true inspiration for Bruce Wayne, who worked tirelessly to devote himself to the ideas that Batman created. But how is Batman’s philosophies not influenced by the whims of this man?

    Although Bruce as a man embodied Batman, it was not his choice that the legend of the Dark Knight began. The Dark Knight was never about a single man- it was always about the legend of Gotham City. Gotham created this entity the night that it stole away the innocence of a young boy, who had no choice but to give everything he had back to its citizens. If Gotham created Batman, then that means that Batman is the true representation of the city. Although the fact remains that Batman is one person, the point of the mask is that anyone could be Batman. And if anyone could be Batman, then that means that all of Gotham is Batman.

    • Heh. 5 and 10 are the best.

      I wish I could adequately explain why I don’t think most of my complaints about TDKR are nitpicks. Most of them I think would fall more appropriately in the category of small, miscalculated failures in storytelling.

      I walked out of the movie feeling generally entertained but also with a pretty big “meh” bubble over my head. The only way to explain the lack of emotive response is to break the movie apart and see where its failings were (for me).

      • I understand where you’re coming from Andrew. Nolan leaves a lot of the “connective tissue” out of his movies – at least definitely in The Dark Knight, Inception, and The Dark Knight Rises. By “connective tissue” I mean a lot of the details (some bigger than others) that we expect from film. So, you have to fill in the blanks yourself or question them.

        Now, you can call this sloppy film-making or you can say this is part of his style – his auteur-ism; his desire to concentrate on themes at the expense of details. Or fall anywhere in between on the spectrum.

        To me, Inception is by far his best movie, and it is the film that best displays his present storytelling style (or sloppiness) – big strokes, big ambition, lots of fill-in-the-blanks, and awesome individual scenes. Also, its incredibly dense, so some (not all) “nitpicks” can be cleared up on subsequent viewing.

        So, the question comes down to: Is the spectacle enough to overcome the details? Or , better yet: Is the spectacle enough to encourage multiple viewings, which will clear up most of the details?

        And, to me, that’s the same exact question that is presented by Prometheus.

        But its also the question posed by a lot of great classic movies, in my opinion: like 2001 and Apocalypse Now.

      • My Spiderman nitpicking was mostly for jokes, and mostly my DKR nitpicks are as well, but I think it’s fair to say DKR is far far stupider than Prometheus, if Prometheus is the standard bearer of being a nitpick whipping boy this year. But since it’s a superhero movie and not sci-fi, eh, people let it slide. One genre movie is treated differently than another. If Indiana Jones had a broken back fixed by a punch and some rope, I don’t think it would go unpunished.


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