Don’t be fooled because the hero of The Dark Knight Rises is a morose billionaire dressed as a big, black bat and his main squeeze is a pearl-snatching hottie in a kitty get-up. This last film in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy (Batman Begins, 2005, and The Dark Knight, 2008), is not a funny comic.
The film is dark, very dark. As it should be, since it deals with horrendous evil and how only heroes who have faced their own dark shadows can have the wherewithal — the self-knowledge, courage and perseverance — to successfully combat evil.
Nolan is a complex, sophisticated storyteller, who can seamlessly balance spectacular set pieces with intimate scenes of character development. In one heart-breaking encounter, butler Alfred (Michael Caine) begs his boss, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), not to resurface his Batman alter ego. “Maybe it’s time we stop trying to outsmart the truth” he implores, “and let it have its day.”
At a whopping 164 minutes, the film has plenty of time to reveal the back stories of several characters, creating indelible explanations for their present-day compulsions. Especially poignant are orphans who play major roles in the story.
After the tragic events eight years ago in The Dark Knight, billionaire Bruce Wayne has become a hardened recluse. He refuses to meet anyone, including pretty millionaire Miranda (Marion Cotillard), who tirelessly tries to get him to invest in her promising sustainable energy device.
But a sassy career criminal forces Bruce out of his exile. Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) breaks into his safe and steals the image of his fingerprints. Within days, the prints are used to wreak havoc on the security system of the Wayne financial empire — wiping out Bruce’s entire fortune. While checking the remnants of his former empire, Bruce reconnects with Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), the company’s brilliant inventor. Fox shows off his latest stealth developments, including The Bat, a flying version of the Batmobile.
“There’s a storm coming,” Catwoman had warned Bruce. “When it hits, you’re all gonna wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us.” If this sounds like a manifesto of the Occupy movement, you’re catching the drift. The great city of Gotham (an aggregate of New York, Chicago, and Pittsburgh) has eliminated crime from its streets by instituting draconian laws that destroyed civil liberties. Like ancient Rome, complacency has doomed the city to the savagery at its gates.
From his lair in the city’s sprawling sewer system, a brutal faceless terrorist named Bane (Tom Hardy) leads an army of the dissatisfied. He orchestrates a vile and perverted class revolution, echoing the French Revolution as he tortures and executes the city’s privileged citizens. Bane and Batman meet in ferocious hand-to-hand combat. Batman, his back broken, is thrown into a hellish dungeon. He can escape only by embracing his pain, all of his pain, including the paralyzing traumas of his childhood.
In scenes eerily reminiscent of the collapse of the Twin Towers, Bane destroys the sewers and traps most of the city’s police officers in the ruins. The only ones remaining above ground are Batman’s old friend, police commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman), and an earnest young rookie named Blake (Joseph Gordon Levitt), who idolizes Batman. Batman dismisses Blake’s hero worship. “Anyone can wear a mask,” he says.
Much later, after betrayals and brave heroics, after ghastly battles and the threat of a nuclear bomb, Batman disappears. When Blake finds himself standing outside Batman’s underground cave, he remembers the older man’s words — and then, an ordinary person, not unlike you and me, he accepts his destiny as a warrior against evil and steps forward.