After 4 years, we get the followup to The Dark Knight, and this time around, the press seemed divided. After I declared the previous entry to be amongst the greatest movies of all time, how does the (alleged) conclusion to this trilogy stack up?
I like that the first act of the movie has a Dark Knight Returns kind of vibe. You see Batman old and out of shape, and wonder if he’ll put back on the cape and cowl. And his foe, Bane? I love Tom Hardy, and have yet to see him in a movie I didn’t like. But there is absolutely no way he could top Heath Ledger’s Joker performance. Those are clown-sized shoes to fill, so I could hardly fault him for that.
Bane presents a formidable opposition to Batman in this entry. He takes him all the way past the brink of ruin, and comes closer to success than any villain I remember seeing in a movie. Where The Joker was Batman’s intellectual peer, Bane matches Batman’s wits and exceeds his physical capabilities. Though Christopher Nolan deviated substantially from traditional portrayals of Bane (comics, cartoons, Batman Forever), he does so to good effect.
And then he gives us Catwoman, played capably by Anne Hathaway. She also gives Batman a run for his money, and continues Nolan’s grounded approach to the Batman mythology. We have all the hallmarks of Catwoman’s character (the felonious tendency, the love/hate attraction between her and Batman), without her becoming a cartoon (as in Batman Returns, and probably in Catwoman, not that I chose to see it).
Nolan made some interesting choices with this entry. We have, as always, a billionaire hero, but who forms his opposition in this entry? It’s practically the Occupy Wall Street movement. Bane, like so many politicians today, easily exploits class resentment to cause civil unrest and further his ends. Under his reign anyone with any money instantly becomes a target. Of course, the movie was probably already in post-production by the time that “movement” sprang up in September of last year, just as no one could have known the co-founder of a Bane homophone hedge fund would be running for president, so I don’t imply any causation there. But the correlation stands.
And oh boy, does Nolan bring the story home with the ending. Multiple reveals, executed flawlessly, fall into place and draw the whole (alleged) trilogy full circle. Nolan raised the bar so very high in The Dark Knight that it was unlikely any sequel could top it, and I would say that overall, it beats The Dark Knight Rises, owing largely to Heath Ledger. This movie rocks hard though, and comes very close to equalling its predecessor.
In the next section I want to discuss a topic which will spoil the ending if you haven’t seen the movie, so fair warning:
I discussed in my thoughts on Batman Begins about how so far, the entry of Robin into a Batman series almost inevitably brings with him a fairly high level of camp. Nolan knocked me for a loop with the reveal that Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character basically is Robin. And as with Catwoman and Bane, he grounds him by removing some of the typical lore.
Rather than the product of circus training, and not orphaned by the direct actions of a super villain, he’s just a plain orphan who’s had a hard life. He chooses Batman as a role model, and becomes a cop, choosing to work within the system. He becomes what Jim Gordon ceased to be: an idealist willing to stand up to corruption at any cost.
What happens next, after he strolls into the Batcave? I see one of two possibilities. Either he becomes the next Batman, replacing Bruce Wayne (because, as Wayne pointed out in Batman Begins, Batman is a symbol who can not be destroyed), or perhaps he takes his technology, adapts the costume, and becomes Nightwing (the persona Dick Grayson takes on once he grows up and no longer wishes to Batman’s permanent sidekick). I don’t see him wearing read and the eyes-only mask, and taking on the Robin persona. I may be wrong, but I don’t find that likely.