Throughout the Batman canon, the masked vigilante’s one superpower is that he cannot be defeated. This proves to be more of a curse than a blessing for a man whose entire raison d’être is a death wish. That drive is back in full force with the third and final installment of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises.
After failed attempts at comic reboots, Nolan showed Hollywood how it could be done with Batman Begins in 2005, but there was room for improvement. Finally, Nolan delivers us a love interest worthy of our masked hero’s affections. Rachel Dawes, first portrayed by Katie Holmes (Batman Begins) and later Maggie Gyllenhaal (The Dark Knight), was a self-righteous wet blanket, ill-matched to Wayne’s dark personality and sardonic cunning. This makes Wayne’s eight-year period of mourning seem like a bored sigh. As Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman, Anne Hathaway is a breath of fresh air. Like Wayne, she’s selfish and singularly purposeful, motivated by a similar death drive. And, like Batman, she’s got a tiny heart of gold somewhere under all that black latex.
But what would any good love story be without a triangular component? Wayne finds his intellectual and social peer in Marion Cotillard’s sultry Miranda Tate, perhaps another partner who can truly understand the depths of his suffering. Because suffer he must, for he is the Batman.
Nolan’s vision of gritty realism for Gotham holds for TDKR. As early rumors suggested, the final film has an Occupy movement bent, but Nolan’s narrative has always pitted the haves against the have-nots on some level. Previously, all socioeconomic levels were unified against a common evil: Ra’s al Ghul’s League of Shadows and their draconian plot for redemption, or the Joker’s vision of maniacal anarchy. Now, we’re presented with Tom Hardy’s Bane, a mercenary whose strength, agility and powers of manipulation are unmatched by any of the previous villains. Some may find the unfeeling, hulking wall of flesh that is Bane to be a letdown as far as Batman’s nemesis spectrum goes, but Nolan makes up for this with a parade of Batman’s past demons, both real and imagined.
Seven years ago, Batman started out wanting to crack some skulls, before finding himself a symbol, a savior for his beloved Gotham. Eight years in the future from where we last left him, the city’s been cleaned up, but at what moral cost? Batman, Michael Caine’s Alfred, Gary Oldman’s Commissioner Gordon, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Officer John Blake all wrestle with right and wrong, trying to make sense of a mixed-up world that may be nearing its end. Nolan’s set up a conclusion for this storyline that keeps the audience guessing at every turn, trying to sort out our own beliefs about the characters’ allegiances and motivations before, inexorably, the Gotham universe collapses in on itself.
* A hearing-impaired friend who reads lips asked if he’d be able to understand Bane. Not only is his mouth obscured by his morphine-pumping crustacean mask, but his voice is unintelligible. If you’ve ever chuckled at Christian Bale’s gravely affectation when he’s suited up, prepare yourself for Hardy’s Kermit the Frog impersonation.