Ending a trilogy is difficult. Ask Lucas, Coppola, and the Wachowski Brothers. Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies were intended to come in a set of three from the get go, though Heath Ledger’s tragic death which happened as The Dark Knight was in post-production supposedly threatened to derail the project as planned. After Nolan and Warner Bros. struck a deal for Inception, Nolan repaid the studio by agreeing to give them a third Batman installment, and one that he himself would be proud of. The Dark Knight Rises picks up years after the tragic events that ended The Dark Knight. Blamed for Harvey Dent’s death and branded a murderer, Batman (Christian Bale) has since disappeared. Peace reigns in Gotham thanks to the Dent Act which has put about 1,000 criminals behind bars. On the surface, things look like they’re steady, but something is rising.
Enter Bane (Tom Hardy), a physical monstrosity whose callous and cold ways are scarier than the mask he wears. Planning an uprising from the bowels of Gotham City, Bane plans to use Gotham’s citizens, the 99%, to initiate and complete his plan to change western civilization’s landscape. Though Gotham City’s crime rate has fallen, the class divide between rich and poor has stretched, alienating citizens of Gotham across the lines. Wayne, now a recluse who has given up the cape and cowl, has also stopped attending functions or even keeping abreast of his company’s particulars. He becomes intrigued with cat burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) who robs him of his mother’s pearls and challenges him to give chase — a path that leads him to Bane.
So how does this compare to the other Batman movies? Is it a worthy third act or another castoff? I would venture to say that The Dark Knight Rises is the best movie of the three and for several reasons. Batman Begins gave an origin story to both sides of the Batman character — his superhero side and his Bruce Wayne side. The idea and the man — both of these developed from fledgling vigilante seeking revenge to city protector inspiring others to work for their city. The Dark Knight pushed Batman to his limits as he took on the heavy burden of being the scapegoat. Faced with becoming the hunted, he disappeared into the night taking all of the blame, leaving a city to come together in his wake. In The Dark Knight Rises he wants to be needed. He’s selfish. Arrogant. He tries to steamroll the opposition and faces a foe who’s more powerful, more organized, and more willed. Left broken and beaten, he learns how to rise again. It’s interesting to see how similar Bane and Batman are. They’re two sides of the same coin — both were created from major challenges, and both have become inspirational figures who rally the community at large to stand. But while one misleads and manipulates, the other struggles with the complicated nature of people in general. Bane leads by dangling opportunity in front of those who would better themselves at another’s expense, while Batman’s self-sacrifice encourages social growth through group effort. This sort of filmmaking feels like art, the kind that shows you a perspective and prompts discussion. It’s the most complete Batman movie — it connects dots, it brings closure, and it advances the Batman character growing him into that superhero that’s more super and more hero while bringing him down to our level. While the first two movies created and then elevated the notion of being a one-man stand for justice, The Dark Knight Rises makes us want to stand for the underdog. This is a Batman movie for the senses — exhilarating, satisfying, powerful.