At long last, Christopher Nolan has delivered the final installment in his highly acclaimed, semi-realistic trilogy featuring everyone’s favorite caped crusader, The Batman. With “The Dark Knight Rises” Nolan attempted to bring the threads woven throughout the previous two films together to craft a fitting, climactic conclusion worthy of the praise and adoration the series has garnered to date. It is a daunting task for any film maker; one that demands at least a courteous nod of appreciation toward everyone involved in the production of this series, despite how you felt about how the movie itself turned out. Expectations for this film were extraordinarily high, and it takes a great team of individuals with incredible spirit to rise to the challenge. My hat goes off specifically to Tom Hardy for having the guts to follow in the footsteps of Heath Ledger’s iconic performance as The Joker. The film itself largely sidesteps the events of the previous film to form a strong link between itself and the first chapter in the series. Despite being a very fitting conclusion to the series as a whole, “The Dark Knight Rises” does have its shortcomings, and choosing to mostly ignore the second act in the series is only the beginning.
In a recent interview, Christopher Nolan acknowledged the fact that he is essentially making it up as he goes along. He stated that at the end of the first film, he really didn’t have any plans to make a second. After making the second, he didn’t have any plans to make a third. When Heath Ledger passed away shortly after concluding his work on the second film, it created a conundrum for the writers of the series. How do you follow up one of the most successful films of all time when the key to that film’s success is gone? Christopher Nolan, out of respect for Heath Ledger and the experiences he had working with the man, decided to tell a story that did not include any aspect of The Joker character and only touched on the larger consequences of the events from the second film. While we can agree with Nolan’s decision and accept it as his way of being respectful, it does leave the third film feeling like something is missing. Without getting into any spoilers, there are a few sequences in “The Dark Knight Rises” where even a cursory mention of The Joker would have really helped tie in “The Dark Knight” to the same degree as “Batman Begins,” resulting in a film that felt like a true conclusion to the trilogy and not simply a spiritual sequel to “Batman Begins.”
“The Dark Knight Rises” also suffers from a notable lack of Michael Caine, who only appears in a few short sequences that amount to a little over 7 minutes of screen time. Considering how large of a role Alfred played in the previous two films, reducing Alfred to essentially a throwaway character in the final chapter leaves the audience feeling shortchanged. It would be crazy to say that people go to see these movies for the supporting characters, but that does not mean they are expendable. Michael Caine’s Alfred is one of the most enjoyable secondary characters in the series and arguably the most important in terms of the story. Reducing his role to a few brief lines reminding the audience about Bruce Wayne’s motivations is a major disservice to the character and a huge missed opportunity in this film.
Another element lacking in this film is, believe it or not, The Dark Knight himself. While Bruce Wayne plays a substantial role in the film, and indeed is one of Christian Bale’s greater performances as the character, Batman does not have very much screen time at all. He has one or two fun sequences early in the film and then disappears entirely until the final act. In a movie called “The Dark Knight Rises,” is it wrong for audiences to expect to see a good deal of Batman?
Despite its minor shortcomings, “The Dark Knight Rises” is a fun, intense and very fitting conclusion to the series. Tom Hardy’s Bane, while not as harrowing as The Joker, is the antithesis of Batman. He is raw, brutal strength. This series does a great job crafting very distinct villains. “Batman Begins” had The Scarecrow, a poison to Gotham City and Batman himself. “The Dark Knight” had The Joker, an embodiment of chaos and anarchy. “The Dark Knight Rises” forgoes the subtleties of poison and anarchy with Bane, a blunt force object used to bludgeon the Batman and the city he defends into submission and death. In the previous films, Batman needed only to catch the villains to defeat them because they were no physical match for his strength and training. In this film, Christopher Nolan used Bane to show that Batman’s foil is his reliance on his physical power, and that in order to defeat him, Batman would need to rely on the people he was willing to lay down his life to protect, which is one of the film’s central themes.
All his life, Bruce Wayne has known the pain of loss and has struggled with the idea that he is not responsible for the death’s of the people he cares about. This is something that was established in “Batman Begins” with the death of his parents, and again in “The Dark Knight” with the death of his best friend and the only woman he ever loved, Rachel Dawes. In both instances, Bruce Wayne held himself responsible and “The Dark Knight Rises” reveals what happens to a man who carries that kind of weight on his shoulders. The true masterstroke of “The Dark Knight Rises” is not in its spectacle, its action sequences, its high stakes, or its secondary characters. It is in the form of Bruce Wayne’s character arc, in the way he finally learns to accept that people die, that he can’t save them all, and that no one man can be the hero everybody needs. The way to truly help the people of Gotham is to let other people get their hands dirty. While I didn’t particularly like the absence of Batman in this film, I definitely understand that it was necessary for the Bruce Wayne character to come full circle.
If you are a fan of the previous films in the series, you’re going to like this film. You may not like it as much, or you may like it even more, but I very seriously doubt you are going to hate it. “The Dark Knight Rises” makes some very bold changes to the formula of the series that will definitely knock this film down a few pegs for many people. Despite that, this film tells exactly the kind of story that needed to be told in the final chapter of Christopher Nolan’s trilogy and is a very powerful sendoff to one of the most beloved comic book heroes of all time.
What did you think of the final film in The Dark Knight Trilogy?