For Nolan’s Batman adventures, Gotham City has been on the brink of extinction. Overrun with criminals and corruption, the citizens of Gotham have been dangling in the gallows, desperately gasping for breath. Just as their last spastic jerks spell doom, a solitary man puts them on his shoulder and willingly carries an immeasurable weight. This man, as we’ve come to know, is billionaire Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale). Featuring no superpowers, Wayne utilizes his vast fortune to out maneuver the crooks that have held his city hostage, and in doing so, provided the people of Gotham with momentary gasps for air. Through his small network consisting of Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman), Alfred (Michael Caine), and Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), Wayne’s alter-ego, Batman, stalks the night for injustice, hoping to firmly place Gotham’s feet on sturdy ground. At great expense to their personal lives, Wayne and Gordon trudge along a desolate path, hoping their efforts bear prosperous fruit.
In the case of The Dark Knight Rises, hope, at least for the time being, is smothered by an extensive terrorist group led by a rhinoceros of a man named Bane (Tom Hardy). Bane, a calculating juggernaut, intends to turn Gotham against itself and the people who have protected it. Rising up from the sewers with an army of neglected citizens and lost souls, Bane seizes control of Gotham by breaking the Bat, a noteworthy feat partially achieved by a cunning, ambivalent jewelry thief named Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway). By destroying the Caped Crusader, who represents unmitigated strength and resolve, Gotham’s network of street heroes (cops, upstanding citizens) lose their silent protector. By strangling all of Gotham’s protection, the citizens have their nooses refitted in the metaphorical gallows, where they wallow and wait for the door to drop out from underneath them. While Gotham’s citizens wait for death, their city disintegrates to dust. Explosions rock the metropolis, and mercenaries prowl the street for citizens who foolishly defy Bane’s anarchy.One citizen that rebukes Bane’s tactics is beat cop John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), an idealistic cop that refuses to give up on humanity, despite how it’s treated him in the past.
Blake, with a battered Commissioner Gordon, lurks in the decimated streets of Gotham. Together they hope to lead an uprising. While these two men assemble a plan to usurp the destructive path of Bane, Gotham’s dark knight languishes in an unknown prison that once housed Gotham’s current antagonist. Wayne’s only way out of his new-found prison is a harrowing vertical climb that no man has surmounted. Looking up from his prison cell, Wayne’s hope resides in the glow of the sun, a fleeting object that rests hundreds of feet up a staggered wall. After much soul-searching, from Wayne to Gordon, and from Blake to Selina Kyle, it’s time for these characters to rise for themselves. Most importantly, it’s time for them ascend for their city. All-out war commences in a third act that can only be described as breathless. Working on a massive canvas, Nolan’s vision for The Dark Knight Rises is beyond ambitious. His attempt to create a war film rivaling the likes of Saving Private Ryan is unprecedented for a film about masked characters. Interwoven amidst the carnage and destruction are various political undertones that replicate the here and now of our lives. Narratively speaking, The Dark Knight Rises is pulsating with thematic opportunities, all of which are visually encapsulated by Christopher Nolan’s grand vision. Set pieces involving the destruction of Wall Street and a football stadium will leave your jaws dropped, as will a battle of thousands in the streets of Gotham.
Inherently, because Nolan’s ambition feels unbounded by genre or artistic handcuffs, The Dark Knight Rises isn’t narratively tight as its predecessors. Characters quickly step in and out of the picture, making some motivations and plot threads hard to decipher. Yet, for as congested as it can get, The Dark Knight Rises briskly moves through its three-hour running time. Much of that can be attributed to the ferocious action sequences lensed by Nolan and cinematographer Wally Pfister. None of which are more brutal than the encounters shared by Bane and Batman. Lacking little percussive notes from Zimmer, and being scored merely on the grunts and wails of Bale’s Batman, the fist to fist combat between the rivals is bruising. Bane’s physical prowess, strikingly imposed by Pfister, lends itself an overwhelming power we invariably feel when Bane throttles the Caped Crusader with an explosive haymaker. The eruptive strength of Bane doesn’t make him a villain that is as nefarious and charismatic as Heath Ledger’s Joker from The Dark Knight, but he is a formidable opponent that can physically break an already emotionally distraught character. Tom Hardy achieves a daunting, engrossing presence despite having a ghastly mask covering most of his face. The mask doesn’t seem to bother Hardy by any means, as his eyes and strained neck muscles speak volumes that his mouth can’t entirely emit.
Outshining Hardy are the performances of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Anne Hathaway. Levitt wonderfully matches the undeniable hope and need for action found in Bale’s Batman, while Hathaway easily slips into a powerfully ambiguous role that offers a great deal of humor and emotional resonance. But, as is the case with every film in this trilogy, Bruce Wayne’s arc is the key. Years after taking the heat for Harvey Dent’s murder, Wayne is constantly assessing his place in Gotham. Bale beautifully captures the fractured psyche of a tormented soul that’s reflective of a city in ruins. Impressively, Bale also captures the resurrection of a man and his city; he delivers the perfect bookend to an everlasting trilogy. Much like how each film is different, and progressively expands the reach of Gotham City, The Dark Knight Rises is a film that evolves beyond Batman. His long, gestating pain becomes an arc not only for himself, but for a cast of thousands. Sure, the narrative isn’t as intimate as Batman Begins or as tight and thematically profound as The Dark Knight, but it provides an enormous payoff for a man waiting to lead his city out of the shadows and into the light.