And you think this gives you power over me?
Bringing Chris Nolan’s Bat-Trilogy to a satisfying conclusion, The Dark Knight Rises is probably not everyone’s idea of a comic book movie, but if it’s not yours, then you’re missing out. It may tell a complicated story and take its sweet time in the process, but it doesn’t waste that time in any way. For this last film, Nolan uses the canvas of the Batman universe to weave an epic tale, planting the comic book notions of good and evil in something that feels like the real world.
The story begins seven years after the end of The Dark Knight. The Batman is still a fugitive, wanted for the murder of Gotham City’s fallen hero, District Attorney Harvey Dent. Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) carries the burden of his secret that Dent was no hero. Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) lives as a recluse, his body bearing the cumulative scars of his years as the Batman.
On the other side of the world, the CIA only realizes that they have caught the masked terrorist known as Bane (Tom Hardy) a few seconds before his private army springs him in a mid-air escape that uses far less CGI than you might expect. He’s an exile from the same League of Shadows that served Ra’s al Ghul (Liam Neeson) in the first film, and both Batman’s intellectual equal, as well as being physically superior.
At first, he seems only interested in helping a rival businessman seize control of Wayne Enterprises, but Bruce is able to thwart those plans with the help of Miranda Tate (Marion Contillard), a business partner in a failed fusion energy project. Somewhere in the middle is an enigmatic cat burglar, Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), who seems willing to play whichever side of the fence keeps her ahead of the game.
Batman has less luck with Bane, who not only cripples Bruce and ships him off to the Far East League of Shadows prison where Bane was born, but also seizes control of Batman’s private arsenal.
Using this arsenal, Bane and his army are able to take control of the energy project, turning it into a nuclear bomb capable of destroying Gotham. After isolating the city from the rest of the world and luring the police into a trap, Bane is able to seize control of the city. Pretending to be a sort of “Occupy Gotham” revolutionary, he turns the people against the wealthy and their city leaders.
Imprisoned half a world away, desperately rebuilding his body over several tortuous months, only Bruce Wayne knows Bane’s real intention is to finish what Ra’s al Ghul started: destroy Gotham City.
As Bane, Thomas Hardy exudes both intelligence and menace, carving out a villainous presence quite distinct from, but worthy of Heath Ledger’s take on the Joker in the previous film. While bigger than life, and mostly outside our experience, the character has enough hooks into the real world not to seem cartoonish. He manages this while forced to act with only his voice and his eyes.
Fanboys may have cringed at the idea of Anne Hathaway as the Catwoman, but the actress throws herself at the role with a sense of both fun and arch detachment. She may not be quite as kinkily memorable as Michelle Pffiefer, but she makes the character’s comic book origins seem plausible while giving her own spin on the character’s origin and motives.
Fans of the comic book franchise may have recognized a few nods to Frank Miller’s classic graphic novel, The Dark Knight Returns, in the last film. This time, Chris Nolan goes even further, lifting a few plot points, and at least one scene, straight from Miller’s pages. It’s a gratifying nod not only to the characters’s print origins, but to its more modern incarnation as well.
Over in the Marvel universe, things are a little more colorful and lot noisier, and that’s fine if you like that sort of thing. But if you want a superhero movie that can bring your brain along for the ride, you need look no further.