The Dark Knight Rises (and Triumphs)

The images will not leave my head anytime soon. I’m filled with goosebumps and chills as I imagine I’m seeing some of those scenes for the first time. Not to many comic-book movies, let alone movies in general, can make me feel that way. For months I avoided spoilers or even anything even vaguely resembling spoilers. I tried to manage my expectations so I wouldn’t be too disappointed if somehow the film did not deliver.

Well, after watching the film and picking up my jaw off the floor, I can safely say that the film did not disappoint. The Dark Knight Rises is such a huge film. It is so epic in scale and director Christopher Nolan truly goes all out, knowing that this will be the last Batman film he ever makes.

More than a movie review, this will play as more of an assessment of the overall story told in the three films in Christopher Nolan’s masterful trilogy. Spoilers will follow so if you haven’t seen the movie for some reason, I’d suggest watching the movie first, unless you don’t mind knowing what happens, and of course, big things do happen. Throughout the film, I kept thinking what a tragic and sad film this was. It really had a somber tone with no happy ending in sight. How could there be? Bruce Wayne was mentally and physically broken. There was no way he would be able to defeat the stronger and focused Bane.

Watching the little boy fall down the well in Batman Begins, we see a life change. We see a boy who will never again regain his innocence. Devastation and heartbreak follow and from that point to when we first see him in The Dark Knight Rises, that boy is looking for something. He has searched for redemption, for a remedy for all the pain and like Rachel once told him, “I don’t think there will be a day when you don’t need Batman.” Watching Bruce limp through the mansion, cane in hand, you feel a sense of dread and sadness. The years have worn on him, the streaks of gray are visible in his hair, and all of his regrets are also out in the open. How can there be a happy ending in a tale this dark?

Much like the Joker appeared out of nowhere in The Dark Knight, the same is true of the hulking Bane. Instead of opening with a bank heist, we open with an airplane hi-jacking. While the two openings are both exhilarating and breathtaking (and very effective ways to start their respective films), much like the two villains mentioned, they couldn’t be any more different. We don’t necessarily know what’s going on in The Dark Knight Rises’ opening or why any of it is happening until much later in the film. I love that slow setup and how the film respects and trusts the intelligence and patience of the audience. The fact that it slowly sets up the chess pieces it makes this a much more visceral film.

Unlike Joker, Bane is not a villain you root for or that will make you laugh at some of his twisted jokes. Bane is menacing and more akin to a terrifying movie monster than any other comic-book villain. The contrast between his imposing stature and his magnetizing voice works in a way that really shouldn’t. He is not one dimensional at all, and while at first I doubted the choice to have him speak that way, the fact that the voice has been cemented in my head tells me that it works. His speeches are effective and every time he does speak, you take notice and try to concentrate on every word.

Both Bruce Wayne and Bane have been associated and trained by the League of Shadows and both have lived horrible, pain-filled lives, yet when they cross paths they could not be any more different. As I said before, Batman is broken, barely being held together by his unlimited resources. He holds on to the past, unable to accept it and move on. Bane, is physical perfection (not counting the face-mask). He has his mission, it has been set in motion and while watching the movie, I just could not picture Batman overcoming this monster. At the very least, I could not see Bruce living to tell the story. The first encounter and fight in the sewers is very hard to watch. As Selina Kyle closes the gate, she knows as we do that Batman is over-matched. She’s terrified as she realizes what she has done. The punches hit and they hit hard. Batman is winded, Bane is unaffected. We shift back and forth from the fight to Selina’s reaction and it’s devastating. The cowl is broken and soon after so is Batman’s back. It was something that was expected, yet still something you can’t really prepare yourself for.

Life-long butler and father figure Alfred only wants happiness for Bruce. He wants to deliver on the promise that he made to Thomas Wayne. He knows that Bruce is no longer afraid of death and almost welcomes it. Alfred wants no part of that. He wants to see that little boy he raised with someone who makes him happy, raising kids of his own. It’s a fantasy, there’s no way out for Bruce. He’s on a one-way destination and there’s no changing that course. And so, even though it’s the hardest thing he’s ever had to do, Alfred leaves Bruce. Bruce is seemingly betrayed by everyone around him. Alone, he must use all of his pain, to rise.

As hard to watch as the first fight was between Batman and Bane, their second encounter proves to be more satisfying. Much like Bruce’s back was broken in the first fight, in their final encounter, Batman breaks Bane. Batman has the one rule of never killing, and yet we get the sense that even though Batman doesn’t kill Bane, he has completely destroyed him and we no longer view Bane in the same light. Bane’s respirator has been broken and as he asks Bruce how he escaped the pit, the monster is no longer that, and rather is vulnerable. As more is revealed about some of his past, we see tears coming from Bane, and realize yes, Batman has killed this man. Of course his, actual death comes a few seconds later as Selina blasts him with some explosives from the Bat-pod but really we know that Batman had already destroyed the monster.

The biggest question going into the film was always, how does the film end in anyway except for Batman dying? Batman is bigger than one person. He is as we’ve been told many times, a symbol for something greater. So the idea, has always been Bruce Wayne can die, but Batman can go on forever. This became more evident in this film as right before our eyes, his successor was being groomed to take his place. Yet, as we got closer to the conclusion, all I could think about was how Bruce needed to live.

This Batman trilogy works as one big story, and overall that story is about Bruce Wayne. We see him as a child, we see him during his college years, during his training. We see it all. Yes, it’s a very dark world, but what would it say about us and the world in general, if Bruce Wayne failed? And as broken as he was, as was hinted throughout the film, how could he live? The line that sticks with me the most was a line of dialogue between Batman and Selina Kyle. As Selina tells Batman, “You don’t owe them anything else, you have given them everything.” Batman then replies with, “Not everything.” That one line and the way it is delivered is at once heartbreaking and inevitable.

The theater was in hush silence as Batman flew away with the nuclear weapon and had made the ultimate sacrifice. It’s easy to think of Iron Man doing a similar thing in The Avengers just two months earlier. However, as we watched the conclusion of The Avengers, we knew Iron Man would live (especially with Iron Man 3 coming out next year). With Batman it was completely different. Dating back to Batman Begins, this ending almost seemed inevitable. There was really no words as the bomb went off and we saw the mushroom cloud. It was horrifying. Bruce could not escape his twisted fate. Gotham had lost its true hero.

Batman had accomplished his mission; he had saved Gotham. Bruce had named his protégé and Gotham would be just fine. But what about Bruce? What about that tortured, scared little boy? Now, of course we find out that Bruce had somehow escaped death. Much like it did to Alfred, it put such a smile on my face to see that not only did Bruce find someone to be happy with, but also, he finally got his way out. The dread and the regret no longer accompanied Bruce. He seemed genuinely happy. Most importantly, Bruce Wayne no longer needed Batman. Other people will put on the cowl and cape, and Batman will go on and continue to protect Gotham. But Bruce Wayne actually got out, and in this dark world and Dark Knight Trilogy, he actually got his happy ending. That’s enough to give anyone hope.

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