Last night I saw the midnight showing of The Dark Knight rises. Before I go any further, I will say this: the movie was incredible. The plot, the pacing, the cinematography, the everything was just superb. Go see this movie. You will not regret it. I sure didn’t.
Now that I’ve seen the movie, and have had some time to think about everything that happened, I need to get all my thoughts out. I’ve got a lot of thoughts about how the movie relates the previous ones, and especially how I feel The Dark Knight Rises is the perfect end to this trilogy. That’s right, ending and all.
Yes, I will be spoiling the movie. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, don’t complain about me talking about important plot points.
The Bad Guys
First, I have to say that I think that Tom Hardy did an amazing job portraying Bane. Although he was a little hard to understand at times, I found his portrayal to be just superb. When Selena Kyle states to John Blake that he should be afraid of Bane as she is, not only do I believe she’s scared, I understand why. This is the Bane of the comics, the criminal mastermind who managed to (temporarily) defeat the Bat – and not just physically by breaking his back, but managed to mentally wear him down to a point where Batman himself was easy prey.
Also, having Talia al Ghul as the mastermind behind the scenes helped tie the movies together – especially as she wore the mask of Miranda Tate so well I didn’t see any hints of her eventual betrayal.
This final duo of bad guys, Bane and Talia al Ghul, was a nice way to end the trilogy. In the first movie, you have Ra’s al Ghul and the League of Shadows. A dark, mysterious force who use cold calculating logic to attempt to destroy the city of Gotham. The second movie gives us Joker and eventually Two-Face, who bring anarchy and either unplanned or horrifying well-planned mayhem to the city. In the third movie, Bane ( under the direction of Talia ) brings some of the anarchy and mayhem of the Joker/Two-Face duo, but driven by the cold logic of Ra’s al Ghul. It brought the enemies that Bruce Wayne faced as Batman in a nice circle, I felt.
Bruce Wayne Lives
Now, going into the movie, I was expecting one of two things:
- Bruce Wayne dies, and Batman would die with him. I wasn’t sure if he’d die with Gotham knowing his nature as the Bat, but I doubted it.
- Bruce Wayne lives through some contrived series of events and continues to clean up Gotham’s seedy underbelly as the Batman.
What I didn’t expect was outcome 3: Batman dies saving the city, but Bruce Wayne escapes to live anonymously in Europe somewhere.
While at first I was a bit incredulous, eventually I managed to piece together why the ending fits – and fits very well.
At the start of the movie, Alfred is trying to get Bruce to get out and live his life. Bruce has hung up the cowl with the death of Rachel Dawes, the woman he loved. Furthermore, the death of Harvey Dent ( supported by the lie told by Commissioner Gordon that it was Batman that murdered those people, not Dent as Two-Face ) has allowed the city to pass laws that have truly cleaned up the city by imprisoning criminals with harsh sentencing.
However, Bruce Wayne feels that he has nothing to live for. In becoming Batman, he has lost so much; now that the city no longer needs him and the love of his life is dead, he has no purpose, no reason to continue. His fights to protect the city have left him crippled; now he requires a cane to shuffle around Wayne Manor.
While trying to shake Bruce out of his depression, Alfred tells him a story. He tells Bruce that he wished that he had never come back after his parents had died. Not out of malice, he explains, but out of hope. While Bruce was away, once a year Alfred would take a vacation in Italy. While there, it became a habit to go to a certain cafe and order a particular drink. He had always hoped that while there, he would spot Bruce – happy in a new life, with a wife and perhaps children. They wouldn’t speak to each other, but just nod and continue on with their lives. The important thing here is how this scene is shown to us. We don’t just get different angles of Alfred relating this story – we see Alfred in that cafe, catching a glimpse of someone he thinks is Bruce, but it turns out it’s someone else. Remember this scene, there’ll be a test later.
Another subplot of the movie deals with the motivations of Selena Kyle ( aka Catwoman ). After a life lived in the underclass, she has slowly accumulated wealth through her skills as a cat burglar. She has dreams of living the high life, but knows that with her criminal record she could never make the switch from her current life to her dream life. In the movie, she steals Bruce Wayne’s fingerprints in order to gain access to a computer program that will remove all traces of her and her life from every computer system on Earth – allowing her to live her life of luxury in peace. At one point, Bruce Wayne promises her this program ( she was duped before and nearly killed by the people who wanted Bruce Wayne’s fingerprints ) in return for her help. The exchange seemed a bit odd when I watched it, but when I reflected on it I realised why: Bruce Wayne is offering her something that he wants as well, a fresh start.
At that point in the movie he still has things he needs to do as Batman, so he can’t make a fresh start just yet. It’s also a telling point: after spending nearly eight years in an existential funk, he’s finally ready to put Batman and that life behind him and start new. This comes from his escape from Bane’s prison – where he learned that he does indeed still fear death, and has things to live for; things beyond vengeance, beyond carrying the weight of his parents death with him. He has reached a point where he’s willing to put all of that emotional baggage down and walk away – but he still has a responsibility as Batman to the people of Gotham, so he’s going to save them if he can, first.
At the end of the movie, we see Batman saving the city by heli-lifting a fusion bomb out to the bay so that it can detonate harmlessly. In doing so, everyone believes that Batman ( and to those who knew his secret identity, Bruce Wayne ) is dead. Batman is now viewed as a hero to the city of Gotham, he gets a statue erected in his honour. A small funeral is held for Bruce Wayne, attended by Commissioner Gordon, Lucius Fox, John Blake, and Alfred Pennyworth are the only people in attendance. After everyone leaves, Alfred breaks down and tells the headstones of Bruce’s parents that he’s sorry he failed, he’s sorry that their son is dead because he wasn’t able to do enough to save him.
After we see a scene showing that Bruce Wayne left directions for John Blake ( whose first name is apparently Robin ) that lead him to the Batcave, which activates when he steps inside. Apparently Bruce has left him the mantle of Batman – this becomes more important in the next few minutes.
Lastly, we’re treated to a scene of Alfred vacationing in Europe, in that same cafe in Italy, ordering the same drink he did while on vacation while Bruce was away becoming the Batman. He sits down, and when he looks up he sees Bruce, sitting with Selena at a table, both of them seemingly enjoying the high life. It’s a mirror of the scene we got earlier in the movie, except this time Bruce is there, and is happy – exactly what Alfred has wanted for him since Bruce’s parents died.
I think this was the best way to “kill” Batman, yet give Bruce Wayne a solid character arc in the movie. At the start of the movie, Bruce states that he doesn’t fear death. Dying as the Batman would simply have meant that he failed in his task to protect Gotham. At the end of the movie however, he realises that he does fear death, and has moved past all the hurt and guilt that drove him to be Batman in the first place. Dying now means more than just failing as Batman, it means missing out on life itself.
That’s what the last few minutes of the movie show us. Bruce Wayne has not only reached a point where he can pass on the mantle of Batman to a worthy successor ( the fact he found someone he considered ‘worthy’ is telling in itself ), but where he can continue with his life and be happy. Bruce Wayne is content to let Batman die, because he’s reached a point where he knows there is more to life than vengeance. For someone who has spent over a decade ( probably nearly two decades ) carrying that burden, it’s a great way to end Bruce Wayne’s character arc. It shows off his growth as a character, and does an amazing job of really bringing home the lessons he learned in Bane’s prison.
I thought the movie was incredibly well done. The pacing had me on the edge of my seat the whole time, but kept me sated with rewarding plot payoffs as well. Christopher Nolan has shown us that he is a master at directing these sort of action-art-thriller films, and I can’t wait to see what he does next.