All the world’s Gotham City in Christopher Nolan’s ambitious Batman trilogy, which comes to an emphatic conclusion with The Dark Knight Rises. The screenplay by Nolan and his brother Jonathan takes inspiration from A Tale of Two Cities and Metropolis (not Clark Kent’s, Fritz Lang’s) in depicting the levels of society: the 99% versus the 1%, the skyscrapers down to the sewers. The leitmotif of Nolan’s well-orchestrated Batman saga is how a society, and indeed an individual, responds to a fall. In The Dark Knight Rises, Gotham becomes subject to cleansing fires—even a mushroom cloud—in hopeful anticipation of a phoenix-like rise to civilized order over underworld chaos.
Maybe it's time we all stop trying to outsmart the truth and let it have its day. —Alfred Pennyworth
Nolan’s third act begins with a lie, still being told eight years after the events of The Dark Knight. As far as the people know, the vigilante known as The Batman is responsible for the murders committed by Gotham City D.A. Harvey Dent, a crusader who went criminally insane. Most see an unequivocal win in the subsequent “Dent Act”: crime rates have dropped precipitously. But police Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) is having a hard time living with himself, especially when pressed by the idealistic and suspicious young officer John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Trading integrity for criminal convictions seemed like a greater-good short-term bargain, but the long-term consequences loom large.
You hung up your cape and cowl, but you didn't move on. —Alfred Pennyworth
Batman has receded into billionaire Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), now a limping recluse joked about in Howard Hughes terms. How the mighty have fallen—the listless Wayne shows little interest in the good works of the Wayne Foundation or the forward-looking clean energy project touted by Wayne Enterprises executive board member Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard). Despite the efforts of loyal butler Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine), the romantically crushed Wayne resists getting “back into the swing of things.”
No one cared who I was until I put on the mask. —Bane
Pressing the point are two characters plucked from the pages of Batman comics. Fearsome terrorist Bane (a piercingly intense Tom Hardy) was trained, like Batman, by Ra's al Ghul (Liam Neeson) and amongst his League of Shadows. Cat burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway, credibly sly and sassy)—also known, though not here, as Catwoman—wants a "clean slate" in an internet age when information is immortal (as Ra's al Ghul significantly notes, "There are many forms of immortality"). Aided by Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), Batman’s “Q,” Wayne suits up once more as Gotham's most important symbol, this time taking the wheel of a flying Batmobile dubbed “The Bat.” Bane targets all-American symbols of his own, including Gotham's version of Wall Street. (Like Heath Ledger's last film—Terry Gilliam's The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus—The Dark Knight Rises trades on the now-legendary financial-fraud image of Roberto Calvi's demise.)
Gotham is beyond saving, and must be allowed to die. —Ra's al Ghul
The film's story (developed with the help of comic-book expert David S. Goyer) cleverly plays on fan expectations based on comic-book history and pre-release rumors, with the villains' lies setting up devastating reversals of hope "for a sustainable future" to fear of a fallen empire. Your mileage may vary on just how deep you find The Dark Knight Rises, which—like its two predecessors—teases post-9/11 themes as well as the human history of mythmaking, the flexible interpretation of heroes and messiahs. As he promised, Wayne has rebuilt Wayne Manor "brick by brick, just as it was"—a monument arisen after a fall. Ra's al Ghul and Bane see the crumbling American infrastructure as Sodom-and-Gomorrah irredeemable, and enlist terrorists willing to die blissfully for the cause of its destruction; when the war at home breaks out, their Kafka-esque kangaroo court passes judgment on the Resistance.
We all just want what's best for you, Bruce. —Lucius Fox
The Cecil B. DeMille scale of The Dark Knight Rises delivers a whole lotta movie, with cast-of-thousands spectacle and giant-sized action that says “epic” almost as much as “blockbuster" (though the mano-a-mano combat thrills as much as the vehicular mayhem). Almost half the film was shot in eye-popping IMAX that’s entirely worth the premium price, and when it comes to the seeming oxymoron of blockbuster cinema, Nolan proves again to be uncommonly smart. The Nolans consider the issues of the day (there's a big Occupy Gotham theme, with a twist), explore the role of legendary heroes (from Robin Hood to Batman and Robin) in galvanizing the public, and labor mightily to ensure that how their Batman ends dovetails with 2005’s Batman Begins. Fans may well get misty as Nolan pays off his trilogy's every emotional and thematic beat.