The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Rated PG-13. Our ratings: V- 6; L- 1; S/N-3 . Running time: 2 hours 44 min.

O let the evil of the wicked come to an end,
but establish the righteous,
you who test the minds and hearts,
O righteous God.
Psalm 7:9

Alfred and Bruce debate the return of Batman.

2012 Warner Brothers

This is both the longest (almost 2 3/4 hours) and darkest of director co-writer Christopher Nolan’s re-imagining of the Batman franchise. As in the director’s previous two films, there is no Robin and only a few instances of clever banter, this being more of a probe into the dark recesses of the human heart. This is a film for those who want their fantasy/comic book fare to include some insight into the human and social condition—and still be interlaced with fast-paced action enhanced by incredible special effects. After reflecting on several scenes of what looks like the Occupy Wall Street Movement on steroids, if it were not for the fact that the script was written before the start of that movement, I would ask if Nolan had pondered the question, “What might happen if a Robespierre captured the leadership of this movement and used it to upend the nation’s largest city?” After 8 years of withdrawing from action and accepting the blame for the crimes of Gotham City’s deceased D.A. Harvey Dent, Batman (Christian Bale) must emerge again when a new threat emerges, a super criminal called Bane. Part of Wayne’s incapacitation was due to his grief over the death of his beloved Rachel. Now he must put that all aside and get back in condition.

Bane, played by British actor Tom Hardy, is the aforementioned Robespierre seeking vengeance on the 1%, which of course, includes billionaire Bruce Wayne and his fellow patricians. With his face partially cloaked by a breathing device (calling to mind Darth Vader), Bane physically is like one of those beefy hulks that populate TV wrestling—big and as powerful as a juggernaut, as Batman will find out when they meet face to face. The villain is also utterly ruthless and resourceful, as the opening sequence shows in which only he survives in a rescue from a CIA plane flying over a mountainous country.

Back in Gotham City, hobbling around with a cane because of a badly damaged knee caused by Batman’s physically demanding exploits, Bruce must recondition both his body and his mind, the latter which has been wracked with despair. This time around his faithful servant Alfred (Michael Caine), at first disapproving of Bruce’s inaction, changes his mind, arguing against what he regards as suicide, telling him that he has buried enough of the Waynes. More supportive is old hand Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), who during Batman’s absence has kept up his mechanical tinkering in a secret laboratory. This time he has a concocted a combination jet car and hovercraft called The Bat, guaranteed to get Batman careering through the canyons of Gotham’s towering buildings. Also a wide-wheeled Batcycle, though this will be used more by Catwoman than Batman.

Before all this happens Bruce meets what might be the most interesting character of the film, the much talked about Anne Hathaway, who plays Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman (though I don’t remember her using the title). Disguised as a servant working the cocktail party hosted by Bruce, she has broken into his supposedly burglarproof safe and stolen an heirloom pearl necklace and his fingerprints. I’ll let you discover why his prints were wanted, but the necklace shows up shortly thereafter on the brash Selina’s neck at a ball sponsored by Bruce’s friend and potential new flame Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard).

Spotting it, Bruce dances with and talks with Selina. She warns him, “There’s a storm coming, Mr. Wayne. You and your friends better batten down the hatches, cause when it hits you’re all gonna wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us.” That storm is Bane and his League of Thugs who take to the sewers and tunnels beneath the city. With some help from an insider in a high position, Bane is able to manipulate the stock market so that Bruce Wayne and all others of the 1% are financially ruined. The ruined Bruce has to ask his friend Miranda to assume control over his now ruined corporation. Even his mansion will be up for sale.

Bane and his Thugs stage a violent attack on the Stock Exchange, escaping with hostages on motorcycles. They lure almost all of the police force into the underground labrynth where the latter think they have the crooks trapped. Instead, the League of Thugs dynamite the entranceways, along with most of the bridges leading in and out of the city. It is the police who are trapped. Federal forces are prevented from entering the city because Bane has gained control of a Wayne Enterprises nuclear fusion device intended to be a future source of power. Instead the villain has rigged it to be a bomb, set to go off within a matter of days and hours unless his demands are met. Bane appeals to the citizens to rise up against the 1% and hold a series of French Revolution-like courts condemning the former wealthy to death. No messy guillotines this time: it’s winter, and the condemned are forced at gunpoint to walk out onto the ice of the river until it cracks and they disappear into the frigid waters.

Meanwhile Bruce Wayne, after being bested and captured in a fight with the stronger Bane, is slowly reviving in an underground prison somewhere in the Middle East. There is a way out, but only one person, many years earlier, managed to take advantage of it—climb half-way up the walls of a well-like pit, make a leap to a ledge on the other side, and then resume climbing. (Guess who that person was?) Many since have tried it, but all have failed, their bodies, attached to a climbing robe, dashed and battered against the rough stones. Bruce attempts the climb, but also fails. To succeed he will have to—but you can see this for yourself. When he asks what the crowd of eagerly watching prisoners are shouting during the climbs he is told it means “Rise. Rise up.” Hmmm, interesting, given the name of the film.

There is much more to the plot and characters—another excellent newcomer is actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s very appealing rookie cop John Blake, who tells Bruce Wayne what an inspiration he had been to himself, growing up in the orphanage once funded by the philanthropist. During the occupation of the city he will act calmly and heroically, and will possibly become a major factor in extending the Batman legacy.

The plot is at times difficult to follow, and the dialogue even more so, the latter often obscured by the ear-pounding score by Hans Zimmer. No subtlety at all to the music. This is made especially clear in the suspenseful football stadium scene just prior to Banes’ setting off the series of explosions that will devastate much of Gotham and its bridges. The only sound is the thin voice of a boy soprano singing the National Anthem, this scene stands in stark contrast to the rest of the noisily scored movie—and when the ground shakes and crumbles in during the explosions, the special effects are almost as awesome as the moment of silence was suspenseful.

An intriguing ending will keep fans buzzing about the future of the franchise. Christians and others as well, will be impressed by the sacrifice made on behalf of all. Christopher Nolan has brought his trilogy to a conclusion that fans will place alongside the Lord of the Rings trilogy, flawed in places (lots of why didn’t they do this, or could this really happen?), but adding up to a work that strongly emphasizes the humanity of the characters. Ignore all the fan banter about whether or not this film is as good as The D
ark Knight, as well as some of the plot implausibilities. Just enjoy the ride. It will be bumpy, but exhilarating as only a very good movie can be.

For Reflection/Discussion

1. In the earlier Batman films the issue of civic vigilantism was raised. How does this film continue raise this? How is the idea of a super hero dangerous to a democracy? And yet what is there in us that we often yearn for such a one to rescue our society?

2. Why has Commissioner Gordon kept secret the nature of the deceased Harvey Dent and Batman? What do you think of this—is this kind of secrecy really a good thing? How is it often indulged in by those in power?

3. Given Banes childhood in the hellhole of a prison and his escape, compare his early life with that of Bruce Wayne. Do you thus see any trace of class warfare in the film?

4. How is the film’s depiction of the uprising against Wall Street perhaps a conservative view of the Occupy Movement? What Dickinson figures do you see in the film that show the stark contrast between the world of Bruce Wayne and of the poor?

5. How does Selina’s warning about the “storm” that is coming, “You and your friends better batten down the hatches, ‘cause when it hits, you’re all gonna wonder how you ever thought you could live so large, and leave so little for the rest of us.” 6. What is Selina’s justification for her thievery? How does she change, and thus resemble Han Solo in Star Wars?

7. What references do you see in the film to issues of terrorism and our government’s response to it?

8. In the second Dark Knight film there is a ringing affirmation in the goodness of people in the scene in which the people on the ferry boat refuse to trigger an explosion on another boat in order to save their own lives: do you see any evidence of this in this darker film, or even a retreat from the belief?

9. In the prison scene what does Bruce have to do to escape? What symbolism do you see in this?

10. What do you think of the sacrifice made at the end of the film? Compare it to Jesus’ words in John 15:13.