Despite the fact that Warner Bros. inexplicably opted to hold the press screening in a tiny, non-IMAX theatre replete with some truly awful sound issues, the epic finale to Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy is just that: epic. Watching all three films in order, as I did, drives home not only how tightly constructed the trilogy is, but also how the characters of both Bruce Wayne (Bale) and his cowled alter-ego act as an uncannily accurate mirror of their corresponding cultural zeitgeist. I said once before that every generation gets the superhero it deserves, and Nolan's darkest of dark knights is surely ours – and no more so than in this current incarnation. (Granted, this doesn't bode well for society, but hey, things are bleak all over.)
It's been eight years since Batman took the fall for the death of Gotham D.A. Harvey Dent (aka Two-Face, aka Aaron Eckhart) and the murder of A.D.A./love interest Rachel Dawes. In the interim, Wayne has abandoned the cape and become a Howard Hughes-like recluse, physically and psychically broken, a shadow of his former self. Batman remains, in the eyes of Gotham's finest, Public Enemy No. 1. Only Commissioner Gordon (Oldman) knows the actual circumstances of Dent's demise, and he's not talking. Enter Bane (Hardy), a gargantuan disciple (like Bruce Wayne) of Ra's al Ghul’s apocalyptically inclined League of Shadows (see Batman Begins for background). Sporting a muzzlelike respirator and a physique that'd give Mad Max's Humongous a run for his money, Bane and his kamikaze henchmen take Gotham hostage with a nuclear device originally developed by Wayne Industries as a green energy source. (The film overflows with grim irony and even more brazenly pessimistic metaphors.) There's far more to the story – not least of which is Anne Hathaway's slinkily kickass Catwoman (who more than makes up for Halle Berry's disastrous one-off turn in the role) – but I'll steer clear of spoilers/explanations here. Suffice it to say that Batman does indeed rise to the challenge, albeit with a palpably aching physicality that belies the flat, black mask and Lucius Fox's (Freeman) ever-expanding arsenal of justice.
What's really interesting about Nolan's capstone to the series is its obvious nod to the duplicity, or derangement, of populist politicians whose promises of less government and more freedom lead, ultimately, to mob rule and the unleashing of an utterly nihilistic brand of self-devouring anarchy. Bane expounds at length on his "liberation" of Gotham from the wealthy elite, but it's just a ruse easily swallowed by the gullible "rabble." He comes to bury the good people of Gotham, not to praise them, and under his rule the forces of law and order (not to mention compassion and mercy) are equated with weakness and a twisted sort of moral bankruptcy.
Nolan, a Brit, has made a comic-book film that doubles as a commentary on contemporary American society. It's something of a warped mirror image of the equally dark but ultimately more hopeful adaptation of Alan Moore's V for Vendetta. I suspect the timing of the film's release – in the middle of a seriously unhinged election year – is no coincidence. Or maybe it is. No matter. The film can be read in any number of ways, and almost certainly will be. What you'll hear very little argument about his how adroitly The Dark Knight Rises wraps up the trilogy, with thunderous action set-pieces to spare, and darkness to burn.
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