As much as I was vibrating out of my skin with excitement over The Avengers, I have been filled with doubt and anxiety for months over the release of The Dark Knight Rises. I know that I haven’t been alone: the corner of Twitter in which I live has been, at best, whispering with cautious excitement and at worst wailing in existential dread about how Christopher Nolan would choose to end his involvement with the Bat Universe. And while I usually pride myself on my cosmic, universal grasp of all things Nerd I couldn’t be happier to tell you that I was completely wrong about this one.
Part of my dread regarding this movie is pure conditioning. Even franchises with such great openers as X-Men and Sam Raimi’s Spiderman have foundered with startling regularity in their third films. The pressure of providing a foe worthy enough of a twice-proven superhero and a beginning-to-get-desensitized audience was too much even for an entire army of mutants with a kaleidoscope of superpowers. What chance did Batman stand?
There is, after all, very little legitimately special about Batman. He’s a really, really rich guy with a lot of emotional baggage who runs around beating up bad guys. He doesn’t shoot lasers out of his eyes, have a magic hammer, retractable claws, shape shift, teleport, his father wasn’t involved in secret government tech development and he’s definitely not faster than a speeding locomotive. Batman also has a long history of extraordinarily mediocre films featuring a variety of semi-supernaturally inclined villains in extensive and ludicrous rubber suits. Herein lies the beauty and simplicity of Nolan’s approach to Batman: while he is still Batman through and through he is not the kind of superhero that the market has come to embrace with special effects and action figures.
So why is this Batman different from all other Batmans? Precisely because he doesn’t have superpowers. But most importantly, neither does anyone else in this universe. Many superhero films coming out claim to be about the human side of heroes, the human condition and the moral ambiguity of heroics. You know who actually achieves that? The guy who makes the movies about a bunch of humans who don’t have non-human qualities. Don’t worry, it’s not a spoiler for me to tell you that Bane is not the result of any government experimentation or alien intervention or any of the other nonsense I normally fill my days with. And this is what makes Bane, played by the rock-like Tom Hardy, really awesome: he’s from the same source of fear that Walter White on Breaking Bad and everyone in The Walking Dead are currently mining: human nature and the things we do to each other can be much more frightening that whatever else is out there running around drenched in radioactive superpower juice.
I do have a single complaint about this movie which is that it feels long, in much the same way that The Dark Knight did. But while the second installment of this trilogy felt like a movie and a half jammed together into something that kept feeling like it was ending but didn’t, The Dark Knight Rises is one long, cohesive unit. Unlike the confusion of having two villains in The Dark Knight, the catsuit-clad Anne Hathaway inhabits a middle ground between good and bad, just like her comic book predecessor, forming a coherent line between the good guys and the bad guys rather than creating a muddled, crowded feeling. As brilliant as Heath Ledger was and as much as I liked The Dark Knight, this follow-up feels like it learned the lessons it needed to from The Dark Knight’s clunkiness.
The Dark Knight Rises is a great ending to Nolan’s Bat trilogy. They managed to up the ante in this film, improve upon past missteps and I have to be honest and say that maybe I like Bane at least as much as Ledger’s Joker. I can’t tell you why, of course, because I’d die before I’d print a spoiler, but what I got out of Bane was not at all what I was expecting. And he delivers some incredible beatings in this film. Regardless of your feelings about the character, if you’re in one of those “who would win in a fight between…” conversations and you give the fight to Bane’s opponent I would worry about him busting through the wall behind you and beating the living hell out of you. But by the time you would wake up from your coma The Dark Knight Rises should be available on DVD, so you can have some fantastic Bat-marathons in bed in your full body cast.