I’m sitting there in the theater watching what has been one of my most anticipated films in recent years, and there came a moment early on when I couldn’t help but think; “That’s where it must have happened.” Part of the legacy of this movie won’t just be how it ended one of the great super hero trilogies of our time, how it was a worthy and satisfying conclusion to an epic Batman saga, but how this movie about good overcoming terror, fear and evil, was itself used for terror and evil. The scene early on with gun fire going off was uncomfortable and difficult because I knew for some, it was a moment when an exciting, highly anticipated event turned into a nightmare. The shootings in Aurora, Colorado are unfortunately now a part of this movie’s legacy, making the viewing of it something entirely different than it might otherwise have been. And as hard as that made it, I realized as that moment passed, that I still had to decide whether or not The Dark Knight Rises truly rises as that rare third chapter that’s as good as the rest and one that successfully concludes this Batman saga. With a few bumps along the way, I’m happy to say yes, and I’m still saddened that tragedy has tainted the enjoyment of what should have been an entertaining film for all.
The Dark Knight Rises is not as relentlessly dark as The Dark Knight. I didn’t have that mounting tension in the pit of my stomach that just never stopped, but it is an intense and driven story with some moments that will make you wince at the brutality of its villain. Bane is much more straightforward as opposed to the insanity and unpredictability of the Joker. However, he’s a much more powerful villain, and so the threat he presents has a different kind of danger, a more physical kind of danger. Tom Hardy is fine in the role, but behind the mask and with the distracting voice issues (which aren’t entirely resolved), it’s hard to take away much from his performance. Still, he does present an imposing force for Batman to fight against, and for this movie he’s definitely the right bad guy. He’s the one that can set events in motion that require the kind of finality and all out effort that the concluding film in Batman’s trilogy needed.
And what a conclusion it is. While things are a little shaky in the early going while all the pieces are being put into place, once the film finds its footing it grips you and doesn’t let go. The last hour or so is a relentless, breathless experience, and the final twenty minutes of the movie left my head spinning. Don’t let anyone talk to you who’s already seen it, don’t let some of the surprises be spoiled or the key moments get ruined, so you can enjoy the full impact and emotion of them. And it is an emotional finale, in many ways. I don’t really want to say more than that, but this is about as satisfying of a conclusion to Nolan’s Batman saga as one could ask for and a fine way to say goodbye to these characters.
While Bane isn’t the most memorable character in the film, Selina Kyle just may be. Anne Hathway gives quite the performance, capturing the playfulness and woundedness, the hard edge and vulnerability, and most importantly, the conflict of conscience that Catwoman is so well known for in the comics. I know there’s been a lot of debate about how well Catwoman (which she’s never directly called in the film) would or would not work in the Nolan Bat-verse, and I’m happy to say that she works just fine. Kyle’s motivations for what she does are often ambiguous, but here, at least in part, they’re made quite clear. Selina wants a “clean slate”; literally. She takes on a job in order to secure a computer program called “clean slate” that would wipe her record and allow her to enjoy a fresh start. The question is whether or not such a thing, a “clean slate”, actually exists. Well I’m happy to say that it does, but it’s not a computer program.
The truth is we all have quite the record; none of us is spotless. The truth is, we’re all guilty of something and the only true way to get a fresh start in eternity is to have that perfectly clean slate. Unfortunately that’s not something we can earn or work at; and God knows that. God has done for us what we couldn’t do on our own and paid the price for a “clean slate.” All of our wrongs, all of our mistakes, all of our sins can be wiped away; forgiveness can be ours. It was all made possible by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ; that is the true “clean slate” program; that is how we can experience a fresh start. “‘Come now, let us settle the matter,’ says the Lord, ‘though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow…” (Isaiah 1:18) The point is simply this, to get a clean slate we do need something, and it’s the blood and sacrifice of Jesus Christ. As strange as it may sound, that’s the only true way to access a “clean slate”, regardless of whether you’re a cat burglar, a terrorist, or a regular person that tells the occasional lie.
In truth, there’s a lot more that can and probably will be said about this movie. Bruce Wayne’s journey is particularly fascinating here, as is that of his faithful friend and butler Alfred. There are many call-backs and ties to the previous movies, more so to Batman Begins than The Dark Knight, but they’re all used to wonderful effect and help give this trilogy a feeling of completeness. It has a much different feel from the previous two with a gritty, dirty, war-like texture to it. It doesn’t quite resolve as well as it could have some of the leftover elements of the previous movie (for having everyone think that he’s a murdering rogue at the end of TDK, it seems people are pretty quick to accept Batman back as a symbolic hero of hope), and despite the long running time, it almost ends too quickly.
However, in my mind the great irony of this movie will forever be the fact that it’s the story about finding a way to rise above fear, above terror, above lawlessness and evil, it’s about how no matter how dark this world may be, it is worth it to stand for what is good, for what is pure, what is moral and what is right. And yet, at its debut, one lone lunatic tried to undermine that all by presenting evil, fear, and terror as the greater reality; almost as if to say the ability to rise above those things is a fantasy, something best left to caped heroes in the movies. It can be so easy to give in to that when the unthinkable happens in our world, often when we least expect it. However, as one character states, “You need to have faith in something more real.” He says it in a derogatory manner to another person who still believes Batman is the hero they need. Well, when facing evil, when trying to rise above the terrors of this world, we do need to believe in something more real. And that reality isn’t represented by a bat, but rather a cross. A cross that demonstrated a love that was willing to give all to conquer evil, to overcome fear, and to stop terror. A love that said evil cannot, and will not last. A love that said, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” A love that said, “Fear not, for I have overcome the world.” A love that says, “A light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” A lone gunman in a darkened theater cannot undermine that or make it any less True. That he would try to do so at a movie that would remind us of those very truths is a tragic irony, and one that will forever be a part of the legacy, at least for me, of The Dark Knight Rises.
Is this the worthy conclusion to Nolan’s Batman trilogy? Yes. It’s flawed, it’s a bit shaky at times, but it’s eminently satisfying, thrilling, exciting, and emotional. It’s the finale that I hoped it would be, and a fitting swan song for one of the more complex and popular icons of our culture; the Batman.