At the end of the 20th Century, the future of the Caped Crusader looked bleak at best. With a rather lackluster Batman Forever, followed by a total flop in the form of Batman & Robin, it seemed as though Hollywood would never be able to bring justice to Bruce Wayne’s story. Then, in the summer of 2005, Christopher Nolan reinvented the Batman mythology for modern audiences and gave us hope for the franchise. Batman Begins was a sign of something truly great, only no one could anticipate just how great the upcoming trilogy would be. Its sequel, The Dark Knight, elevated Batman from a mere comic-book adaptation to an enormously thrilling crime saga that stands as one of the defining movies of our time. Now, after a long road of spectacle and awe, Nolan and crew have returned to deliver an epic finale to top off the towering achievement known as The Dark Knight Legend. And on that note, I’d like to take a look back on Bruce Wayne’s journey from a boy who fell into a cave of his own fear to a man capable of rising from the darkness. This is a celebration of my favorite superhero and a dear friend. This is me saying goodbye to The Dark Knight.
When Nolan proposed his idea for a realistic take on the Batman franchise, I’d like to think that studio execs told him it couldn’t be done, to which he replied with absolute confidence “challenge accepted.” Batman Begins was the film we needed because it reminded us why we fell in love with the story in the first place. By revisiting Batman’s origins, Nolan was able to delve into the fear that drives Bruce Wayne and explore the character like never before. Christian Bale was perfectly cast in the role, and through him we finally saw the multiple layers of Bruce Wayne in a seamless whole: a boy still haunted by the death of his parents, a man desperate to seek vengeance, and a hero who continues to struggle with guilt, anger, and fear. With that fear came a vulnerability, and within that vulnerability we saw a character fighting himself more often than he fought criminals. The result was a delightfully darker approach that also brought to life characters that were never fully imagined. Oh and did I mention the plotting was ingenious? The final act culminated with the use of a microwave emitter that dispersed a fear-inducing toxin hidden inside Gotham’s water supply. That plotline alone echoed Gotham-inspired villainy, and made us all eager to see what kind of chaos awaited Gotham in the future.
Chaos would become an overarching theme in The Dark Knight, and at the terrifying hands of the Joker, the city of Gotham witnessed firsthand its greatest threat. Morbid, sinister, and gleefully unapologetic, Heath Ledger crafted a truly menacing villain. Even more disturbing was the way Heath embodied the character with such manic brilliance. Simply put, he was the Joker, and he delivered a performance that will haunt audiences for many years to come. But that’s not to say that everyone else in the film wasn’t at the top of their game. Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, and Morgan Freeman saw their respective roles expand even further into the story. Bale, of course, endured a transformation of his own, one that I was always eager to see from the comics. Coming face to face with the Joker, Batman found himself blurring the lines between hero and vigilante. What would it take to stop this murdering psychopath? What kind of hero does Gotham deserve? These are the questions that plagued Bruce, and paved the way for something more than simple heroics. Then at the end of the film, we applauded him for the sacrifice that he made because he wasn’t just a hero anymore, but a Dark Knight.
Now, seven years after it all began, we have reached the end of Bruce Wayne’s journey. With The Dark Knight Rises, Nolan doesn’t try to top The Dark Knight. He knows he can’t, and to do so would be a disservice to himself and Heath Ledger’s amazing work of art. Instead, he goes in the other direction and aims for scope and grandeur. And he succeeds again, again, and many times over. In the opening minutes alone, we are treated to an exhilarating plane heist that serves as a precursor to the destruction and mayhem that awaits. So when Bane makes his explosive entrance, all Gotham can do is hold on as it’s shaken down to its fragile core. Bane is the perfect villain for the context of this story. Whereas the Joker represented an intellectual challenge that brought forth a wave of psychological torment, Bane stands high and mighty as a physically intimidating brute force. Batman is now outmatched in strength and raw power, something we have never seen before. Tom Hardy has proven to be a physically capable actor, but here he is at his most brutal. What he can do with his eyes and overall physique is truly frightening, even with that ridiculous mask on. Though his voice is somewhat of a distraction, I still find it refreshing to see a different kind of villain, one that respectfully strays away from the heights of Heath’s performance.
The Dark Knight Rises boasts a stellar cast, and on top of heavyweights like Caine, Oldman, and Freeman, it makes you wonder just how much bigger can this film get? A lot more, apparently. Nolan has created a huge canvas for this story to unfold and to fill such a broad spectrum he’s brought in some of the best actors in the business. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Marion Cotillard are back from Nolan’s previous work, and with Tom Hardy also in the picture, the film oddly feels like a mini-Inception reunion. I’m not complaining though because the new additions to the Batman saga are welcome faces that add extraordinary depth. Gordon-Levitt stars as John Blake, a Gotham city beat cop with a key role and an interesting back-story. I’m not gonna give too much away, but all I’ll say about him is that he is sure to get Bat-fans cheering in the final act. Then we have Marion Cotillard as Miranda Tate, a Wayne Enterprises board member who’s got a lot more going on beneath the surface. She becomes Bruce’s much needed savior and offers a way back to reality which he so desperately needs. The last addition to the cast is Anne Hathaway, who stars as the feisty Selina Kyle. Here, she captures an allure that is seductive, clever, and undeniably sexy. Combined with a feline sassiness, we really don’t need to acknowledge her as Catwoman or see her in a throwback costume. Tight-skin leather and high-tech specs will do just fine, thank you very much. I’ll admit I was a bit skeptical of her character’s involvement, but of course Nolan has proven me wrong. Her arc fits surprisingly well within the context of the film, and parallels Bruce’s own emotionally complex arc.
Christian Bale gives us everything he’s got in his final turn as Bruce Wayne. Here, we have a character who’s utterly broken, defeated from his face off against the Joker. When we last saw him, he offered Gotham a way into the light by shouldering the death of Harvey Dent. That responsibility appears to have done its damage on him as he can no longer bear the weight of such a devastating lie. Long past his prime, he stands up to Bane not realizing that he’s completely powerless. In their showdown we don’t see a hero, but a man desperate to fight back, to reclaim something more than just a victory. And when he fails, it is demoralizing. This paves the way for a few flashback scenes that bring Nolan’s trilogy in full circle. Seeing Thomas Wayne rappelling down is quite warming and nostalgic, and his words to his son (“why do we fall?”) have never been more relevant. So when Bruce rises once more to try and take back his fallen city, we believe in him simply because of our emotional stake in the character thus far. Yes, we’ve come a long way since Bruce’s fear of bats, but there’s still a long road ahead, and Bale takes us all the way to the end.
Director Christopher Nolan is the real star of these movies. None of this would’ve been possible without his vision. It’s grand, it’s epic, and wholly ambitious. The Dark Knight Rises is easily his biggest film to date. The scope of this film alone makes the last two Batman films seems relatively tame in comparison. But it’s not always about action or scale. He knows how to keep the story grounded all while keeping us emotionally invested in each of the characters. That is the mark of a great storyteller. And in the final act, he weaves emotion together with the action, forming a beautiful symphony that soars to a sensational climax. This is him working at his profound best, and for that Mr. Nolan, I applaud you.
In a span of seven years, we’ve witnessed one of cinemas greatest trilogies unfold before us. It’s been a joy and an honor to have stood there right belong, watching Batman evolve as a character. I personally have stuck by him for so long that he’s become a dear friend, a companion who can relate to my own pain and sorrow. And to see him now, rising from the darkness, I find myself tearing up. A journey indeed, and a worthy and satisfying end to the Batman saga. Thank you Bruce Wayne for gracing the screen and offering us an escape from our own reality to peer into yours. I will miss you, and I will be waiting for your return. After all, a world as cynical as ours needs heroes like you, more than you know.