Ending a trilogy is hard. Ending the new Batman Series had monumental expectations. At least from me. If you didn’t already know, Christopher Nolan is one of my storytelling idols. So, I’ve yearned for the final installment of Batman since I walked out of the theatre after seeing The Dark Knight in 2008. Inception reunion aside, I knew Rises would deliver. And it did. Don’t read on if you don’t want to be spoiled!
The movie had its questions. Tom Hardy as Bane? Anne Hathaway as Catwoman? How could these individuals fill the shoes of Heath Ledger’s legendary Joker performance? Simply put, they couldn’t. That doesn’t detract from their incredible portrayals of these comic book personalities. Bane was the quintessential villain- mentally and physically intimidating. He was always one step ahead of Bruce in his plan and in his muscle. Catwoman was a delight. Her portrayal as a petty thief with debt struggles was an interesting twist on the cookie-cutter seductress I expected. She had depth and complexity her previous incarnations could only hope for.
Also, circling the Ra’s A Ghul plot was a nice symmetrical touch. Bane not only descended upon Gotham to cleanse the city, but to finish what Ghul dreamed of for years. The cyclical feel was equally imparted with the close of Bruce’s chapter pining for Rachel Dawes, Commissioner Gordon facing the truth about Harvey Dent and the city itself coming to term with the Batman.
I have to mention something else Nolan brought to the table. The inexplicable shift in character decision. Yes, my idol missed on this note. Nothing’s perfect. In TDK, Lucius Fox gave Bruce all the equipment needed to be Batman, but refuses to go as far as a personal listening device. Because letting him troll the streets in a tank was any better. In Rises, Alfred refuses to see Bruce tear himself down, but those first 16 years were cool. It added drama and conflict, so it’s easily overlooked.
Oh, what’s that you say? The villain has a nuke? Surprise. Although I would have preferred a plotline with a bit more originality, it was in character with Bane—a larger than life individual seeking a grandiose gesture to force Gotham back to square one. And the tumultuous journey it forced Bruce through was incredible to watch. Not only did he have to work to become Batman once again, but when he fails, he must literally climb out of a hole to save the city he has devoted his life to. If you didn’t shed a tear when he rises into the desert, you might need an emotional overhaul.
In Bruce’s absence, Gotham’s struggle is portrayed through the sideline journey of John Blake who shows some spunk when faced with adversity. Whether it’s his fellow officers, or the enemy, Blake’s own rising mirrors Bruce’s throughout the film, offering a comforting parallel for viewers to know that even without Batman, the city can come out of the ashes.
At the climax of the film, where it is revealed Bruce’s once lover and business partner, Miranda Tate is actually Talia a Ghul, the real brains behind Gotham’s reckoning, it’s a moment of expected surprise. I was surprised she was Ra’s daughter, but as in any Batman film, his women always have questionable allegiances. Even Catwoman, his budding love, double-crosses him once or twice. The final showdown delivers. The city’s cops against Bane’s army. Bane against Batman. Catwoman, Blake and Gordon stringing it all together hit every rousing note an epic battle should. The snow. The silent shot. The fighting. The powerful music. The fighting! Did I mention the fighting?
Everything led Bruce to this moment. His training with the League. Taking the fall for Harvey. Returning to give Gotham hope. And you knew he wouldn’t let a silly old bomb stop him. He’s Batman! From the second Bruce decided to sacrifice himself for his city, the waterworks began. The hero’s journey came to a fever pitch. Batman literally gave his life for Gotham. I don’t know what was worse? Seeing Catwoman, Blake, Gordon, Fox or Alfred’s gut-wrenching response. Ok, it was Alfred. Alfred had me crying a river.
Not only does Nolan show the legacy Bruce has left, donating his home and fortune to the city, but that his impact resonated with John Blake, who seeks out Batman’s lair to embody the fallen idol. The same officer we learn is really named Robin. What a crescendo. This was the cleverest way to employ the character. Ever. Robin as a sidekick is laughable at best. Having the man who will take up Batman’s mantel be named Robin is a wonderful homage to the character and another brilliant twist in Nolan’s modern series.
But Nolan’s true storytelling brilliance shines in the final moments of Rises. Alfred takes his Italian vacation, hoping as he said earlier in the film to see Bruce settled with a family and a life beyond Batman. And as teased earlier, you see the back of a man’s head. With Batman dead, the audience can only cry for the broken old man. But when the man turns to reveal Bruce Wayne, seated across from Selina Kyle (Catwoman), I wasn’t the only one rejoicing with thundering applause. Nolan succeeded in taking Bruce Wayne beyond Batman. Beyond the expectations of fans. And into history as arguably the best super hero film and franchise ever created. A(+)