The Dark Knight has risen

“Calm down, Doctor. Now’s not the time for fear. That comes later.”  

Bane (played by Tom Hardy) says those words, to a Doctor Pavel, but really he is telling the viewers what to expect in The Dark Knight Rises. It’s fitting that the movie opens with such a memorable scene as the plane hijack, because it’s Bane who carries most of the action forward in The Dark Knight Rises. 

The movie takes place eight years after The Dark Knight while Gotham has entered an era of unprecedented calm–crime is down, way down, in large part due to the Harvey Dent Act. The fallen hero died at the end of the second movie, which hid his descent into hell and despair, and the Batman has taken the fall for Dent’s death. He’s been neither seen nor heard since, while Bruce Wayne (played by Christian Bale) has become a hermit in the Wayne manor he’s rebuilt. Of course, the Batman doesn’t stay retired for long, and that’s where the movie picks up.

The usual suspects of Alfred (played by Michael Caine), Lucius Fox (played by Morgan Freeman), Jim Gordon (played by Gary Oldman) are back and many new characters join them–director Christopher Nolan was definitely ambitious with this last chapter of the trilogy. The acting is superb and the music is remarkable. Oddly enough–for a Christopher Nolan movie at least–the weakness might be in the script itself but that’s probably only due to Nolan having introduced so many new characters. A few leaps of faith needed for as many shortcuts, because Nolan didn’t want his movie to last over four hours. Newcomers Bane, Selina Kyle (played by Anne ‘Luis Suarez’ Hathaway), Miranda Tate (played by Marion Cotillard) and John Blake (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) all have a major role in the script. Most importantly, Nolan has given each of them their proper due and their personal torments and motivations. That’s when he takes a few shortcuts, but this isn’t a major problem.

Bane is the villain the Batman needs to defeat this time around, and he’s a great choice. Whether it’s fair or not–I personally don’t think that it is–whoever the villain turned out to be was always going to be compared to The Joker from the second installment of the trilogy. Heath Ledger’s was a lasting performance and, add to that the mystique of whether this part played a role or not in Ledger’s death, The Joker is likely going to be the first thing that most remember about this trilogy. Ledger’s character is the single most compelling one from the trilogy. Bane, Bruce Wayne, or anybody else really, are no match in that regard.

But strictly in terms of who makes the best villain, Bane makes this comparison well worthy of debate–and that’s something that I never thought would be possible. Both Bane and The Joker have visions of grandeur and have an ace in the hole to carry out their plan (i.e. this review will keep the identity of Bane’s hidden to remain spoiler-free).

“Oh you think darkness is your ally? You merely adopted the dark…I was born in it. Molded by it. I didn’t see the light until I was already a man, and by then it was nothing to me but…bright. The shadows betray you because they belong to me.”  

Bane counters The Joker‘s wit and psychological torturing with physical might and bravado. The Joker creates chaos and is charismatic enough to lead troubled personalities while Bane simply inflicts pain, and lots of it–never has anyone inflicted as much physical pain on the Batman. Bane is a tyran, a terrorist who will destroy anybody standing in his way. And because of that, people follow him. The Joker had endured physical punishment, but tortures the minds of others, while Bane had suffered psychologically most of all but his punishment is mostly physical. Finally, the Batman doesn’t need to think two or three steps ahead with Bane as he did with The Joker. Bane tells him his plan well in advance, and he’s confident enough in his prowess and that he won’t be stopped.

But of course, the Batman will stop Bane. This isn’t to say that the ending is predictable, because Nolan redeems himself with the ending actually–though the viewer knows what lies ahead, Nolan still delivers an absolute classic. Yet, before that ending the Batman needs to defeat Bane, because that’s the point of The Dark Knight Rises.

Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy was always a series of superhero films, but not one about superheroes. In Nolan’s mind, anybody can be a superhero because superheroes are only symbols and nothing else. And the vilains, from Ra’s al Ghul to Scarecrow, and from to The Joker to now Bane, essentially ask Bruce Wayne just how far he is willing to go to stand up for and defend what he believes in. In Nolan’s mind, it’s not important whether Bruce Wayne was the Batman, whether John Blake was Robin or whether Selina Kyle was Catwoman–what matters is whether the Batman, Robin and Catwoman exist, and if so, why.

Unlike in hindsight, it didn’t matter as much that there was a new Batman trilogy as much as it mattered that it was Christopher Nolan overseeing it.