Important: There are spoilers-aplenty. I originally tried to write this without any but found it far too difficult for an in-depth review and analysis, so here are we are.
First off: I am a huge fan of Batman and have been for years and while it may bother other Batman fans, Nolan’s Batman has always been my Batman. He’s dark, gritty and realistic; he goes through unspeakable physical and mental torture in his mission to make the world a better place for good people while not persecuting the often mentally ill villains he faces. I re-read Knightfall shortly before seeing The Dark Knight Rises and through the pages saw his own dark desperation drive him to breaking.
The film, as the graphic novel, begins with Bruce Wayne in a pretty sorry state. After eight years of hermitude (and it does seem to me that perhaps someone might have noticed Bruce Wayne and Batman have disappeared at the same time) Wayne looks significantly older and is only mobile thanks to a cane. Of course, he could have paid his way out of his injuries but he has given up all hope – his city hates him and hundreds have died because of him, including the love of his life, and it’s all his fault. He was content to stay away – it was for the best, and the city saw Dent as a hero. The Bat-signal was rusted and broken. It is Bane that makes the beacon necessary again.
Like Batman, Bane’s face and mask are interchangable. At only one brief point is Bane’s full face seen, and although hints are made that the mask is important to his survival, it isn’t made entirely clear – he claims that he would not die without it, but it is also mentioned that it keeps his pain at bay. He suffers without it, but it is not even implied that this mask feeds venom into him, the chemical which the comic book Bane uses to become unnaturally strong. The voice that I had found so strange in the adverts was no less strange at first, a creepy British groan. It is perhaps the slow, calculated way that he talks which makes him seem so terrifying, and as his eyes are the only part of his face visible he gains an almost Darth Vader-esque threatening quality. Personally I love Tom Hardy and since the announcement that he had been cast I believed he would be an incredible Bane and he didn’t let me down. He was just as clever, calm and brutal as the comic Bane, and equally a hulking mass – watching Batman punch him was like watching a boxer hit a punching bag in comparison to the bone-crunching assault it would be for anyone else.
When Selina first appeared, she reminded me of Michelle Pfeiffer’s rendition. A put-upon woman, treated like nothing by rich men and employed in the newly-built Wayne Manor which is hosting Harvey Dent Day. Bruce, who hasn’t been seen by anyone in years, catches her in the act of stealing his mother’s pearl necklace – presumably the one she was wearing the night of her murder – but that wasn’t what she was after. She uses some of the same humour that Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman did but with more independence and a cute blonde sidekick(/lover?) – although it is important to point out that, while the mask pushed back on her head looks adorably like cat ears, she is not once referred to as Catwoman. Nothing supernatural happened to this woman, just a life of hardship and anger toward the social elite of a city which has abandoned its poor.
Additional political tension is introduced early by the Dent Act which was put into place after Dent’s death, which sought to deny parole to any Blackgate inmate whose crime was deemed part of a “larger criminal enterprise” (this is from a viral press release of the Act before the film was released). But another interesting theme is that of orphans, of boys without families. It is revealed early that Blake is an orphan, and he has a special place in his heart for the boy’s home that raised him but has since been neglected by its main doner, the Wayne Foundation. Bane can take advantage of the overflow of orphaned boys abandoned at the age of sixteen and builds an army of desperate young men. Blake knows that Bruce Wayne is Batman because he can understand what having your parents killed does to a child. They share the orphan connection that Batman often shares with his Robins and it touched my heart that Bruce would keep Wayne Manor as a stronghold for children who weren’t from as fortunate families.
Here’s where the real spoilers are. Talia. Oh, Talia. When Marion Cotillard was announced for The Dark Knight Rises, I prayed that she would play Talia, a character I’ve long been fond of but whose appearance in the game Arkham City really pleased me. Learning that Cotillard was just to play a love interest was disappointing, although I ended up thoroughly enjoying her Miranda – until the reveal, at which a huge grin spread across my face.. I loved that she was the child and on my second viewing I paid special attention to whether the child who rose from the pit was assigned a gender, and of course she wasn’t. The relationship between Talia and Bane was incredibly beautiful, but I have to admit that I feel it took motivation away from Bane. In Knightfall, Bane’s one mission is to destroy Batman and he uses intelligence, manipulation and physical strength to succeed – this was done perfectly in the film, but the motivation of doing it for a girl took some of Bane’s power away, for me at least. Jonathan Crane’s cameo was a great joy for me, although I would like to have known how – as far as I could tell, only the Blackgate prisoners were released and I would have thought that Crane would be in Arkham. Not that it bothers me especially – a haggard Cillian Murphy with straw erupting from his suit made an excellent judge.
The film was full of incredible moments for the Batman geek. Finally having the tables turned on him as Selina disappears and his remark “So that’s what that feels like” made me chuckle, and made obvious just how disarmed he is by her after eight years of absence. Some of his explanations of the nature of Batman appealed hugely to the obsessive fan because they fit in so easily with what I already felt to be the true Batman – that Bruce Wayne the person is not important, that Batman could be anybody because the symbol is what matters. It also feeds toward the underlying suggestion that Blake could be the new Batman. The “Break You!” scene came much earlier than I had expected, as I had assumed the film would end with this, but the chance to see Batman build himself up again and gain faith in himself once more was beautiful – the symmetry of the prison’s depths and the well he fell into in his child helped to reaffirm his need to get himself up again, to rise. The burning Bat on the side of a building and the reconstruction of the Bat-signal filled the fan in me with such joy and pride. The army of police running into gunfire and the squad of orphans were also incredibly touching.
I don’t particularly want to talk about the ending. I don’t think it’s important whether Bruce lived or died and I think it was left purposely ambiguous. I’m okay with that. It’s a nice idea that he could have made it out, and seeing Bruce and Selina together in Florence filled me with hope and left me satisfied with the ending, even if I am only joining Alfred in his fantasy of a better life, but it’s unimportant to the legacy of Batman whether Bruce Wayne survives. Although you would think someone would have noticed that they went missing, reappeared and died at the same time.
There is so much more I could have written but I would rather engage in a talk about anything else a reader may want to discuss – so please leave a comment!