This review contains spoilers
Eight years after the events of The Dark Knight, Bruce Wayne is an ailing, broken recluse who now avoids the public eye and stays hidden away in Wayne Manor. The last we saw of Bruce Wayne and Commissioner Jim Gordon at the end of The Dark Knight, they decided to make a pact based on a lie – to canonize Harvey Dent as a saintly law enforcer, so that they could leverage his reputation into fighting crime.
The way that decision manifests itself is in the form of the Dent Act, a quick and efficient way to lock up criminals without due process. Thematically, I believe this is a carry over from The Dark Knight when Batman invades the privacy of the citizens of Gotham by illegally tracking their cell phone signals. The protagonists in The Dark Knight trilogy have often butted heads with their views on what is morally acceptable in the fight against terrorism. The Dent Act, Gotham’s own form of The Patriot Act, shows once more that Bruce Wayne and Jim Gordon don’t always fall on the clean side of the arguement.
Hubris for Wayne and Gordon’s actions comes in the form of the hulking manbeast Bane who arrives in Gotham to ‘deliver its reckoning’. Little is known about Bane but he commands an army of martyrs and upon entering the city, he reduces parts of it to rubble and then shuts it off from the outside world. He then reveals the truth about Harvey Dent to Gotham’s citizens and releases the prisoners affected by the Dent act. This forces Bruce to act and come out of retirement.
Despite his manservant Alfred’s protests that he is purposefully leading himself into oblivion, Bruce Wayne once again dons the mask and cape to fight Bane and restore order to Gotham. Only he is physically outmatched by Bane who is every bit his superior. In a wink and a nod to their most famous encounter in the comics, Bane ends the conflict by breaking Batman’s back and banishing him into the abyss. Well, more accurately, he sends Bruce into a literal pit where he is forced to watch Gotham’s self destruction.
Bruce nurses himself back to health and begins planning his escape from The Pit. But to do so, he must successfully perform a leap across a yawning chasm that only Bane himself has managed to conquer. This forces Bruce to re-examine his sense of purpose. He comes to understand that becoming a martyr himself is not enough and that to defeat Bane he must find something worth living for. Galvanized with a renewed sense of self belief, Bruce attempts the jump once more so that he can return to Gotham as the prodigal son and its saviour.
The Dark Knight Rises is an epic conclusion to Christopher Nolan’s trilogy of Batman films. It is a mightily ambitious work and while it doesn’t quite hit all the high notes that it strives for, it is still a worthy and admirable endeavour. I derived my greatest satisfaction from the film for the way it so coherently completes Bruce Wayne’s journey spanning three chapters, from a young and angry vengeance seeker in Batman Begins to a humbler, wiser redeemer who finds closure in The Dark Knight Rises. Few cinematic trilogies, let alone something in the super hero genre, are so successful in charting such an ambitious and enjoyable character arc.
The new players to the game are also a welcome addition. Anne Hathaway plays Selina Kyle, a cat burglar who becomes an unwitting pawn in the conflict between Batman and Bane. She only finds her agency in the closing stages of the film when the stakes are high. I always felt confident that Tom Hardy could be capable in delivering an effective performance as Bane and I wasn’t to be disappointed. Joseph Gordon Levitt plays John Blake, a police officer, and given the importance of the role played by Gotham’s finest in this film, he makes for an excellent everyman and gives the police force a relatable face. My only disappointment was with Marion Cottilard’s performance as Miranda Tate, a board member on Wayne Enterprise who becomes a pivotal figure in the film’s conclusion. A lot is asked of the role and I felt her performance strained credulity, although it is certainly not poor enough to spoil the film.
The Dark Knight Rises is a film with big ideas and I think its greatest accomplishments are on a macro scale. The smart tone of the trilogy changed the way super hero films in the 21st century were made. Just go back and rewatch Batman & Robin  to see how far they’ve come with the character of Bane and consider the difference in how the directors Christopher Nolan and Joel Schumacher view their audience.
I like how wide-reaching Nolan was in drawing inspiration for this film. The basic story arc draws inspiration from the much loved Batman graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns as well as from other sources in mythology and theology. The ‘try and try again’ concept with the pit jump is a morality tale that has been retold countless times in parables and fables.
Some of the finer details I felt were not as well conceived. If I’m nitpicking, I thought the twists and revelations in the climax didn’t particularly add any weight to the story and seemed there for the sake of it. I didn’t really care for either Miranda Tate or John Blake’s ‘true identities’ and unveiling the two moments within ten minutes of one another gave the film a fleeting, unpleasant Shyamalan-esque quality to it. Fortunately, it dissipated by the time the credits rolled.
All told, I was very satisfied with what I watched. That brought with it a certain sense of relief that Nolan was able to make the ending work. The Dark Knight remains my favourite installment in the trilogy and I believe for most people these films will mirror the quality trajectory of the original Star Wars trilogy with Empire Strikes Back being the standout. But just like those films, each chapter in The Dark Knight trilogy has its own merits, qualities and idiosyncracies and the sum package is a fantastic and formidable piece of film making. I enjoyed every minute.