(WARNING: MOVIE SPOILERS BELOW - WATCH FIRST THEN READ)
It is now the summer of 2012 and the third installment of Christopher Nolan's Batman Trilogy has been released: The Dark Knight Rises. This film picks up eight years after the Joker's reign has ended in "The Dark Knight" (2008) with Bruce Wayne wasting away in his mansion from depression and physical body ailments brought on from the punishing requirements of his alter-ego Batman. After a brief introduction in the opening scene to Bane, the primary villain (who kidnaps a CIA informant), we are shown a tribute party hosted at the Wayne Mansion to Harvey Dent, the fallen hero from the previous film whose anti-racketeering, anti-mafia "Dent Law" has helped to put away hundreds of the Gotham's worst felons for maximum sentences. Police commissioner Gordon begins to deliver a speech, seemingly about the true nature surrounding the events of Harvey Dent's death, only to interrupt himself and give his usual "Dent was a Hero" speech instead. Later on, with Bruce held up in his master suite bedroom we are given our first glimpse of "The Catwoman" played by Anne Hathaway who, posing as a maid to serve Bruce his dinner, masterfully robs Bruce of his mother's pearl necklace and escapes quickly out the window just after revealing that she is not in fact a maid after-all. The chemistry between them is immediately palpable...
Later on we discover that The Catwoman has essentially "kidnapped" a congressman that she met at the party at Wayne Mansion however this is no ordinary kidnapping - it appears the congressman is in love with her and has some form of Stockholm Syndrome. Catwoman drags the Congressman (now dressed as a whacked out Hawaiian Tourist) into a bar with her where she uses him as a collateral to make a trade with a suit-and-tie criminal whose affiliations are not yet known - Bruce Wayne's Fingerprints for a "clean slate" on her crime record and identity. When the deal goes sour and she is not afforded her end of the bargain, she recognizes the deception and tricks the crony into making a phone call with said Congressman's phone which immediately alerts the police. When the Police arrive a shootout begins with the Cronie's henchmen and Gotham's SWAT team exchanging rounds. Eventually Gordon arrives on the scene and gives chase of the armed rogues into the sewer system underneath the city at which point he is assaulted and brought into the underground city for Bane- whom is now apparently assembling an underground army underneath Gotham but whose motives are not yet fully known. Bane is not amused with what his thugs have done - bringing the Police Chief into their secret layer. The Police Chief then awakens again and jumps back into the sewer and is shot. Bane quickly kills one of the thugs for his sloppiness and shoots the other one as he tells him to go after Gordon and bring back the body. Bane has no patience for such errors and his cold-blooded, mission-at-all-costs mentality is apparent. His brute physical stature is also apparent. Eventually Gordon is rescued by detective (Robin) Blake who hears of Gordon's stories about an underground city of army rogues and hidden weapons - of course he sounds delusional so no one really believes him.
Meanwhile Bruce Wayne is debating a return to his caped crusader persona. After meeting with a doctor who tells him all the cartilage in his knees are gone he abruptly meets with the Congressman (now wounded) who tells him batman must return - later on we see Dr. Wayne with a strength-enhancing mechanical knee-brace - he apparently is ready now to return to his role as Batman in spite of his aged physique and slower reaction times. Soon afterwards he will get his chance to return, as apparently the Gotham Stock Exchange is raided by Bane's armed thugs who are performing some kind of financial terrorism using Bruce Wayne's Identity (presumably stolen from his fingerprints). Bane and his men escape into the streets of Gotham with hostages taken from the Stock Exchange which alerts batman who quickly arrives on the scene using his Bat-Cycle. He successfully manages to crash several of the bikes by targeting their electro-mechanical control systems using a hand-held Electro Magnetic Pulse (EMP) weapon. Note that this is the first time we see such a weapon even discussed in a popular movie (supposedly such highly concentrated hand-held EMP devices exist only in "rumor"). Later on the new Police Commissioner Foley decides to target the Batman instead of the rogue motorcyclists. After-all, Batman was the man accused by (now former) Commissioner Gordon of killing Harvey Dent and several other police (i.e. the cover-up from the previous film). The chase proves unsuccessful of course as Batman simply escapes with his latest techno-toy the "Bat-Copter" (a new item Lucius introduces him to at Wayne Enterprises).
(For more on EMP weapon technology see here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oT5EJYY_6HQ&feature=player_embedded#!)
Soon after the Stock Market hit, we learn of the true purpose of it which was to sink the market and Wayne Enterprises which destroyed the value of the options Bruce had in the company and "forces" him to sell his shares to Bane's insiders within Wayne Enterprises (we learn of this connection later). Though fraudulently induced, this results in a complete devaluation of Bruce Wayne's assets and he immediately loses his position as a managing Director and Shareholder. Additionally during this time period we are also introduced to Miranda Tate whose Clean Energy Technology had been invested in by a subsidiary of Wayne Enterprises overseen by Bruce. Miranda is do-gooder and green technologist whose goals are to bring clean, renewable energy to the world. Bruce suggests that Miranda, now a managing shareholder, be shown a clean energy device that Bruce had been secretly funding under her division (i.e. under her nose) all along. This device which generates enough clean renewable energy to power the entire city of Gotham however is a cold fusion reactor that apparently can also be re-configured into a nuclear weapon (technically a neutron bomb). Later we learn of its connection with a certain Dr. Pavel whom Bane had kidnapped from CIA Black-Op Group earlier in the film. Dr. Pavel is the only person who can activate and disarm the core reactor. Bruce further suggests that Miranda mothball the project until "the time is right" (i.e. not now) as it can be used for obvious nefarious purposes. Miranda begrudgingly agrees though she is upset it will not be used to help the people of Gotham. Later on as Bruce's mansion is being prepped to be liquidated, they break into it and Bruce suggests that Miranda buy his place and look after it in the Wayne Family tradition. Later of course they have a romantic interlude. A quick screen shot of her upper back however reveals an unusual symbol that will become known later in the film.
Bruce soon discovers the true nature of the hit on the Stock Market and the connection to the masked criminal Bane. Alfred the Butler warns Bruce against pursuing Bane and his gang underground after it is revealed that Bane was once a member of the League of Shadows (see installment 1) and one of Roz Al Ghul's apprentices before being disbanded. Alfred suggests wisely that Bruce reconsider his pursuit because after all "Any man too extreme for Roz Al Ghul is not a man to be trifled with". Alfred further suggests that its time Bruce consider settling down with a partner which Bruce resents as he brings up the tragic death of his beloved Rachel. Bruce ignores Alfreds warning and suggestions - Then Alfred suddenly reveals that Rachel's final letter to Bruce, claiming she loved Harvey Dent only, was burned by Alfred to protect Bruce's feelings. Bruce is infuriated and tells Alfred (now in tears) to pack his bag. Alfred says he fears that Master Wayne wishes to die. Later on we see Bruce back in his cape and suit working with the "Catwoman", striking a deal with her to be take to Bane's hideout underground which she warns is a dangerous undertaking - he insists anyways. Upon arrival into Bane's layer she betrays him as the gates close behind him and he is trapped with Bane.
This first introduction between the hero and anti-hero is heavy and laden with references to the League and its primary motives. Batman appears noticably slower and sluggish than in previous films as they begin hand to hand combat inside the underground layer surrounded by armed gaurds. Bane is physically impeccable with brute strength that Batman can not match. His powerful strikes catch Bruce off guard who then resorts to his familiar Batman tricks of hallucinogenic powders and shutting off the lights - all to no avail. Bane says...
"Theatricality and deception are powerful agents to the uninitiated... but we are initiated, aren't we Bruce? Members of the League of Shadows!....And you betrayed us!"
When Batman shuts off the lights Bane reveals that he was born in the darkness where as Batman only adopted it. He then proceeds to capture Batman and bludgeon him to a pulp, removing a piece of his mask and making his final statement using his powerful, apparatus-enhanced voice....
"I was wondering which would break first - Your mind...or your body!"
Not long after Bruce Wayne awakens inside some sort of prison - apparently the prison Bane was born in. This prison is something of a fairy tale - located in the depths of war-torn Africa it lies at the bottom of a giant hole in the ground which has perhaps just enough climbable features to escape - if you are willing to flirt with death. A particular leaping lunge is required to completely escape near the top and failure apparently results in certain death or a broken back from the taught rope one ties around their waist (but that ends partway up). Bane is there initially with Batman who tells him that he must watch the destruction of Gotham on his TV before he is "allowed" to die. He then leaves him to his fellow prisoners whom watch over Bruce with curiosity - they are the keepers of the prison now whom Bane has entrusted.
Back in Gotham, an investigation by Detective Blake (who now knows Batman's true identity) reveals that the entire city is rigged using explosives that Bane and his men have been working on underneath the city - all paid for by Wayne Enterprises through construction contracts from fellow board-members whom it is revealed were working with Bane all along. Bane then murders an inside shareholder from Wayne Enterprises and nominates himself in his place after which he crashes a board-room meeting. He then forces the boardroom members to give him access to the clean energy device Dr. Tate had been entrusted with and forces her to activate it for him when Lucius refuses. Bane then instructs them to remove the core which Dr. Pavel indicates will result in a nuclear meltdown (all part of Bane's plan). Not long after a series of explosions rock the entire city - blowing up all but one bridge and several major points of control around the city. Bane has now taken the city captive beginning by blowing up these various key locations around the city including the local football stadium which he himself attends. Bane then introduces himself to the crowd along with Dr. Pavel and the dislodged core from the free energy device. He explains to the crowd that the city has been captured and is now under lockdown by his men and that if anyone tries to escape an unknown denizen of the city, who has the detonator, will blow up all of Gotham. He then murders Dr. Pavel in front of the crowd after explaining to them that he is the only person who knows how to disarm the device. The city is then to await further instructions from him. During the explosions Gotham Police were given a false lead to chase Bane's men into the underground city - of course now that his men are on the loose the police unfortunately are trapped underneath from the explosions as the city goes into panic. The military sends in a special ops force but it is immediately shut down and the men are executed and hung from a bridge to be seen on TV (and by Bruce in prison).
Meanwhile, in the African Death Prison, Bruce is forced to watch the events unfold on tv while writhing in agony. He tells the prison caretaker that he must try to escape by climbing up the death-wall to which the caretaker responds only one person has successfully completed - the child of Roz Al Ghul (i.e. the child of a mercenary). Bruce reasons that this child is Bane, born in darkness and hell who escaped of his own free will and determination. The caretaker however tells Bruce that he has a bulging disk in his back and that he must fix it before he can attempt to climb out - he then strikes a forceful blow to Bruce's back to reset the disc. Bruce is in agonizing pain, screaming and writhing. He then instructs him to hang his body vertically from a rope until he can walk at which point he will attempt to climb the wall. Several failed attempts ensue as Bruce falls from up high on the wall, re-injuring his back as the taught rope nearly snaps it again. At some point during this part of the film Bruce is visited by the ghostly apparition of Roz Al Ghul who tells him that in spite of all his herocism Gotham still could not be saved. This motivates Bruce to give one final attempt at the wall - this time without the rope which means a fall would be fatal. The caretaker gets him to realize that his fear of dying in prison is greater than his fear of dying from a failed attempt and so he faces his fear and of course succeeds in escaping in the same way he had imagined Bane escaped when he was a child.
Back in Gotham again, Bane takes over the city prison and reveals on television the truth about Harvey Dent - that he was the killer all along and not Batman and that Commissioner Gordon had hidden this fact. He then releases the prisoners, many of them imprisoned beyond their statutory limits due to the "Dent Act", into the streets of Gotham. He then declares Gotham a city of the people, suggesting that people be allowed to do as they please. Of course though this is a ploy as the nuclear device will be set to go off anyways. Commissioner Gordon and Detective Blake decide they must act to save the city. A "People's Court" (not like the kind you saw on tv as a kid) begins executing former members of city council and the police force every day. When Gordon was caught with the Secret Service he was placed into the People's Court and sentenced to Death/Exile - essentially the same thing - walking out onto the frozen ice across the river only to fall in and drown/freeze. As the commissioner is being forced out Blake attempts to free the police from underground. The first freed officer is shot but then of course Batman Returns to take his city. He then frees Gordon and the remaining police force underground. Later Batman meets with the Catwoman (no apologies necessary) and tries to convince her to join him, enticing her with a clean slate of her past crime record as a reward for her help to which she seems to agree.
The following day there is a showdown at City Hall, now being guarded by Bane and his People's Army. The Police and Bane's men have a final shoot-out/brawl after the Batcopter disables Bane's armored vehicles using a directed Electro Magnetic Pulse Weapon. Batman then joins the crowd on the street and battles directly with Bane - more brutal street brawling ensues between them but this time Batman gets the upper hand and delivers a crushing blow to Bane's Mask with his wrist blades which weakens Bane. As Batman gains the upper hand, Bane then suggests that the person with the detonation device is still at large - at which point Dr. Miranda Tate emerges and stabs Batman in the side revealing that she was the one who escaped from prison (not Bane) and now holds the detonator - the child of Roz Al Ghul. As it turns out, Bane was her beloved protector who saved her from the other prisoners when she was a child - they attacked him later for it resulting in his condition and mask. Roz Al Ghul's wife had been banished to the prison there because she was the wife of a powerful military warlord (for whom Al Ghul had worked as a mercenary) and she had died in prison which he hadn't known at first. Once the child Miranda had escaped, Al Ghul returned to grab Bane, who now had a breathing apparatus installed (to keep his pain at bay), after a vicious attack from the other prisoners. They were then trained in the League of Shadows together until Al Ghul banished Bane simply because he could not stand the sight of him (reminding him of the prison hell his wife and daughter were kept in). She had not forgiven her father until Bruce killed him and she returned to finish her father's work to destroy Gotham as it was "unsavable" (see installment 1).
As this story is told we see that Bane is capable of emotion after all, and tears begin to flow from his eyes. When Bruce asks her why she betrayed him she essentially responds that building him up only to tear him down made it all the more worthwhile - it is the warm knife that cuts deepest. She then fixes Bane's mask and tries to detonate the bomb - it failed. Commish Gordon managed to keep the device intact by getting the core back with the rest of the device after tracking garbage trucks where the core was being transported throughout the city. None the less the device had only 20 or so minutes left to be deactivated before the core would melt down of its own physics, so she flees the scene. Bane then is about to kill Batman but moments later Catwoman arrives with the Bat Cycle and kills Bane with a single shot from its side mounted blasters. They then race to find the reactor and realize there isn't enough time to deactivate it - Batman's final act is to fly the reactor into the ocean (with less than 2 minutes remaining no less) and drop it far enough away from the city to save it.
In the end we see a final scene after Bruce Wayne's funeral that indicate the detective Blake (whom we find out has a real name "Robin") will follow in Batman's footsteps when he discovers his secret layer. We also see that Bruce has in fact survived after all and has fled the country with his new romantic interest Catwoman as his new companion....
This film was very moving and one of the few times a final installment to a trilogy was as good (or better) than its previous ones. Apart from the pulsing soundtrack, darker tones and human tragedy that glued me to my chair, I would say that it seems to be a "film for the ages" touching upon so many aspects of our modern world that are just beginning to emerge from clean energy, to big brother, to financial terrorism, to EMP devices and shadowy groups as well as populist uprisings. Regarding the clean energy device, I must admit there I was somewhat disappointed in the Director to see that said device, a supposedly "clean and renewable" energy source, was intrinsically connected in the director's mind to a potentially destructive nuclear weapon. To me personally, that does not make it "clean energy". Regardless though, do not be surprised if we begin to hear of such devices in the media and alternative news/journal space. In fact a quick Google Search can take you to the web page of the builders and wholesale retailers of such devices and you can decide for yourselves if you believe it. If you believe as I do, this film is prepping the audience for these memes to emerge in our daily lives.
Whether or not this last installment is the final Trilogy (I suspect it is not based on the final scenes), it is certainly the logical ending to the story of "The League of Shadows" and Bruce Wayne. This final story, which started with "Batman Begins", is essentially one of Pain, Death and Rebirth. Note that with each of Nolan's trilogy episodes a particular theme is chosen which I believe I have captured in the titles of my blog entries for each. Batman's feeble initial attempts to re-emerge are crushed by Bane and it is during his prison stay that he must essentially die and be re-born. Pain is an integral part of the Death-Rebirth Process and it is no coincidence in my opinion that this theme is playing out so strongly in the film as well as in real life - are we not in the final throws of a Pain-Death-Rebirth cycle now? Is the US Economy not sufficiently wounded that people can not see its inevitable demise hopefully to be reborn and replaced by something much stronger, more connected and sustainable? And if so, would it not be the pain we are suffering now that will provide the impetus needed to rebuild our economic system from the ground up? For those of you who have been following this blog you will likely notice several themes, one of which is that a palpable underlying darkness is enveloping our society and world, and that we must find the courage within ourselves to face it. Perhaps that is the true role of films such as "The Dark Knight" and "The Dark Knight Rises" - to remind us of our potential during periods of great darkness and sadness. It is perhaps the primary role of the director to guide our unconscious minds towards that end, whether he is even aware of it or not. For if it is true that many of us are in fact "asleep" at this moment then a film encoded in the form of a horrific dream-scape may be the very thing needed to help us wake up.
I would also like to point out something with regards to the relationship between Bruce Wayne and The Catwoman played by Anne Hathaway. In the beginning of the film, in spite of the obvious chemistry between them, it would appear that these two are worlds apart. The Cat-Woman is part of the populist movement and has nothing but contempt for the elite world that Bruce comes from. I know many people like this and the anger is understandable - I admittedly at times am one of them. Her initial distaste for Bruce and his class is eventually overcome by her admiration and fondness for him and then it occurred to me that perhaps the director was hinting at something. For those of you who have been following this movie and its critics there seems to be some resentment from the Occupy Movement that this film has an anti-populist agenda (see link below). I don't entirely buy into this for the following reason: The populist movement in "The Dark Knight Rises" was, if you follow the story line closely, not a populist movement at all - it was in fact a faux-populist movement initiated by the League of Shadows - i.e. "the elites". So it may well be that the movie is in fact a warning of sorts for those who wish to manipulate populist movements and those who follow them - that they too are fallible. The relationship between Bruce and The Catwoman may in fact be the final destination of our society - the marriage of the elite to the underclass. Marriage is what was traditionally done within warring tribes of the past to preserve peace and I wonder if something of the sort isn't needed now with all the underlying resentment and anger that is building up surrounding the unconscionable gaps between the elite and the underclasses emerging in modern America. No, I am not suggesting that we are all going to hold hands and sing Khumbaya, but it is possible that both the elite and the underclass will realize their common humanity and the destruction of one group by the other ensures the destruction of all. Even if the elite wish to rid themselves of the 99% inevitably a new 99% will emerge and the process will repeat until we wipe ourselves out completely. Humanity without a free, healthy and active 99% is nothing but a miserable tragedy and without the elite we may well slip back into chaos and in-fighting again for, however much we may resent them for it, they understand our technology, economy and mass psychology far better than we do - it may in fact be advantageous to learn from them and encourage them to open up their "secret knowledge" to the public for humanity's benefit (as well as their own) to help us transition into the new era. A "marriage" of sorts, if you will....