Class warfare could present Batman with tough choices. Does he defend the 1 percent world Bruce Wayne belongs to, or the other 99 percent who ostensibly need the protection of superheroes? Director Christopher Nolan deftly sidesteps that issue as he introduces a political subtext to the final third of his caped crusader trilogy — or rather, allows jewel thief Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) to introduce the topic to Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) during a cocktail party. The billionaire has become a recluse in the eight years since the tragic ending of The Dark Knight, and Selina is there to steal, but she warns of a coming storm that will soon pit the haves against the have-nots of Gotham City.
That storm comes in the form of Bane, played by Tom Hardy (Inception, Bronson) an unstoppable force who commandeers an airplane carrying a nuclear physicist in the adrenaline-pumping opening of the film. Nolan pushed the possibilities offered by IMAX to the limit — the dimensions of the screen ratio change to great effect for the airborne scenes — while minimizing reliance on CGI throughout the film. He also raised the volume beyond 11, especially when Bane speaks through his menacing metal mask that makes him look like a character from The Road Warrior. (Hardy has been cast as the lead in the next Mad Max film.)
The sound mix is problematic, as is some early excessive dialogue, but Bane’s appetite for destruction helps overcome the film’s weaker points. It’s a nuclear fusion device he wants, one that Wayne developed and nearly bankrupted him. With Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) hospitalized, and with great consternation on the part of manservant Alfred (Michael Caine), Wayne decides it’s time for Batman to come out of retirement. Bane turns out to be too much of a badass and sends the caped crusader into exile as Gotham falls into chaos.
Bane is no Joker, though. He has a backstory, unlike Heath Ledger’s makeup-mussed personification of mayhem. Anarchy is replaced by revolution, or so it seems, and Bane turns out to have a streak of idealism and genuine motivation for taking revenge against Batman. Exile means a budding romance with female tycoon Miranda Tate is put on hold, but she’ll have more significance later thanks to Nolan’s need to provide his patented plot twists.
There’s less darkness this time around, but no less trepidation as Nolan explores some very real topics rather than psychological themes. Terrorism and its origins are not only explored, they’re handled deftly and with a degree of sympathy. Selina and Bane express resentment towards the super rich, but it’s Nolan and his brother Jonathan who wrote the dialogue and decided on the story’s direction. It’s also the Nolans who introduce a young cop (Joseph Gordon-Leavitt) who could make a great crime-fighting companion in a future sequel. Now, why would they do that if they had no more Batman stories in them?
THE DARK KNIGHT RISES Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, directed by Christopher Nolan, rated PG-13, 165 mins