In this final installment of Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, the drama begins with three bound and hooded terrorists thrust aboard a plane. It's their connection with one name-Bane-that gives them priority, and their interrogator wastes no time pressing them.
The camera cuts to a wide-view of the plane, now sailing across a vista of green pastureland and rock outcroppings (greatly enhanced in an IMAX presentation). Back inside the plane again, one of the terrorists hangs from an open doorway, while the interrogator makes a generous offer: The first captive to tell him about Bane gets to stay on the plane.
The interrogator fires shots, tension mounts, and wind roars through the cabin, until finally, one terrorist speaks. But it's not the voice of frightened hireling. Instead, the voice is deep, raspy, and seems … amused. The interrogator lifts the veil, and suddenly he looks evil in the eyes: The man is Bane himself, revealed by his black claw of a mask.
"Congratulations on getting caught," the interrogator says. "What's your next plan?"
"Crashing this plane," the voice replies, "with no survivors."
What follows is nothing short of breathtaking, as Bane and his associates dismantle the plane in mid-air and cleanly make their escape.
This sort of agile plot-twists and grandiose filmography are stock and trade for director Nolan, and both are very much on display in The Dark Knight Rises. Nolan was something of an unknown before the first movie in this trilogy, Batman Begins (2005). But Heath Ledger's legendary acting as the Joker in The Dark Knight (2008), along with the movie's brooding but finely tuned plot, established Nolan as a truly epic filmmaker.
This week The Dark Knight Rises (already challenging The Avengers' box office receipt records) raises the stakes even higher. As the story picks up steam, we find Batman/Bruce Wayne has become a recluse, unwilling to go on without his true love, whom he lost in the last film. His friend, Commissioner James Gordon (Gary Oldman), was able to pass the Dent Act and put a thousand of Gotham's criminals behind bars. But Gordon only did so by feigning Batman's guilt for Harvey Dent and the Joker's destruction. So now a lie, instead of the Dark Knight, keeps evil at bay.
The unraveling of that pretense, though, begins in a surprising way-through the light fingers of a leather-suited femme fatale. When Selina Kyle/Catwoman (Anne Hathaway), slips into Batman/Bruce Wayne's room for a burglary, he follows her out of hiding and into the sewers of Gotham again, where he eventually meets his greatest foe yet.
In a theme that will no doubt resonate with many Americans, the people of Gotham feel a profound distrust of their leaders-both corporate and governmental. That coupled with violent class warfare has fueled comparisons to the French Revolution, the Occupy Wall Street movement, and criticism of Bain Capital and its connection with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Certainly, the villain Bane (not Bain) does talk a good anarchist's game, announcing to the convicts he releases, "None shall interfere, do as you please … spoils shall be enjoyed!" and setting up a kangaroo court for executing the rich. But as the curtain is pulled back, Nolan paints a crisis far beyond our current political situation. Like 9/11, the movie's darkness is one most Americans can fear together.
Plumbing that darkness, The Dark Knight Rises earns its PG-13 rating through violent action, brief sexual content, and a moderate amount of offensive language. But the most disturbing content of the film is the quiet betrayal or apocalyptic havoc of the film's villains.
But Batman's own journey is neither political nor ideological. If anything, it's spiritual. Before Batman can save Gotham, his own dead heart will have to be quickened. He'll have to find fear again, that surge of adrenaline that comes with holding life dear. In that newness of life, he may be able to inspire new faith in the people of Gotham-faith strong enough to prevail against the forces of chaos that would dismantle all they hold dear.