The “titles” of Batman Begins showed the symbol of a bat formed in a swarm of bats, the titles of The Dark Knightshowed it in fire, now The Dark Knight Rises shows it in ice. The bats in Begins were a symbol of fear, the titles a metaphor for an identity forming out of shadows. The fire of The Dark Knight was like a wall of fire for that bat, that symbol, pushing through the chaos inflicted by the Joker. Now, the bat is, literally, the cracks in the ice formed by the isolation of Gotham City at the hands of Bane. ”I knew Harvey Dent,” Jim Gordon lies, as the title image gives way to a scene of Gordon addressing a memorial service for the late District Attorney, “I believed in Harvey Dent.” Gordon is not speaking of Dent at all but of Batman, the man who (the reader will recall) took responsibility for Dent’s bizarre chance-induced crimes, became Gotham’s Dark Knight so that Dent could remain its White Knight, its Daytime Batman as it were. Thus caught up, the viewer is plunged into a new story.
A CIA ops team in somewhere in eastern Europe (led by a character named “CIA Man”) is picking up one Dr. Pavel. The men delivering Dr. Pavel to CIA Man have included, with Dr. Pavel, three hooded men who, they say, work for a notorious masked mercenary named Bane. I’m guessing that the men delivering Dr. Pavel do as well, since one of the hooded men on Team Hooded Men is Bane himself. CIA Man is very excited to have Bane on his plane, so excited that he pretty much forgets about Dr. Pavel once the flight starts. CIA Man wants only to know about Bane, and therefore so do we.
What does Bane want? For the moment, Bane wants to kidnap Dr. Pavel. Bane, of course, already had Dr. Pavel in his custody, but his plan to kidnap Dr. Pavel involves faking Dr. Pavel’s death at the hands of the CIA and vanishing without a trace. The only way to accomplish this, in Bane’s view, is to stage a staggeringly complicated plane-to-plane passenger transfer, complete with a blood transfusion performed while dangling inside the verticle cabin of a crippled aircraft, while trained assassins shoot at him. Bane, obviously, is, if nothing else, a daring man, who, like the Joker and Ra’s Al Ghul, has fanatical henchmen gladly willing to die for him. ”The fire rises,” he says to one of his henchmen, and, to Dr. Pavel, “Now’s not the time for fear, that comes later,” tying together the themes of the Beginsand Knight. He mentions nothing about ice, but that comes later.
Meanwhile, in Gotham City, here is Police Commissioner Jim Gordon again, at another Harvey-Dent-related speaking engagement, this time at Wayne Manor. Gotham City, we are told, is now free from organized crime, thanks to Dent’s work (which was, of course, partly Batman’s work). Every hardened criminal is now in Blackgate Prison as a result of something called The Dent Act, a law apparently passed in the wake of Dent’s death at the hands of the masked vigilante known as Batman. It’s been eight years, we learn, since Gotham was terrorized by a costumed freak of any sort. What does Gordon want? Gordon, it seems, has something to say about Harvey Dent, but he decides not to say it, not tonight. Dent, he knows, ended his days as a costumed freak himself, cutting a swath through the underworld as a murderous psychopath.
Now we meet Selina Kyle, a thief in disguise as a maid working the Dent-related affair at Wayne Manor. She snags the job of delivering Master Bruce’s dinner to his private quarters, getting the key from loyal butler Alfred. Selina cares nothing about the politics of The Dent Act, she’s come to Wayne Manor to, apparently, steal a necklace from Bruce Wayne’s private safe. Ah, but not just any necklace, but the pearl necklace worn by Bruce’s mother the night she was gunned down by thug Joe Chill, in the back alley behind the opera house, lo those many years ago. That night, the eight-year-old Bruce had his identity forged, by a fear of bats, a man with a gun, and a police detective with a warm heart.
We also meet Miranda Tate, a business associate of Wayne’s, who has come to see him on business, and Daggett, a businessman with his own beef with Wayne. Wayne, we’re told, has destroyed his business with a huge investment in some sort of “save the world” project (just like Bruce Wayne to set for himself an unachievable goal). Wayne, we’re told, in the wake of his misadventures, is now a recluse, a far cry from the billionaire-playboy he posed as in previous incarnations.
From the creator of Inception, a theme of deception. Bane deceives the CIA Man, Gordon deceives the people of Gotham, Selina deceives Alfred, Bruce deceives everyone, including himself. ”Things are not as they seem” is a cliche in crime drama, but it fits here and is deeply ingrained in the smallest of exchanges in Rises. Gotham is at peace, but the peace is built on a lie. That is Bruce’s real wound that won’t heal. Someone once said, “Drama begins with a deception, and when the deception is revealed the drama is over.” The Dark Knight Rises will test that theory with deception upon deception.
At the Dent-related function at Wayne Manor, there are still characters scurrying around to meet. John Daggett is some level of businessman, disliked by Alfred and apparently by Miranda Tate as well, a dissolute lout who opines that Bruce Wayne pounced off with his investors’ money with his “save the world” project, and offers to get Miranda her money back in his own way. Miranda, it seems, shares Bruce’s ideals and snubs Daggett. In keeping with the theme of deception, Daggett thinks Bruce has deceived his investors and Miranda thinks Daggett is deceiving her. Later, we will find that Miranda was deceiving everybody.
Now two more guys show up: Deputy Police Commissioner Peter Foley and “Congressman,” who is, I’m guessing, a congressman. Foley and Congressman talk about Gordon behind his back: we hear from this chorus that Gordon’s wife has left him because of his preoccupation with crime-fighting (making him, like Dent, Daytime Batman, his obsession creating his isolation). Foley, we see, is an opportunist of the worst sort: it doesn’t even occur to him that he could take Gordon’s job until Congressman unctuously alludes to Gordon’s impending exit from the GCPD. Gordon, it seems, has done his job too well: by eradicating organized crime, he’s rendered himself obsolete. With the daring, and effective, Gordon out of the picture, the job, it seems, naturally falls to spineless opportunists like Foley, a yes-man for the political establishment. The world of municipal politics of The Dark Knight Rises might be rooted in fantasy, but it’s often examined with greater attention to detail than most political dramas, certainly greater than any other “comic-book movie.” As in The Dark Knight, Gotham City here feels like a real place, a real city run by real politics. Politics is foremost on Rises‘s mind, it’s almost a political drama masquerading as a superhero movie, Coriolanus in a cape.
Speaking of which, here’s our protagonist, Bruce Wayne, finally making an entrance, foiling Selina Kyle’s theft of Bruce’s mother’s pearls. Look how far Bruce Wayne has come in our cinematic vocabulary. Here he is, creepy, bearded and spectral. Imagine Adam West playing this scene. Bruce Wayne has never been portrayed this way before onscreen, weakened, wary and wry. We are reminded that the totality of Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies is a three-act drama: Act I, Begins, allows Bruce to destroy crime, Act II, Knight, allows crime to strike back, and ends with Bruce’s Act II low point, wounded, hunted and alone. Rises keeps those wounds and adds a new one, Bruce’s impending insolvency. If the story of Batman is the story of a man who creates a persona to bring balance to his world, Rises addresses the need for that man to shed that persona and finally face life, “billionaire playboy” being just as much a persona as the brooding lonely Batman.
Selina Kyle, of course, is the perfect tool to enable this change: a boy can’t be a man until he loves a woman. Batman, more than any other superhero, is arrested in a state of preadolescence, he’s still there at his parents’ sides as a helpless, angry eight-year-old. He works out and builds gadgets and makes plans and fights bad guys, but he’s still a boy, forever forstalling manhood, always ditching the girl and retreating to his cave to concoct his fantasies of power and righteousness. As long as Batman remains alone, he will always be pure, he will never suffer the compromise — the loss of self — of romance. Selina, being a thief, isn’t merely a romantic compromise, she’s also an ideological one as well.
Bruce is impressed by Selina’s thieving skills: his safe, he says, is uncrackable. (No one will ever get to him, until someone does.) Selina, the minx, kicks his cane out from under him (no metaphor there, certainly), leaps out the window, ditches her maid outfit and hops in Congressman’s car.
The party is over but there are still more characters to meet! Here’s John Blake, a dedicated cop, reporting to Gordon on the roof of the MCU, where the rusted Batsignal gathers cobwebs. Blake, like Gordon, is obsessed with the Batman. Gordon’s tales about the night Dent died don’t sit well with Blake, he knows that this peace is based on lies, starting with the central lie of the whole narrative: a man who wears a disguise to reveal the truth. Blake, we will learn, already knows who Batman is, and it’s a tribute to both the screenplay to Rises and Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s performance that we accept that he could figure out Batman’s identity but Gordon, who met regularly with Batman for the length of his career, hasn’t got the faintest idea.
Back at the Batcave, Bruce bones up on Selina, expressing his interest the only way his persona will let him: as a detective. He couldn’t be interested in her romantically, no, that would be gross, but as a detective, yes, as a detective his interest is boundless. He learns that Selina wasn’t there to get Bruce’s mother’s pearls, no — she was there to get his fingerprints, his fingerprints, his very identity. This is, of course, Bruce’s primal terror, the one he has used all the weapons at his disposal to prevent. He shares it with Cinderella, the terror that someone will find out who he is. The Bruce/Selina relatioship in Batman Returns toyed with persona and the barriers we put up to protect ourselves from the penetration of love (see also the Xavier/Magneto relationship of X-Men: First Class), but Rises puts it front and center: in order to protect his secret, Bruce must risk revealing himself to a woman. Alfred, loyal Alfred, Batman’s sexless Jiminy Cricket, correctly sees this as Bruce’s central problem. The problem isn’t the death of Bruce’s parents or the death of Rachel Dawes or the rampages of the Joker, the problem is the same one any boy faces: stop playing superhero and compromise yourself, or you will live arrested and die alone.
The time has come to ask: What does Bruce Wayne want?
We’ve seen that he’s eradicated organized crime in Gotham City, so theoretically he’s overcome the sense of helplessness he felt about his parents’ deaths — there will be no more Joe Chills running around making orphans out of billionaires’ sons. Now, it would seem, he’s looking for a way out, a way to move on, to finally emerge from his cave, bury his parents and his girlfriend (and her boyfriend Harvey Dent) and become a fully-integrated man. The Dark Knight Rises is, at its heart, a dramatization of how a world-class control freak finds a way to let go.
But “to let go,” that’s not what he wants, that’s what he needs. What he wants is the opposite: to close the world off, to brood, to pout, essentially, to consider his losses and to hell with the world.
Meanwhile, out in the real world, far away from the cocoon of the Batcave, there is still real ugliness in the world. Idealistic cop Blake finds a drowned orphan in a storm drain and goes to investigate the boy’s death. An orphan himself, he goes to the orphanage and learns that, surprise, funding has been cut, sending older boys out into the streets to live as they can. The funding, as it happens, is from Wayne Enterprises, as we begin to see how Bruce’s billionaire decisions (“I will save the world”) affect millions of everyday people. Even if Bruce had not lost all his money in his save-the-world project, the fact remains that the world, our world, is still in the thrall of the moods of the super-rich. The wealthy man has an urge, and that urge generates a huge shift in capital, creating jobs for some and throwing others out of work. Or, to put it another way, Bruce sneezes and all of Gotham catches a cold. As Kurt Vonnegut put it once, “The economy is nothing more or less than whatever the world’s wealthy people, sane or insane, drunk or sober, decide they want to do that day.” In this case, Bruce has defunded the orphanage, forcing this orphan out into the world, where he has drowned in a storm drain. Investigation leads Blake to learn that the drowned orphan had “found work” down in the sewers, and that the other boys at the orphanage, boys young enough to have missed out on the Joker’s rampage, long for the days when the Dark Knight will return. The boy Blake questions wouldn’t think much of Bruce Wayne, but Batman is something else — which was, of course, the whole point of Batman, that he is not Bruce Wayne, that he is not even a man, more of an ideal. Bruce Wayne is failing all over the place, but Batman could never let you down (especially if he never shows up).
That night, Selina Kyle delivers Bruce’s fingerprints to Stryver, a creepy dude who works for Daggett (although we don’t know that yet). Stryver (a crook, named Stryver!), having received the prints, decides to kill Selina, but she’s brought an ace in the hole, Congressman, the congressman from the party two nights ago. She turns the tables on Stryver and we see that she is an inversion of Batman — a woman instead of a man, a thief instead of a crime-fighter, but highly trained in hand-to-hand combat, fast on her feet, skillful at manipulation and wise in the ways of the cowardly and superstitious. Not only can she shoot her way out of a tight spot, she knows how to turn on the waterworks to divert suspicion.
Selina gets away scot-free, but Stryver disappears into the sewers. Gordon gives chase and is taken to Bane, who has set up a huge construction site below the city. No criminal can escape into a city’s sewers without invoking Jean Valjean, but comparison to Les Miserables is intentional — Victor Hugo’s tale of class warfare and haunted men resonates throughout the Nolan trilogy, and no doubt Bane sees himself as not a psychopath but a revolutionary, a man delivering the bill to Gotham’s wealthy.
Bane takes from Gordon his speech regarding Harvey Dent, Gordon escapes deeper into the sewers (pulling a Jean Valjean on Jean Valjean) and Bane kills two more henchmen to demonstrate his mania for obedience. Odd that a revolutionary would also be an autocrat, but that’s the way of the world — the capitalist may kill you inadvertently, but the fanatic will kill you intentionally, and feel good about it.
With Jim Gordon hospitalized, John Blake emerges as a significant secondary protagonist in The Dark Knight Rises a kind of “young Gordon.” What does Blake want? Blake wants Bruce Wayne to stop sitting around feeling sorry for himself and become Batman again.
Now then. Some have expressed discomfort with the idea that John Blake, Rookie Cop, knows that Bruce Wayne is Batman while neither Jim Gordon nor any other citizen of Gotham City has apparently even given the matter a moment’s thought. This, for me, goes hand in hand with other narrative contrivances that occasionally poke through the cloth of Nolan’s Batman trilogy. The presentation and production design of these movies is so grounded, so realistic, it’s easy to forget Batman’s pulp roots, nay his operatic roots, and moments like “Blake knows Bruce Wayne is Batman,” in my experience, are endemic to the genre. I’ll say it again, the moment you decide to make a movie about a man who dresses up like a bat to fight crime, you enter the realm of the fantastic. The reader may remember my analysis of Batman and Robin, where I discovered that the psychedelic outrages of that screenplay all stem from the choice of making the flamboyantly fantastical character Mr. Freeze the chief antagonist of the piece — once that decision was made, everything else had to be made that much more crazy to fit that character. A similar thing happens here: as much as director Nolan wants to ground his Batman movies, the fact remains that they are about a man who dresses up as a bat to fight crime. Thousands of creative and narrative choices flow from that single plot point. Since that single plot point is flat-out absurd, it greatly affects everything that flows from it. In this case, wait, why hasn’t anyone, anywhere, even tried to figure out who Batman is? If a movie tried to address that question in any realistic way we’d be here all day, and the narrative would quickly spiral out of control as the thousands of questions raised by a man dressing up as a bat to fight crime would echo down and down and down until the very thing we get out of a Batman story — that is, the metaphor — would be lost. That’s why narratives like The Dark Knight Rises needs occasional contrivances like “Rookie Cop Figures Out Bruce Wayne is Batman” (or “SEC Approves Trades Made By Terrorists at Stock Exchange”). Anyone whose disbelief crashes down at this juncture would fall down dead if the same everyday logic was pressed onto any other aspect of the narrative.
So yes, John Blake comes to Wayne Manor, for he has figured out that Bruce Wayne is Batman, and he confronts him about that. Blake is in some ways the anti-Bruce — also an orphan, but with none of the ameliorating comforts of, for instance, billions of dollars. Blake’s parents, unlike Bruce’s, were not killed as a direct result of Gotham City’s lawlessness, but he has suffered the same feelings of injustice and rage, and experienced the same inability to move past his childhood trauma. His monologue to Bruce grounds the narrative, again, in the vocabulary of realistic drama by equating the mask Bruce wears as Batman with the mask Blake wears as a well-adjusted grownup. A billionare, he notes, doesn’t have to dress up like a bat to garner legends to himself — the money alone takes care of that (as we’ve seen earlier in the party sequence, with everyone buzzing about “what’s really going on with Bruce”). It also serves as a reminder, as hinted at above, that the smallest decisions of the wealthy have massive impact on the poor. Finally, it reminds us that the central message of Nolan’s Batman movies is that Batman isn’t a man, he’s a symbol, a symbol of darkness against the darkness, that Bruce Wayne, in the end, isn’t Batman, Batman is an idea that asks each of us to use our anger at injustice to force positive societal change.
(Batman’s mask is, of course, the primary psychological metaphor of the character concept — at least nowadays. And it’s often been said that Batman is the real guy and Bruce Wayne is the mask, but did Bob Kane think of it that way when he created the character in 1939 or is that something that has been slowly layered on over the decades? In any case, in the movies, Bruce-as-mask dates back to Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman and has remained central to the concept ever since.)
Narratively, Blake’s visit to Bruce propels Act I into Act II. Bruce’s goal in Act I is “to hide,” but Selina tickles his interest and now Blake has rekindled it. A minute-long conference with Alfred confirms that Bane and his mercenaries are working for yet-another-anti-Bruce John Daggett (a businessman with money but no morals) and launches Bruce into Dark Knight mode — to the extent that he can. If Bruce’s Act I want is “to hide,” his Act II want is “to emerge.”
Bruce goes to the doctor, who tells him his health is shot, then puts on the worst-ever Temp Batman outfit to go visit Gordon, who, like Blake, presses upon Bruce the need for the Batman to return (or rise, if you must) against the “evil” that Bane is preparing to foist upon the city.
Step two in Bruce’s comeback campaign is to attend a charity ball, intent on tracking down his mother’s pearls (which Selina is wearing). But before he can get to Selina he runs into Miranda Tate (“Miranda” — after the most well-known accused-rights act?) and reveals a shocking anti-charity opinion. Charity, he says, exists to help the charitable feel better about themselves, to raise their profile among the wealthy, not to help the needy. Bruce, of course, is a prominent philanthropist (until recenty anyway), but his stance nevertheless points to his notions of societal change, which he makes with his fists and with total physical commitment. Miranda drops a line about “our clean-energy project,” for expository purposes, but she also becomes the third person to provoke Bruce to action. She accuses him of apathy and immaturity in the face of failure, talking about this mysterious plot-point “save the world” project but also underlining, of course, his commitment to society as Batman. One of the questions Rises asks is “When has Bruce given enough?” but another is “What is enough?” What do we owe to society, and what does society owe to the individual?
Selina, an anti-Miranda (and also another anti-Bruce) dances with Bruce, literally and wit-wise, and takes the opportunity to justify herself to him. Miranda is a philanthropist and Selina is a thief, but they’re both interested in the transference of wealth to effect societal change. (Bruce is also interested in the transfer of wealth to effect societal change, but in his case the wealth is mostly transferred to whoever manufactures the cool gadgets Lucius Fox designs to help him beat up criminals.) Selina’s beef is that (shades of Fantine!) one can never be free of one’s past, and in her case that means stealing (and working with dangerous people) in order to escape her chosen-by-society identity. Like Blake mentions earlier, identity is always a mask, Bruce and Selina just make that mask literal. Bruce wants to escape not just his Batman identity but also his Bruce identity, Blake wants to escape his angry-orphan identity, Selina wants to escape her bad-girl identity, Bane — like the Joker — has managed to escape his literal identity, much in the same way the Ra’s Al-Ghul of Begins escaped his identity through transference into legend, bringing us back to Bruce and his decision to turn himself into a symbol. Selina also seems to have a beef against the wealthy of Gotham City, as she hisses threats into Bruce’s ear about an incoming class war, then kisses him and, while he’s thinking about that, steals his car keys. Batman uses his fists to effect change, but Selina uses what comes naturally to her — her wiles.
The next step on Bruce Wayne’s road to recovery is stopping in to see Lucius Fox, the inventor to whom Bruce entrusted the running of his company back in Begins. Lucius finally brings Bruce’s monetary woes into focus — he spent his entire research-and-development budget on this mysterious “save-the-world” project, then cancelled it, leaving Wayne Enterprises ripe for takeover by industrial predator Daggett. (If Harvey Dent was Daytime Batman, John Daggett is Overground Bane, taking over Bruce’s legitimate business while Bane prepares to go after his darker identity.) Note that the screenplay still doesn’t tell us what the project is, exactly. Because what the project is is the maguffin of the piece, and if we know what it is too soon, it tips the narrative’s hand in undesired ways. Suffice to say that the comely Miranda Tate was instrumental in developing said project, and that Lucius strongly supports Bruce settling down with her. And, when Lucius is played by no less a personage than Morgan Freeman, the viewer takes it on faith that if Lucius wants you to settle down with a particular woman, you should probably do that.
And, even though Bruce insists that Batman is retired, Lucius lures him into his personal Batcave to show off his new gadgets. It seems odd to force a scene of gadget-display onto a superhero who doesn’t have a stated mission, but it’s all part of the seduction: Selina draws out Bruce’s interest as a criminal, Miranda draws it out as a force of change, Alfred draws it out as a trusted friend, Gordon draws it out as wounded ally, Blake draws it out as a secret admirer, now Lucius draws it out with the promise of toys. But the scene also performs a narrative service — the location, which was always just “somewhere in the basement” before, in Rises becomes a linch-pin of the plot. If we don’t feature it now, by the time it becomes important it will seem like its inclusion comes out of the blue.
(The toy on dispay is The Bat, a helicopter-type thingy, and mention is made of the autopilot program. This is all exposition, but it’s couched in thematic terms: Lucius has consolidated all of Wayne Enterprises weaponry under one roof, or in one cave, in order to keep it from falling into the wrong hands. This will prove to be foreshadowing.)
Bruce puts on a knee brace that allows him to kick holes in brick walls and, for the second time, listens to Alfred deliver some information on Bane. Bane, we learn, was born in a prison (shades of Dickens) and rose from a pit (shades of Revelations) and was a protege of Ra’s Al Ghul (shades of Bruce) but was excommunicated from the League of Shadows because he was too extreme. Almost everything Alfred says here turns out to be disastrously wrong. Dramatically, what’s happening in the scene is that, as Bruce is listening, we see that the collective coaxing of everyone Bruce knows has lured him into Bat-mode again, even as he protests every step of the way that he’s not, he’s really not. It’s also worth noting that Alfred, here in his role as teacher-helpmate-father-figure, has no analogue in the rest of Bruce’s world. That is, none of the costumed freaks Bruce deals with have their Alfreds, and most all the other characters are versions or reflections of Bruce himself. Alfred stands alone in the Batman universe, I think, to show that Bruce’s advantage over his enemies is that he’s willing to take advice from an older, subservient man — it’s impossible to imagine, say, the Joker pausing to consider the counsel of his oldest, most trusted henchman. Alfred, in that way, is Bruce’s superpower.
What does Alfred want? Great question. In Begins, Alfred dreaded Bruce becoming Batman, but in Knight he chastised Bruce for wanting to give up. Now, in Rises, the moment Bruce steps to don the cowl again, Alfred begs him to reconsider. Bruce, he argues, can be his own Daytime Batman, affecting change legitimately, he can’t risk going up against a madman like Bane mano-a-mano. His worry, it seems, is less that Bruce might die, but that he’s moved from “recluse” to “martyr.” The servant who was begging Bruce to get back into the world is now worried that he’s going about it the wrong way, for the wrong reasons.
One bright day, Bane and his minions take over the Gotham City Stock Exchange. Let’s break this down.
Bane has men already inside the stock exchange, in the roles of proles: a janitor, a delivery man, a shoeshine boy. The brokers at the exchange are portrayed as slick, soulless haircuts. Both parties are predators, but the brokers are the privileged aristocrats while Bane and his men are the peasants storming the Bastille. Both groups, Bane takes care to emphasize, are there to engage in the transferrence of wealth, legal or otherwise, and the screenplay strongly suggests that the stock market is merely a legal version of what Bane seeks to do, but in the opposite direction. That is, the brokers want to steal from the poor to give to the rich, and Bane wants to, well, not “give to the poor” exactly, but certainly take from the rich. In this case, Bruce Wayne. His goal is to bankrupt Bruce in as total a way as possible. His means are violent and brutal (he comes into the stock exchange firing randomly at whoever crosses his path) but his end is abstract — wealth in the present day isn’t bags of gold or even paper notes, it’s just wisps of data traveling through cyberspace. Maybe that’s why Bane seems a little itchy during the sequence, he’s a monster born in prison and risen from the pit, it seems unbecoming that he must make do with fiddling with ones and zeroes.
The transfer of wealth, even digital wealth, takes some time, so the police surround the building. Weak-link Foley is now in charge, since Gordon is in the hospital, and he plays the role of the dunderhead by-the-book law enforcement guy whose training plays into the hands of the criminals (the sequence is like a miniature Die Hard). Once the transfer has started, Bane and company “go mobile,” taking advantage of satellite technology to continue the robbery while making their getaway on motorcycle.
Batman then shows up on the Bat-pod. He’s got some kind of EMP-gun (we’ve seen him use a version of it on the paparazzi earlier) that allows him to zap streetlights and motorcycle engines. Batman’s entrance into the situation changes the stakes for Foley, who now become focused on “taking down the Batman” instead of catching the guys who, you know, just murdered a bunch of people at the stock exchange. His reasoning being that Batman killed Harvey Dent. Foley, of course, is utterly alone in his Bat-mania — no one else on the police force seems the least bit concerned about catching Batman, and most of them are utterly thrilled that he’s appeared again. It would seem that the rank-and-file of Gotham City cops never bought Jim Gordon’s lie. (Gordon himself watches Batman’s return from his hospital bed and is happy to see that his pleas have not fallen on deaf ears.)
Meanwhile, in another part of the woods, Selina breaks into John Daggett’s safe (while Daggett watches the cop chase on TV) and seems charmed and intrigued that Batman has reappeared. There is almost a hint that Selina has a romantic interest in Batman, as though she already knows he’s really Bruce. Her eyes are full, but Daggett’s safe is empty. Selina’s there to get her “clean slate,” some kind of computer program that will erase her past. (Daggett had promised it to her in exchange for Bruce’s prints.) That’s two concurrent attempted erasures — Bane erasing Bruce’s wealth and Selina attempting to erase her past, while Bruce simultaneously brings back his past by becoming Batman again. The clean slate, it turns out, is not in the safe because there is no such thing. Daggett not only is employing Bane to bankrupt Bruce, he welshes on agreements with thieves. Cornered by Daggett’s thugs (who are also Bane’s thugs, or vice versa?) Selina gets saved by Batman, who’s having a really busy first day back on the job — he just got cornered by the police and escaped by Bat, to dash over to Daggett’s place (because he knows the stock transfer must have been engineered by him?). Batman and Selina (who is Catwoman at this point, if not named thus) team up to beat up the team of thugs, in a kind of dance number that shows their compatibility in combat. Cornered again and with Bane back from the heist, Batman and Catwoman escape by Bat, now together.
Batman lets Catwoman go, even though she’s — gasp — a criminal. He knows that she stole his car earlier, but she is currently the enemy of his enemy. Moreover, he sees that she is an anti-Batman — just as smart, just as wily, just as skilled, but on the other side of the law (and the gender line). He comes back to the Batcave by Bat (I guess he left his Batpod back downtown when he was cornered by the police?) and quickly puts together a rough sketch of the heist. He hands off some detective work to Alfred, who puts his foot down — he won’t carry water for Batman any more, he’s adamant that Bruce would serve the city better as the billionaire businessman he is. Alfred has been caregiver and mentor to Bruce (both mother and father, in a way) and now he plays the only card a surrogate parent has left — “stop this behavior or I won’t love you any more.” He twists the knife by telling Bruce that Rachel, on the last day of her life, dumped Bruce in favor of Harvey Dent, traded Batman for Daytime Batman, turned her back on the dark and obsessive in favor of a man who could work within the system, traded the legend for the practical solution. Bruce, Alfred sees, must move on, move out of his cave, to save his life, not his figurative life but his actual life. Bruce, too invested in his identity (there’s a reason it’s called an alter ego), cannot move on — how do you move on from who you are? It clings to you too tightly, it’s in every fiber of your being.
Lucius Fox comes to Bruce’s now-Alfredless house to deliver the bad news: Bane’s hit on the stock exchange, where he used Bruce’s Selina-stolen thumbprint to approve some very bad stock buys, has left Bruce broke. (Comics readers know that Bane, historically, “broke” Batman physically — his punishment for Bruce Wayne is more fitting. You break Batman physically, you break a billionaire financially.) (Note that “billionaire playboy” is no longer Bruce’s job description, but rather “billionaire recluse.”) Broke Bruce means that John Daggett can now take over Wayne Enterprises, which means that he has control over the “save the world” project, unless Bruce can put seeming good-guy Miranda Tate in charge of the company.
So Bruce shows Miranda the “save the world” project, which is some stripe of fusion reactor, which, at 62 minutes into the narrative, becomes the maguffin. Bruce mothballed the reactor because Dr. Pavel, who we saw get kidnapped by Bane back at the top of the movie, knows how to turn a fusion reactor into a nuclear bomb. I’ve said before that all superhero stories are power fantasies, but Rises doubles the action in a way not even other Batman stories do, by underlining how Bruce Wayne, all by himself, is an incredible force for change. Just like Alfred argues, Bruce doesn’t need Batman to exert incredible control over Gotham City. He can give the city limitless green energy (shades of Tony Stark) or he can hide his toys in a cave (as he does with both his reactor and his Batsuit). (It’s probably too much to say that the maguffin, as well as the protagonist, is a reactor.) The fact that the maguffin can both hugely benefit a city or utterly destroy it underlines its relationship not just to the Bruce/Bane dyad, but to the dual nature of Bruce himself, and all he represents: the super-wealthy can apply their power any way they want to. A billionaire can cure malaria like Bill Gates, create a media empire like Ted Turner, make himself a public laughingstock like Donald Trump, or start a war for profit like William Randolph Hearst. That is the essence of power. Bruce, in Act I of Rises, withheld his power and has shrunk dramatically because of it. His inaction gave John Daggett the opportunity to act (and Daggett is nothing if not an opportunist), showing that even when a billionaire does nothing it still exerts tremendous power in a society.
Bruce abdicates his position at Wayne Enterprises and comes downstairs to find his car being towed. It’s hard to believe that Bruce Wayne wouldn’t be able to buy a car with cash, and it’s even harder to believe that the car company would get their repo men out so quickly, and it’s harder still to believe that Bruce Wayne doesn’t even have a savings account separate from his business accounts, but again, these are the narrative choices that come with having a man dress up like a bat: in order to show an exertion of power on the cinematic level of a punch to the face or a motorcycle chase through the streets of the city, a movie has to play fast and loose with logic. We need to feel the immediacy of Bruce’s peril, that the loss of his money has as much oomph as, say, being drugged, set on fire and thrown out the window by the Scarecrow in Begins. (The reason those moments ring false to us is that everyone knows that people as wealthy as Bruce Wayne never really need to suffer the embarrassments of poverty, they will always have a cushion to their fall, no matter how steep.)
Daggett is livid now, and goes home to yell at Bane about how his plan to take over Wayne Enterprises has failed. He has forgotten, for the moment, that Bane is a gigantic monster with a hideous mask on his face, and Bane quickly reminds him, snapping his neck like the proverbial twig. The real problem, of course, is not Bane’s appearance but his belief system: Daggett is a businessman, but Bane is a true believer. The businessman will lie, cheat, steal and kill for profit, but the true believer will sacrifice everything for a goal. Oddly enough, the Daggett/Bane dichotomy has a component in real life: many people forget that, in addition to being a cave-dwelling terrorist, Osama bin Laden was also a billionaire, from a family of billionaires, doing battle in the mideast against other billionaires (in the Arab world) and the billionaire-from-a-billionaire-family leader of another country (that would be George W. Bush). The War Against Terror was, in many ways, a private argument between billionaires who had all done business with one another in the past. The problem of Bush being exactly the problem of Daggett: Bush was a businessman, willing to lie, cheat, steal and kill for profit, but bin Laden didn’t care about money, which is what always gives the true believer the edge in battle.
Across town, Bruce gets a ride home from John Blake. That is, Bruce, the loner with the one-man privately-owned Batmobile, now gets a ride from future-Robin in his publicly-owned Robinmobile. Bruce lets Blake into his world a tiny bit, explaining the concept of Batman and the importance of being alone when acting that role (with the butler, the inventor, several people in the district-attorney’s office, the billions of dollars and the tacit support of the entire GCPD). He stops off to see Selina and offers (on behalf of Batman — whether or not Selina has guessed Bruce’s identity at this point depends on how stupid you think she is) her the “clean slate” program she was seeking from Daggett, in exchange for Selina leading Batman to Bane.
Blake, Daytime Robin, goes to see Gordon in the hospital. Gordon is being visited by the idiot Foley, who, whatever he’s doing these days, is not police work. Blake has both found Daggett’s body and the bundles of construction permits Daggett had filed with the city for work in the sewers, tying Daggett to Bane. (The sewers tie Bane to Jean Valjean, but also to the Penguin of Batman Returns, who used his position in Gotham’s underground to collect Gotham’s secrets. Both the Penguin and Bane want to pull Gotham down to their level.) Blake and Gordon understand the importance of a masked man engaging in theatrical crimes, while Foley, ever unprepared for doing Gordon’s job (he’s an anti-Gordon, which makes him also an anti-Alfred) wants whatever is the worst decision imaginable at any given moment. Butting the Daggett/Bane scene against the Gordon/Foley/Blake scene underscores the strengths of all three dominant characters: Daggett huffs and puffs at Bane, who blithely snaps his neck, while Foley huffs and puffs at Blake, while he and Gordon understand in a glance that power does not, in and of itself, make one powerful.
In Act I of The Dark Knight Rises, Bruce’s goal is “to hide.” In Act II it became “to emerge.” Act III his goal seems to be “to lose.” The act of emerging, even though that emergence was in defense of his beloved Gotham (he didn’t know Bane was robbing him personally at the stock exchange) has left him bereft. Alfred, his father-figure, is gone, and even the rain can’t keep from pouring down upon him as he pauses to take stock (sorry) of his losses. At this low point (not to be confused with the low point, which is still to come) here comes Miranda Tate, to whom Bruce has given Wayne Enterprises (“I’ll take care of your parents’ legacy,” mwah ha ha), to pull Bruce together.
Miranda here is promoted to Second Rachel, who lost her life because of Bruce’s decision to become Batman. Rachel, who was a version of Daytime Batman to begin with, is now flipped to be Bruce’s savior. That is, Rachel corresponds to Batman as a crime-fighter, Miranda corresponds to Bruce as a financial savior. (Don’t forget, the first time Bruce met Miranda was at a charity event, and here she is again, bailing out the broken billionaire. That is the narrative function of the charity ball, to help frame Miranda as someone who naturally helps, a true believer to balance Bane’s true believer.)
Bruce, in his moment of great weakness (although worse is to come) falls into Miranda’s embrace and accepts her as Second Rachel. (Bruce’s desire to re-kindle his relationship with Rachel, repeating the past through Miranda, ties him to Jay Gatsby, speaking of wealthy men who are not as they seem.) His delusion is so great that his detective skills utterly fail him — in a world where every business dealing has its dark agenda, Bruce believes Miranda Tate must be exactly as she appears to be. (We will come to see that Miranda, far from being Second Rachel, is really Second Daggett — or worse.) Tellingly, when Bruce goes in for the kiss, the lights go out. Bruce doesn’t say “The lights went out” or “The electricity’s gone” but “The power’s been shut off.” As Bob Dylan said, “When you think that you’ve lost everything, you find out you can always lose a little more.”
Having consummated his relationship with good-Samaritan Miranda, Bruce becomes Batman again to venture to the other side of the tracks to meet anti-Miranda (and anti-Bruce) Selina. Miranda has helped Bruce out of a jam, now Bruce, in his alter ego, helps Selina — or at least offers to. (He says he has her “clean slate,” but he’s kept it to himself to keep it out of “the wrong hands.” Batman, it’s been demonstrated, is, when pushed to the limits of his concept, a zero-tolerance fascist, and his relationship to Bruce Wayne makes that tendency doubly troubling. Bruce Wayne has kept limitless clean energy to himself to keep it from falling into the wrong hands, and the underlying assumption (which connects the “clean slate” to “Hockey Pads” in The Dark Knight) is that “the rich know better.” No stumbling around for society under aristocratic rule, the society will do what the wealthy instruct them to do, or, as Charles Foster Kane put it, “People will think what I tell them to.”
Bruce accepting Miranda’s help and then extending help to Selina both prove to be disastrous. Selina, who doesn’t believe in the “clean slate” any longer (Fantine!), takes Batman straight to Bane, who is prepared to fight. Bane is a true believer, but Selina is a pragmatist, something relatively rare in the Batman universe. A pragmatist, of course, is someone who doesn’t have the luxury of convictions, which is why Bruce and Bane are both more formidable — Bane has his rage, which gives him the strength to carry out an apocalypse, and Bruce has his wealth, which gives him the spare time to follow his dream of beating up crime. (That’s why there are so few working-class superheroes: who has time?)
Bane broke Bruce financially, and now he breaks Batman physically. Batman labels Bane terrorist who “is so crazy other terrorists won’t work with him,” which is, incidentally, the kind of character spy thrillers used to use to avoid angering real terrorists. Bane counters by labeling himself not the lunatic fringe of a movement but its central pillar, whether he is truly the return of the League of Shadows or merely a madman who has chosen to fly under the League’s colors.
Having broken Bruce financially and physically, Bane then hits him where it really hurts: he steals his toys. ”Your precious armory,” he gloats, as he blows open the ceiling to reveal Wayne Enterprises’ R&D warehouse above them. Bane’s rage has given him a clarity of vision: to seize power, you have to have access to the tools of those who actually have it. In Bruce’s case, that means money and superior technology, both of which he’s been hoarding for years, to “keep it out of the wrong hands.”
Meanwhile, Blake goes over to Wayne Manor (amazing how they got the just-rebuilt mansion to look so old so fast), presumably looking for Bruce. Not finding him, he takes his place for a moment, turns into Daytime Batman and tracks down Selina (through the time-honored detective method of “seeing her on the street”) as she attempts to flee the country. Batman needs a suit, armor, gadgets and a flying machine to snag Selina, but all Blake needs is a detective badge. Daytime Batman and anti-Batman, although at odds, unite with the knowledge that Batman is Bruce.
On the other side of the world, meanwhile, Bruce finds that he has fallen into yet another hole in the ground, completing his Act III goal, which, now that I think about it, is not “to lose,” but “to fall.” Batman Begins was all about falling and getting up again, and Bane’s pit is his personal version of the cave that Bruce fell into when he was a child. Bruce dealt with his fear of the cave by adopting its darkness and marrying it to his power, while Bane never knew anything else, but both men chose to define themselves by that cave, that darkness. The only differences is their stations in life: Bruce had all the daylight in the world available to him but chose to stay in his cave, while Bane had no choice. That is the crucial, cruel awakening for Bruce in Rises, that he (as Alfred explains to him) could have left the cave behind at any time and still affected all the change in the world as Bruce Wayne, whereas most of the world (I almost said 99%) doesn’t have that choice.
Bane lets Bruce in on his master plan (at least he made sure to cripple the superhero before he started monologuing): he will give the people of Gotham hope before he destroys the city. The use of the word “hope,” plus the “coming storm” rhetoric, has led some to believe that Rises is some sort of Republican manifesto, that Bane is the true spirit of Obama, a madman using “hope” as an illusion while he destroys the country, and that the Occupy movement is merely a soft version of the League of Shadows. These are the same people who tied themselves into knots worrying thatThe Dark Knight advocated torture and were worried it would make everyone vote for McCain. (Or hoped for it, as the case may be.) But Rises has no cogent political thrust, it merely uses the vocabulary of recent political discourse to its own purposes, as buzzwords perhaps, to get the audience thinking.
Act IV of The Dark Knight Rises begins by checking in with Selina, who is being held at Blackgate Prison for kidnapping the congressman back in Act I. The screenplay takes care to note that Selina, despite her seeming vulnerability amidst a population of convicted criminals, can take care of herself in the worst of circumstances. The script presents this as a physical gag, but it’s important to keep in mind that Selina, as an anti-Batman (and anti-Bruce) (they’re both in prisons at this point), is still at her physical peak compared to Bruce. Bruce is in prison at Bane’s hand, but Selina is in hers by her own hand. One could ask if either character “deserves” his or her imprisonment, and do well to do so, it’s kind of the question of the moment as the narrative moves forward. ”Deserves” is that most moveable of moral ends, especially in regards to crime and punishment, and it exists always in relation to its society. Does Bruce “deserve” to lie, broken, in a foreign prison while Bane plots to destroy his own city with the fruits of his own wealth? How many men lie in Blackgate on this day as a result of Bruce’s actions, and how many of them consider themselves innocent or misunderstood? Does Selina “deserve” to be in prison, when she has hurt no one who couldn’t afford it, and only wants to get by in a society that won’t let her forget her past? (Fantine! Although Selina has it much better than Fantine, she doesn’t have to cut her hair, pull her teeth or die of tuberculosis, and she’s developed keen fighting skills to deal with the men who might brutalize her.) ”The Dent Act” is mentioned as covering a woman placed in Blackgate (why Selina is in a prison instead of a jail, when she has been convicted of nothing, is another question), and we are meant to understand that the Dent Act has been perhaps overreaching in its efforts to clean up Gotham, which raises all kinds of uncomfortable questions of the authority we grant to the police (and the army) to deal with the people we don’t want to deal with. The Thin Blue Line, we remember, exists primarily to keep property in the hands that have it. Possession is nine-tenths of the law, the police are attack dogs of the possessors. (Funny how the wealthiest wish to avoid paying taxes to the government that keeps their wealth safe and growing.)
Over at Wayne Enterprises, Miranda shows up for her first day at work to find that Bane has taken over the boardroom. The first step to his revolution, he knows, is not to storm the Bastille (that comes later) but to storm the boardroom. And yes, the screenplay works the drama of this situation — who has not wanted to storm a corporate boardroom to hold the fatcats accountable for their sins? The screenplay suggests, again, for the purposes of drama, that the viewer hasbeen rooting for the wrong people all along. And we remember Lucius gloating over his latest top-secret weapons project, secure that his boss, Bruce, will keep all his toys to himself, for the sake of the public good. Bane takes Miranda, Lucius and another board member (who might as well be wearing a red shirt) down to the sewers.
Over at the hospital, Foley reports to Gordon (and Blake, who seems to outrank Foley at this point — Foley can barely look him in the eye) about the Wayne Enterprises situation (talk about a hostile takeover!) and Gordon gives him marching orders to mobilize the entire police force – the entire police force – to protect the interests of Wayne Enterprises (and, parenthetically, to catch Bane). (Foley is played by Matthew Modine, who, the viewer will recall, played Pvt Joker in Full Metal Jacket. Pvt Joker (Joker!) tracked a tricky moral course through that morally ambiguous movie and emerged hardened but no wiser. Foley, on the other hand, seems to never have been hardened, morally or otherwise. He’s a pure example of a governmetal bureaucrat, a man born to take orders and cover his ass.) (Surely he is unrelated to Axel Foley of Beverly Hills Cop, a rulebreaker if there ever was one. He’s more probably related to Mark Foley, the congressman who got ousted for flirting with under-age pages.)
Meanwhile, Bruce lies in agony in the pit and we meet two new characters, “Prisoner” and “Blind Prisoner,” a Beckettian pseudocouple for this Beckettian set, who will act as a kind of two-man Yoda team to coach Bruce back to the surface. They tell Bruce that there is one who long ago escaped the pit (Bruce assumes they mean Bane) but that the escapee is merely a legend. There’s that word again — Bruce wished to trascend mortality by becoming a legend as Batman, Bane also has put on a mask to that end. Ra’s Al Ghul did more than put on a mask, he subsumed his entire identity to his League of Shadows, letting another man carry his name while he presented himself as just another cog in the machine.
The entire Gotham police force, headed by Foley but ordered by Gordon, head into the sewers to look for Bane. (Javert went alone, but then Javert was only after a broken old man.) Bane, meanwhile, takes his prisoners to Bruce’s fusion reactor (he’s also got Dr. Pavel along) in order to turn Bruce’s power source (source of power?) into a weapon. He needs a Wayne Enterprises board-member’s handprint to start the machine. The red-shirt board member, whose name we never learn, is there not to lend his handprint to the proceedings but to be a hostage, he is there for Bane to point a gun at so that Miranda can step up and turn on the machine in order to save the poor anonymous board member his life (and thus deflect suspicion from herself). Dr. Pavel takes no time at all to turn the reactor into a bomb, and Bane takes out the core, which sets into being a ticking clock — the bomb (for reasons I’m sure are absolutely solid scientifically) will blow up in x amount of time — five months, something of an anomaly in ticking-clock standards. Generally speaking, narratives, especially action narratives, speed up as they reach their conclusion, but The Dark Knight Rises suddenly slows down with over an hour left to go in its runtime. It’s got a lot on its mind, an entire city to lay waste before it’s done.
John Blake, new detective, Daytime Batman, is trying to solve the murder of John Daggett. To solve the murder of John Daggett, he’s chasing down leads in construction jobs because of a number of odd construction permits Daggett applied for before his death. If I’m not mistaken, this is not only the most mundane piece of detective work done in The Dark Knight Rises, it is the only detective work done. All of Batman’s detective work in the narrative consists of “getting told things by people.” The Dark Knight had him create his own high-tech ballistic range in his basement so that could find a fingerprint on a shattered bullet, but Rises has him not even bothering to check the background of Miranda Tate before handing over control of his company to her.
Blake asks a couple of construction workers about their work with Daggett, and recognizes one from the stock-exchange heist. A scuffle ensues, leading to Blake accidentally shooting his suspect to death. Blake is greatly upset by this shooting death, but it doesn’t prevent him from first interrogating his suspect in prime Batman style, grabbing the man by the lapels and screaming in his face. So already Blake has taken a step towards Batman-hood, he’s traumatized by a shooting death (except this time he’s the shooter, and not a mugger but a detective) and he’s a brutal interrogator. He also learns that a huge bomb has been constructed, too late to stop the entire police force from stepping into a trap.
Which raises the question: does Bane intend to trap the entire police force, or is that an unexpected surprise to him? I can’t see how he could have planned it, Gordon himself is the one who ordered the mass investigation. If Bane had planned to trap the entire police force, wouldn’t he have invited them in craftily instead of blocking their attempts to find him? He’s been up to no good, it’s true, which suggests that some police would be looking for him, but with Foley in charge and Gordon hospitalized, how could he be sure the police, the entire police force, would be in the sewers, trapped like a multi-headed Javert whilst their Valjean emerges from a tunnel under the football stadium to address the masses?
(Side note: Gotham City, emphatically presented as an island in the movie, and portrayed in long shots by Manhattan, has both a football stadium and a prison — a prison, not a jail — within its city limits. That’s some piece of zoning — if you’ve ever lived in Manhattan, you know that real estate is far too valuable to augur for either of those institutions. Not to mention the parking nightmares, the UN is bad enough.)
But emerge Bane does, waiting for the National Anthem to finish before he brings down holy hell on Gotham. The emphasis on “The Star Spangled Banner” indicates that, yes, the narrative of Rises wishes to take some kind of measure of our national temperature. The people in the stadium are true Masses, dead-eyed, fleshy-faced yobs aching, screaming for the violent release of gladitorial combat. Rome goes unmentioned in Rises, but Bane’s choice of venues cannot be coincidence. He doesn’t mount the stage at an opera house or the local newscast, he goes to a football game, where the masses cry for red meat and the players line up for the national anthem exactly like the gladiators of old saluting the emperor before their deaths. Bane’s goal is eyeballs, but he chooses a venue where the eyeballs already look for conflict when he seals the city off from the world and buries its police force.
Blake, one of the few policemen still above ground, races to get Gordon out of the hospital (the same hospital the Joker blew up in The Dark Knight, according to the signage — they rebuilt that place faster than Wayne Manor, construction permits really are a snap in Gotham City) before Bane’s thugs can kill him. He’s too late — not too late to save Gordon, but too late to save the thugs sent to kill him; Gordon has already shot them dead. Gordon, it seems, doesn’t share Blake’s squeamishness about guns.
Bane addresses the masses, in the most confusing inspirational speech ever written. He says he’s come to free Gotham, after murdering untold hundreds with a series of citywide explosions and two football teams before the eyes of the spectators, not to mention the Mayor in his skybox, and adds that he’s got an un-defusable nuclear bomb. His big “sell” is that, with Gotham sealed off, the masses are free to pillage the fortresses of the rich. We can see by the looks on the crowd’s faces that this is not news they were prepared for when they came to the stadium. (For what it’s worth, Dr. Pavel’s last words are to mention that the bomb has a blast radius of six miles. Manhattan is 2.3 miles across and 13.4 miles long, for those keeping score.)
The President (played by William Devane, who, the older set will recall, played Kennedy in the made-for-TV Cuban Missile Crisis drama The Missiles of October) breaks the news on TV, allowing broken Bruce to feel his city’s pain, pain he has given so much to prevent but which he’s ended up contributing to. (Funny how TV and movie presidents are still always white.) Meanwhile, Bane busts open Blackgate Prison to free the men imprisoned under the Dent Act. Bane tells Gotham that the bill for the lie that has held the peace in Gotham has come due. This, too, remember, was Bruce’s doing — instead of simply telling Gotham the truth, he and Gordon conspired to make Batman the fall guy in Dent’s death, specifically to pass the Dent Act, which would enable Gordon to imprison criminals with greater fervor. Bane reads the speech that Gordon wrote but didn’t deliver at the beginning of the movie, and the crowd listening believes him. After all, this is a homicidal maniac in a mask — why would he lie?
Selina listens to Bane’s speech with trepidation, but Blake is outraged. Gordon, whinging, explains to Blake that the Dent lie was necessary to ensure order — a teeny bit of fascism, a teeny loss of rights, to ensure greater freedom. Freedom for who? If Bane has a cogent point within his bizarre, Mussolini-meets-Luchador public appearances, it is that the big lie in society is that the police are there to protect the people, when they are really there only to protect the interests of the wealthy.
It’s unclear to me whether or not the prisoners let out of Blackgate (“a thousand men,” says Bane) are the only masses who join Bane and loot the temples of the wealthy. One thousand men, assuming all of them are bloodthirsty maniacs looking for a masked freak to follow, don’t sound like enough people to get the job done. Manhattan has 1.6 million people on it, we can assume Gotham likewise, and it’s hard to believe that a sizable percentage of them would think “Well, I’ll throw in with the thousand-man army of criminals with the masked maniac who has the nuclear bomb.” Through all of this, Bane assures us, “This great city will endure.” And yes, I suppose it would, in the way that Rome has endured — there is, after all, still a place called Rome, but it would be barely recognizable to the Caesars — which I guess is also Bane’s point.
So Bane seems to be suggesting to Gotham that his devastating takeover of the city, and a new municipal policy of pillaging and rapine, all under the threat of a nuclear explosion, is merely a kind of high-minded social experiment. Who wouldn’t do his or her best to enjoy themselves under those perameters?
While Bane’s army pillages Gotham City, Broken Bruce Wayne, in the pit on the other side of the world, is given some rough-hewn physical therapy and told the legend of the child born in the pit. Actually he is told two stories, one about the mercenary who falls in love with the warlord’s daughter, and another about the child of that union, the warlord’s daughter’s child, which is the child born in the pit. We have been told earlier that Bane was born in the pit, and so we latch on to that factoid, because Bane is super-weird, with his accent and his mask and his rage, so we want to know who that guy is. The Dark Knight honored tradition by keeping the identity of the Joker a complete mystery, but Rises is happy to give us a background for its bad guy — even though, we will find out, not the bad guy we’re thinking about.
So Bane, the story will have us believe, is the product of the union of a mercenary and a princess — true love, no doubt, true love punished by a cruel father in a harsh, fairy-tale land with an open-pit prison. A mercenary, by definition, has no dog in a fight, owes no one allegience, but Bane has been perfectly clear about his allegience to Ra’s Al Ghul, a man he thinks of as his spiritual father.
In the depths of his agony, Bruce hallucinates a visit from Ra’s Al Ghul himself, who helpfully fills in the blanks regarding Bane for the world’s greatest detective — poorly. The Ra’s hallucination is deceptive, of course, because he is just a projection of Bruce’s, or, in another way of thinking about it, he’s Bruce’s conscience, he’s known all along that Gotham City is a plaything of the rich, a plaything of Bruce Wayne specifically, and that everything that has happened to it is Bruce’s fault, good and bad.
Winter falls on Gotham, and Selina, safely out of Blackgate, roams broken homes with her gal-pal. What Selina wants — to escape her identity — has not been granted with the advent of Bane’s revolt. She’s free, now, it’s true, but free to be a prisoner under a different system.
Blake, Daytime Batman, keeps in touch with the buried cops and watches after the orphans in the boys’ home. A true civil servant, Blake reminds us that a revolt like Bane’s always leads to civic collapse, because no one bothers to keep the lights on. When it’s every man for himself, there is no public good.
Bruce is no longer broken but he is still in the pit. ”Prisoner,” the only English-speaking guy in the place, warns him against escape, although everyone else in the pit seems really excited about it, they become a positive choir of helpful animals as he climbs the wall. (I still don’t know why he doesn’t pull the rope up after himself, tie a hook to it and use it as a grapple — where is Batman when you need him?) (However, major props to Bruce for taking a major fall with a rope tied around his waist after suffering a broken back.)
When pressed, Prisoner reveals an ooch more about the love-child of the mercenary and the warlord’s daughter — the child, he says, was “no ordinary child, a child born in Hell.” Bruce, he says, is not qualified to escape from the pit, he is a child of privilege, born in the light. Prisoner does not know, perhaps, that falling down a hole is old news to Bruce, although, to be fair, he was rescued from that original hole by his wealthy father. (I’m a little more concerned that Bane claims to have been “born in darkness,” since, as the reader must know by now, Bane is not the child of the pit. Was he, too, born in the pit?)
Back in Gotham, Gordon meets with a team of Special Forces guys and gives them an update on the situation on the ground (and under it). Three thousand police officers, Daytime Batmen all, are trapped in their own pit while fellow Daytime Batmen Blake and Gordon work to rescue them. (And anti-Daytime-Batman Foley stands around fretting.) The confab scene (and its accompanying montage) serves an expository purpose (to explain what’s going on regarding how the trapped police are still alive, how the bomb truck operates, where are the Wayne Enterprises executives living, etc), a textural purpose (to lend grit and immediacy to what is a largely fanciful conceit) and a philosophical one (to show how an evolved society works — civil servants, people dedicated to the public trust, work together to solve practical problems in practical ways). Bane wished to show how the GCPD is riddled with corruption, but the police here are showing the opposite — when the chips are down, they pull together, work well with other government organizations and pledge themselves to service.
Blake takes the Special Forces guys to see Lucius Fox and Miranda Tate, and they are immediately set upon by some of Bane’s army. (It’s great that Bane can get hardened criminals to all pull together into a tight, well-organized unit, a lot of warlords have trouble with that.) Blake gets Miranda and Lucius out of the way, but the Special Forces guys, and the rest of the Wayne board, are executed in public. Bruce, seeing his board members dangling from a bridge, tries again to escape the pit, and fails again. Blind Prisoner, acting as a kind of anti-Ra’s, counsels him on fear and the spirit, which, we might say, is Bruce’s thesis. Bruce says he’s not afraid of dying, per se, but afraid of dying in the pit “while my city burns with no one there to save it.” Noble, but again, he still sees Gotham as his own personal therapeutic test. His actions got Gotham into this mess, so it makes sense that he wants to undo it, but part of the theme of Rises is that Batman was never his job, that it was only hubris and self-regard that made him choose that path, which brought all the costumed freaks upon the city — Ra’s Al Ghul, the Scarecrow, the Joker, Two-Face and now Bane. In The Dark Knight, Alfred mentions that Bruce caused the Joker because he upset the status quo, which made the established mobsters make a deal with a man they didn’t fully understand, but that extends to the other villains as well — in order to “end crime” in Gotham, Bruce created a situation where super-crime could flourish.
Bruce tries a third time, this time without the rope to catch him if he falls. The crutch removed, he makes it to the crucial handhold. A swarm of celebratory bats swoops out of a hole at the last moment, giving Bruce the moral push he needs to escape the pit, as Act IV draws to a close.
As Act V begins, we find Dr. Crane, the Scarecrow, presiding over a kangaroo court, passing judgment on Daggett’s lapdog Stryver, the man who stood by while Bane murdered his boss. Crane sentences him to exile, which, in this case, means death, since exile involves walking across the ice that surrounds Gotham (a city taking its “frozen” status literally). Politically, the scene indicates that Bane’s rule has reached its “terror” phase, where, after all the aristocrats have been purged from the society, the mob turns on itself. ”I’m one of you!” splutters Stryver as he’s dragged in. What he means is “I betrayed my master just like you!” but Crane, deep in his insanity, sees Stryver as a leech (the opposite, in fact, of a “striver”). Stryver, and others exiles, teeter out onto the ice, fall through, and drown, again, a literal reminder of the “thin ice” all the moneyed of society walk on.
“The bomb goes off tomorrow,” says Gordon, setting the alarm on the ticking clock that will power the final act. He meets with a handful of not-buried cops, except Foley isn’t among them. Foley, instead, is hiding out in his home, “keeping his head down,” the anti-Gordon, a man putting his own safety (or willful ignorance) ahead of the public good. If Bruce is the child of privilege who ultimately sacrfices himelf for the sake of society, Foley is the dark face of civil service, a spineless bureaucrat who waits for others to act. When people need a leader, he hides — rather like Act I Bruce, come to think of it, except Bruce hid in a time of peace, not in a time of crisis. (The peace was built on a lie, but that’s another story.)
Foley refuses to join Gordon, but Miranda Tate offers herself, easily as big a target as Foley in terms of people Bane’s army are looking to kill (as far as we know, which also raises the question of how much Bane’s army knows). At this point, Miranda has been presented as (1) a wealthy investor interested in “saving the world,” (2) a truly selfless philanthropist, (3) a savior to Wayne Enterprises, and (4) Bruce’s personal savior, helpmeet and comforter. Now she is presented as an urban warrior, a mirror of Bruce, to further cement her in our minds as an unalloyed good guy. (Heh heh heh.)
Selina, meanwhile, has become her own Daytime Batman, protecting the weak in “her neighborhood” (it’s unclear whether she’s carved out her own territory or if Bane has granted it to her) by beating up some goons after a kid who has stolen an apple. Absent civic law, the law of the jungle asserts itself, and Catwoman, while a thief herself (and so is the kid, for what it’s worth — he did, after all, steal the apple) stands up for the little guy (and takes a bite from his apple — not a Robin Hood, she collects a tax for her protection). And here, out of nowhere, is Bruce, back (somehow) in Gotham City, whole again, and with Selina’s precioius “clean slate” program. In spite of their past, Bruce teams with Selina to find Lucius, who holds the key to disarming the bomb. So the thieves’ thief, the protector of the little thief, teams up with the city’s prodigal son (odd that Bane doesn’t have anyone in the pit who will call him to tell him Bruce has escaped) to restore the status quo. Note is made that Selina might not want to restore the status quo, but we know that all she really wants is to get on with her life.
Gordon and a handful of other cops are caught by Bane’s men and sentenced to walk out on the ice, while Selina (now in Catwoman mode) takes Bruce to Bane’s HQ and frees Lucius. Lucius and Bruce head to Bruce’s downtown Batcave and Bruce suits up. As Gordon and the others are sent out onto the ice that night, Batman strikes, freeing Gordon and handing him a flare, to use to light up an improvised Bat-signal he has (somehow) rigged on a nearby bridge. ”Impossible,” Bane splutters, caught short for the first time, as he realizes the broken Batman has risen from the pit. Does his disbelief stem from his underestimation of Bruce’s physical abilities, or is it that his social theories have proven untrue? The child of the pit, after all, didn’t have wealth to fall back on if the climb upward failed.
On a busy night (rigging the Bat-signal, finding Selina, getting Lucius, suiting up, retrieving a device from The Bat, rescuing Gordon, issuing orders) Batman finds time to save Blake from being executed by some of Bane’s thugs. ”If you’re working alone, wear a mask,” he advises the younger man, “To protect the people you care about,” and we are reminded that Bane, although certainly masked, does not work alone, and has allowed (promoted?) his mask to become his identity. Is the same true for Bruce? Is he, now, Batman, or Bruce? Him saying this at this moment seems to indicate that Bruce firmly understands now that a mask is a tool, not a soul — you have to maintain your identity beneath the mask or else the mask devours you. Batman frees the cops from the sewers and orders Blake to organize an exodus from the island. It seems odd that Batman assigns his best Bat-buddy Blake to a protective role instead of an assaultive one, but perhaps the answer lies in the “people you care about” line — he knows Blake is an orphan, and he knows that orphans need a father. That’s the thing Bruce lost, he’s not going to let Blake be another casualty.
Finally, Bruce goes back to Selina (whew! What a night of errands! He’s a Knight Errant!) and gives her his Bat-Pod to blast a hole in the debris blocking a tunnel out of town. He had given a tiny bomb to Blake, like a friendship bracelet, but he gives Selina the Bat-Pod. It must be true love, because Selina, under her flinty, practical facade, is smitten — Bruce has trusted her, despite all her shenanigans (stealing his mother’s pearls, selling his fingerprints, giving him up to Bane, getting his back broken), and has granted her the chance to start over. ”You don’t owe these people anything,” she snarls, but she’s projecting – she doesn’t owe these people anything, but Bruce feel he does, both by his own lights and according to his nemesis.
As The Dark Knight Rises heads into its final long, sustained suspense-action sequence, it pauses to give a moment of truth to Foley, its most lily-livered character. Foley, who, just yesterday, was seen scurrying into the darkness of his home to avoid confrontation, is now leading an army of cops (freed by Blake and Batman) into an all-out assault on Bane’s headquarters. It seems that, after all, Gordon and Blake have finally inspired Foley, even Foley, to action, to take back his city. For, the question rises, to whom does a city belong? It belongs to its citizens. The Bruce Waynes of the world may think it belongs to themselves, and the politicians may think it belongs to themselves, but a city without citizens is nothing — society is the responsibility of everyone.
Bane’s forces, bless their hearts, give the cops warning before firing. How odd, that they have rules of engagement at this point, against men they entombed months earlier! The beat is meant, of course, to show the complete inversion of roles: the police are now the brave dissidents heading into confrontation with the now de facto criminal police state, ensconced in the corridors of power, complete with Attic Revival Greek temple style white-stone columned buildings. Whatever his pretensions, Bane is the new boss, same as the old boss, but with sharper fangs.
Batman appears, briefly, to spur on the cops, like a magic talisman, and we’re reminded that he, officially, was a wanted criminal at the top of the narrative. Now he’s a police mascot, defender and cheerleader. The police assault, as it happens, is a distraction, to concentrate Bane’s forces on his HQ while Selina blows a hole in the tunnel blockage, Blake organizes an orphan exodus and Gordon searches for the bomb. (Even with Bruce being his most selfless, it still pays to be his friend — no one he cares about is on the front lines of the assault.
Batman parks The Bat somewhere and joins in the fray at Bane HQ. ”You came back to die with your city,” snorts Bane, and Batman answers “No, I came to stop you.” It seems like an odd answer, a little on the nose even, except that it means that Bruce/Batman no longer considers Gotham “his city,” or even Batman as his identity, he’s simply here as a defender. Maybe that’s why he’s finally appearing in daylight — he’s not even a Dark Knight anymore, he’s become his own Daytime Batman.
In the fracas, Batman punches Bane’s mask and damages it, causing Bane to blanch. How strange, and how fitting, that the World’s Greatest Detective couldn’t figure out that his nemesis’s weakness is his mask. He keeps going until Bane is broken, using the time-honored World’s Greatest Detective method of obtaining information, punching and screaming a question over and over. Bane, still stunned that Bruce made it out of the pit, fills him in on the final clue (the last person to help Bruce solve a case by giving him information): he is not the child of the pit, he never did escape the pit (literally and metaphorically). The child of the pit, Ra’s Al Ghul’s child, is Miranda, or rather, Talia, who now takes over as lead villain of the piece (a belated anti-Catwoman to Bane, to match being an anti-Selina to Bruce), who now literally stabs Batman in the back and reveals that she is the trigger-man for the bomb. ”Although I am not ordinary,” she says, wielding the detonator, “I am a citizen.” So, while Bruce has been hemming and hawing about what to do with this city he think of as his, he’s forgotten that he is not the only one who thinks that way — Talia has been planning, for years now, to dispose of a city she lives in, a full anti-Bruce.
And so we learn that Talia is the child of Ra’s Al Ghul, and that Bane is her protector, was her protector, her Blake, her Batman, in the society of the Pit, and that Bane’s illness, the reason for his mask, sprang from his fatherly love for Talia, and was the reason he could never be with her again. Ra’s Al Ghul, we are told, couldn’t accept Bane as a brother because he was too dark, too much in the shadows for the League of Shadows, but it seems that Ra’s real problem with Bane was that he was a competitor for his daughter’s love. Which makes Bane an anti-Alfred, a fill-in for Talia’s absent father, tossed aside when he is no longer needed, reclaimed by the daughter who loves him. Bane has given himself utterly to Talia as Alfred gave himself to Bruce, but Talia stood by Bane and made her part of her life while Bruce ignored Alfred, took him for granted and let him walk away rather than change his life.
Bruce went into this Bat-venture in order to sacrifice himself, but has now changed his mind. Talia, on the other hand, the True Believer, is prepared to kill herself for the sake of her point, and detonates the bomb. Except, of course, Gordon has blocked the signal with the thingymabob from The Bat. Batman the strategist, the showoff, the boy most likely, has brought all the attention to himself to deflect it from Ordinary Citizen Gordon, the anti-Talia, who has been toiling, without witnesses or glory, to save the city. For eleven minutes.
A lot can happen in eleven minutes, in a movie, when a nuclear explosion is imminent.
First, we have Blake leading the orphans (and some other citizens) on an exodus out of the city. Depending on where they are in relationship to the bomb, they’ll all die in the explosion regardless of whether they get across the bridge or not, but let’s say that somehow crossing the bridge will magically get them out of harm’s way. Blake gets them halfway across the bridge and runs into another police force (Newark?), whose job it is to keep people from trying to escape (for the public good). As at the top of the sequence, it’s a confrontation between civilians and police, but the positions are reversed. No civilians were in the fight against Bane’s army, because they’re all here with Blake confronting another police force. (The police, don’t forget, are the “thin blue line” separating civilians from criminals — it’s their job to confront thugs, they’re urban warriors. It’s appropriate that the police don’t enlist civilian aide in their attack on Bane’s HQ, just as it seem garishly inappropriate for a police force to threaten to fire upon civilians whose only crime is to wish to escape a nuclear blast.)
Talia, meanwhile, says a tender good-bye to Bane while she leaves Bruce alive (to witness the blast) and goes off to see what happened to the bomb. She plows through the remaining cops attacking Bane’s HQ, killing them all, including Foley, who, as unlikely as it sounds, goes down shooting like a rebel hero, dying for a cause, in his dress blues, ready for his funeral. Bane, on the other hand, suddenly loses faith in his cause, and, in his final moments on Earth, says to Bruce “You know that I have to kill you now, you’ll just have to imagine the fire.” He, in a small way, betrays Talia, I assume because he’s decided to high-tail it out of there before the bomb goes off. How fitting, that, in the end, he really was just a mercenary, in love with his mistress but not a fanatic, not a true believer, not willing to die for a belief, not after Bruce has reintroduced him to pain, the same kind of pain that made Bruce change his mind about wanting to die for his cause. No sooner does he reveal himself to be a common hired thug than Catwoman shows up on the Bat-Pod and unceremoniously shoots him, killing him — offscreen. Bane, when he was broken, was tragic, but Bane when he’s a chicken doesn’t even get a close-up.
Gordon, stuck on the truck with the bomb, is joined by Talia, who commandeers the truck but is soon set upon by Batman in The Bat. Lucius, waiting at Reactor Central to plug in the core, announces that he has “ten minutes” to get the bomb back, which means that Talia’s cruel speech to Batman, her tender good-bye to Bane, her slaughter of the cops, Bane’s good-bye to Bruce and murder by Catwoman, Batman’s finding The Bat, climbing into it, starting it up and locating the bomb truck has all taken (according to the timer on the bomb) 58 seconds. Given all that Batman was able to accomplish the night before, that sounds utterly plausible.
Blake, on the bridge with the orphans, is understanably upset with the Newark police officer who blows the bridge rather than let him and his charges pass, although, again, it seems like if the bomb is going to go off, being on one end of the bridge instead of the other doesn’t seem like it would make that much of a difference. Meanwhile, Batman and Catwoman pursue Talia in the bomb truck through the streets of Gotham. Talia’s goal is only “to make sure the bomb goes off,” while Batman’s goal is “to get the bomb back to the reactor, although, with less than six minutes left now, that sounds wildly implausible, even for lightning-fast Batman.
Talia’s goons shoot guided missiles at Batman, who takes the missiles all around the city on a merry chase (sorry, property values) before leading them straight back to their owners, a literal case of “blowback.” He kills Talia’s driver (with a gun!) which causes the truck to dive onto a lower street level and crash. (It’s great to watch this sequence with a knowledge of all the different places it was shot; some beats begin in New York, continue through Pittsburgh and end in Los Angeles — Gotham City is All America.)
Jim Gordon, loose in the back of the truck with a nuclear bomb, comes out of the crash with a hurt arm, but Talia is not so lucky. She is mortally wounded, but not so far gone that she’s incapable of remotely flooding the reactor before she dies, scotching any possibility of plugging the core back in. (Why she didn’t do that ages ago I’m not sure. She certainly has a grasp of the theatrical.) Like Bane, she doesn’t get a glorious death, and Batman doesn’t even get to trade quips or gaze into the eyes of the woman who plotted for years to take over his business, gain his trust, act as his lover and finally stab him in the back.
“You could have gone anywhere, did anything, but you came back here,” says Catwoman to Batman. ”So did you,” he says. Which, come to think of it, we never saw the streams of people escaping via the tunnel Catwoman opened, never saw many civilians anywhere this day really, but the point is, Batman and Catwoman, the wealthy autocrat and the marginal master thief, the odd couple who bonded through a common desire to escape their identities, have both elected to not escape after all, but to come back and fight for the city they love.
Batman, before he takes off with the bomb, stops to finally tell Gordon who he is — or rather, he tells Gordon who he is. He reminds Gordon that it was he, all those years ago, who put his jacket on the young Bruce’s shoulders, who showed kindness to a stranger, a wealthy, privileged boy whose parents had just died, making him an instant billionaire. Batman is Gordon’s hero, but Gordon was always Bruce’s hero, the man he could never be — an ordinary hero, a Daytime Batman, unfamous, brave, kind, a man doing his job and protecting his family in a dangerous world.
Batman takes the bomb out over the ocean, over the heads of Blake and the orphans. Blake is, theoretically anyway, the last major character to see Batman alive, the last witness to his commitment to Gotham.
As Gotham rises from its own pit, Gordon ponders the future at Bruce Wayne’s grave. He sees that Bane’s and Talia’s attack on Gotham will have the opposite effect as intended, that Gotham will gain new purpose and new glory because of the work and sacrifice of Bruce, and ends with a quote from — not Hugo, oddly, but Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities, lending, finally, a reference to the French Revolution to Bane’s folly. Loyal Alfred, also at the graveside, sobs openly, feeling that he’s failed his charge. Such hurt needs to be answered, of course, which the narrative supplies: Bruce, in his own way, was kidding as much as Bane was — his commitment to his cause was strong but not absolute — he pulled a fast one — somehow — and got out of the Bat before it went kablooey over the bay. He loves his city but he’s not a martyr, not Bruce Wayne. Earlier in the movie, Selina cracked to him “The rich don’t even go broke like the rest of us,” and that’s true, as it’s true that the rich don’t die for a cause the way ordinary people do. Ironic that the most spineless member of the cast, Foley, truly did die for the cause of defending Gotham, while Gordon somehow survived and flourished, Blake was put in charge of the orphans, Selina squeaked by and Bruce, at the last moment, pulled a fast one with the Bat’s autopilot — Alfred finds him, and Selina, the young couple in love, in that sunlit Florence cafe, just as he dreamed he would. Yet it’s Bruce, or, rather, Batman, Bruce’s mask, that ends up with the big statue in City Hall, while no one remembers Foley.
Inspired by Batman’s commitment and Gordon’s compromise over the Dent lie, Blake quits the police force and, with a bag of clues left to him by Bruce (what a day Bruce had coming back to Gotham, he had to pack a bag of clues for Blake too!) that leads him to the Batcave, and, as we learn Blake’s given name is “Robin,” to becoming a new Batman. Will he be a better Batman than Bruce? He does not fall into the Batcave, it is not his pit, not his deepest fears, rather he swings into the Batcave like Robin Hood. He has the edge of an orphan but is of the streets, not the manse, he had no Alfred growing up, he had Father Reilly, the leader of the boy’s home (so that’s why that guy has so many scenes, he’s Blake’s low-budge Alfred). His stated purpose is to find a way to help the city from outside the system, because institutions come with shackles, although, now that Batman has a statue downtown, he himself has become an institution. Maybe that’s why Gordon looks so uncomfortable during the dedication, while he looks much happier when he finds a new Batsignal waiting for him. Bruce bets that Batman cannot become an institution as long as there is an ordinary men behind the mask. Bruce leaves Gotham Batman as his legacy, finally absenting himself, and his neuroses, from the equation, leaving Gotham to, finally, be its own city.