Sadly, one of the most anticipated movies of all-time and unquestionably the movie of the year in 2012 will be forever shrouded in darkness due to the horrific events that occurred in Aurora, CO during the midnight showings of the film on July 20th, 2012. These terribly tragic events certainly hit very close to home for me and my wife and we decided to make t-shirts to benefit the families of the victims of the tragedy via givingfirst.org. The can be found on Facebook at Shirts for Aurora.
Eight years after the flop that was 1997's Batman & Robin, director Christopher Nolan took the helm of the Batman film franchise and took it in an entirely new direction. Tim Burton's Batman and Batman Returns were dark in classic Tim Burton style and the franchise got increasingly campy once Joel Schmacher took over. Nolan, whose work prior to the Dark Knight trilogy were the psychological thrillers, Memento and Insomnia, brought the Dark Knight back to a darker tone and wanted to create a sense of realism in his Batman projects. This was evident in Batman Begins when the primary antagonist, Ra's al Ghul, was portrayed as just a man, rather than an immortal who keeps himself alive with the use of the Lazarus Pit like his comic and cartoon incarnation.
While Batman Begins was not the box office blockbuster its successor would later become, it was the Batman film the world needed at the time and it was successful in rebooting the Batman film franchise. It received positive critical and fan responses for the darker plot, the cast and the performances of its stars like Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, and Liam Neeson. Bale was lauded for his performance as Bruce Wayne and his alter ego Batman and the supporting cast was full of Oscar winners and all-star actors alike.
Begins also paved the way for its highly-anticipated sequel, The Dark Knight which was hands-down the most successful film of 2008. While Begins utilized lesser-known villains who had previously not appeared in any Batman films, The Dark Knight introduced villains into the Nolan universe who had been previously been portrayed in the Burton-Schumacher series including Harvey Dent, who would become Two-Face, and the Joker, masterfully portrayed by the late Heath Ledger. Ledger's tragic and untimely death six months before The Dark Knight's release, along with universal acclaim for his performance and the movie overall led to the film surpassing the $1 billion mark worldwide and becoming one of the most successful films of all-time. Ledger even won a posthumous Oscar for his portrayal of the supervillain Joker.
After Ledger's untimely death, there was much speculation as to which direction Nolan would go with his series. Nolan ultimately decided not to bring back the character of the Joker, due to Ledger's passing despite the fact that the character was not killed off in The Dark Knight. Instead, Nolan opted for Bane as the primary antagonist in his third Batman film as well as the antihero Selina Kyle (most notably known ass Catwoman in the comics). Nolan also wanted The Dark Knight Rises to be the definitive ending to his series, bookending the trilogy, whereas many comic book storylines are infinitely ongoing.
Tom Hardy, who rose to fame in Nolan's 2010 hit Inception, was tabbed with the very difficult task of succeeding Heath Ledger's Joker as Batman's nemesis, but was certainly up to the challenge. Hardy, who normally stands at 5'10", 168 lbs. packed on 30lbs. of muscle to play the hulking Bane and had to wear lifts in his shoes to equal Christian Bale's 6'2" height. At nearly 200lbs., Hardy's Bane is still much smaller than other incarnations of the character. Nolan's Bane also differs from the classic perception of Bane in that he is not strength-enhanced with Venom. Instead, his mask feeds him a painkiller for severe injuries sustained when he was young after he saved Talia al Ghul. For people only familiar with Bane from Batman & Robin, Rises' Bane actually serves as a much more true-to-form version of the character (sans the Venom) with him being a criminal mastermind as well as being a physical force whose strength and physical prowess exceeds even Batman's.
While it's not fair to compare Hardy's Bane to Ledger's Joker, the comparisons will inevitably be made. With that said, they are certainly very different types of villains with Joker's goal of anarchy and chaos versus Bane's carefully calculated plot to systematically destroy Gotham. When it's all said and done, Bane actually accomplished a lot more of his goals and achieved more success than any villain in the Batman film franchise. He handily defeats Batman during their first encounter and even breaks The Dark Knight's back, which is an iconic moment taken from 1993's Knightfall storyline, Bane's first appearance. He also blows up a Gotham Rogues football game killing Gotham's mayor and countless citizens (including pretty much all of the Gotham Rogues and the visiting Rapid City Monuments players except for Hines Ward) and he successfully holds the entire city of Gotham under martial law for five months, a nod to the No Man's Land storyline.
While Tom Hardy may not win the Best Supporting Actor Academy Award Heath Ledger did, his portrayal of Bane was certainly menacing, effective, and a very worth adversary for Batman in this final installment. In addition to Bane, Anne Hathaway joins the cast as Selina Kyle. While Michelle Pfeiffer previously played the role in Batman Returns, Hathaway brings a fresh take to the character. While elements from the Catwoman character are certainly there, she is never actually referred to as such in Rises. Halle Berry also portrayed Catwoman in the 2004 film of the same name, a DC movie that was actually worse than Batman & Robin. While Katie Holmes and Maggie Gyllenhaal played Bruce Wayne's love interest, Rachel Dawes, in Begins and The Dark Knight respectively, Rises boasts the best female cast of the trilogy with Hathaway and Marion Cotillard as Talia al Ghul, whose true identity is not revealed until end of the film, similarly to her father's at the end of Batman Begins.
The supporting cast are all at the top of their respective games as well. Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman deliver as Commissioner Gordon and Lucius Fox and Michael Caine delivers a moving performance as Alfred, Bruce's butler, who has essentially serves as his father figure since his parents' murder. Joseph Gordon-Levitt was also very good as a Nolan original character, John Blake, who certainly has a nod to Batman's sidekick Robin as well. Although we see Blake inherit the Batcave and all of Batman's tools at the end of the movie, I doubt we will see any further spin-offs with this universe as Rises has a conclusive, fitting, and solid ending.
When Christopher Nolan announced that The Dark Knight Rises would be the end of his trilogy, there was much speculation as to whether he would go so far as to kill off Batman. One of the early promotional posters even had the tagline, "THE LEGEND ENDS" with Bane seen walking away from a broken Batman mask and previews showed Selina Kyle telling Batman to leave and that he doesn't owe the people of Gotham anymore and that he's given them everything to which he responds, "Not everything. Not yet."
The penultimate scene of the film shows Batman seemingly sacrificing himself by flying Bane's and Talia's bomb away from the city where it detonates and presumably kills Batman. He is later revealed to have survived as Alfred sees him and Selina at a cafe in Italy, mirroring a fantasy Alfred previously said he had.
When you look at great movies, especially great trilogies, I would say ending of The Dark Knight Rises puts the pieces together and ties up the trilogy masterfully. The original Star Wars movies, The Lord Of The Rings, and The Godfather are all regarded as the best trilogies ever, but Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy tops them all. While you may not necessarily agree with that strong of an assessment, The Dark Knight Trilogy is certainly among the tops as far as comic book trilogies are concerned. Nolan, Bale, and company will be missed on screen as this legendary franchise hangs up its cape and cowl, just at Bruce Wayne does at the end of the saga but much like Batman himself, the legend of this trilogy will become immortal.