Christopher Nolan has given the world a new milestone in superhero movies … again. Like with Richard Donner’s Superman and even the more recent film The Avengers by Joss Whedon, there are some superhero movies that can make you believe the impossible actually exists. In this case, though, it’s not the comic book elements or even the characters themselves so much as it is the situation that Nolan has built, drawing on elements at once both fantastic and deeply rooted in reality. The final chapter in Nolan’s Batman trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises, brings all-out war to the streets of Gotham. The world’s greatest city finds itself literally cut off from the world and left to become an urban battlefield on multiple levels.
The most obvious level is superhero versus supervillain. Batman (played once again by Christian Bale) has never faced a more deadly foe. Bane (played by Tom Hardy), as we learn in the movie, was rejected by the League of Shadows from Batman Begins, ostensibly because he was too extreme. Like Ra’s al Ghul, his mission is to bring Gotham to its knees, to watch it destroy itself while he lurks to deliver the final blow. Like the Joker from The Dark Knight, he holds the city itself hostage, making its citizens dance to his maniacal tune. (He shows the self-proclaimed agent of chaos what a man with a plan can really do.) And, as far as going one-on-one with the Batman himself, there’s no doubt that Bane is a far superior foe than either Ra’s or the Joker. In short, he’s the perfect villain with which to close the trilogy.
The second level of warfare is between the cops and Bane’s men. We’re shown from the beginning that his men will die for him, literally, before they do anything that might betray him. The cops, on the other hand, are at least facing a bit of dissension in the ranks. With Commissioner Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) being hospitalized, Deputy Commissioner Peter Foley (Matthew Modine) has a bit of trouble inspiring the same level of loyalty, especially when he decides that capturing the reemergent Batman is more important (at first) than tracking down the terrorist Bane. This puts him directly at odds with Detective John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who is not only loyal to Commissioner Gordon but also the Dark Knight himself. When Bane arms his troops with stolen weapons, including multiple Tumblers and a nuclear explosive, the police find themselves outmanned, outpositioned, and quite outgunned.
The final level, and most controversial of them all, is the class warfare at work in Gotham. Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman, warns Bruce Wayne that a storm is coming, one that none of Gotham’s wealthy can hope to escape or endure. Anne Hathaway puts to rest all fears about whether she could play the sultry and at times deadly anti-villainess opposite the world’s greatest detective. And, far from Catwoman simply being a convenient choice for a love interest following the death of Rachel Dawes, she is a clear representative of the people of Gotham itself. While Batman is the hero whom the city reviles and Bane is the criminal who “frees” them to govern themselves, Selina is the unaffiliated rebel who stands to the side and reaches for what she wants while others quibble over right and wrong. She looks forward to the storm, but when it hits, she sees the high price Gotham is forced to pay and in the end learns what a true hero must be prepared to do.
As has been noted before, Christopher Nolan and his brother Jonathan, along with David Goyer, drew much inspiration for the plot from A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, the hundred and fifty year old novel that show us class warfare is nothing new in the world. Though lacking a decent superhero-supervillain brawl, it shares many of the themes explored in TDKR, not just about social justice, but also love and sacrifice. If you haven’t read the novel, then now is an excellent time. And then, watch (or rewatch) TDKR to see the similarities. That’s what really changes the game, as they say. Superhero movies don’t have to be about powers or gadgets or special effects; those are just icing on the cake. As this website has noted numerous times, the great talent of science fiction is to tell old stories in new ways. Surely, for Gotham, this is the best of times and the worst of times.
Stephen Monteith is the founder of Fourth-day Universe. He’d be Batman any day of the week, but considers Charles Dickens to be a close second. You can read his original fiction on Yahoo! and Lulu.com.