Are you – to paraphrase Catwoman in the excellent The Dark Knight Rises – tired of the rich living so large and leaving so little for the rest of us? Do the storms of change need to blow? Does the power need to be wrested back into the hands of the people?
In the film to be released Friday, director and screenwriter Christopher Nolan unleashes the forces of discontent, the downtrodden, the hungry, the imprisoned, the out of work. Delivery man against executive, shoe shiner against stock broker, janitor against CEO, they rise under the leadership of a hardscrabble, underworld villain named Bane (Tom Hardy), a product of unjust and brutal imprisonment.
It’s Occupy Wall Street on steroids. In fact, they literally occupy Wall Street, shooting up the trading floor and more than a few cocky brokers, in a bit of collective wish fullfillment in this post-Enron, post-Bernie Madoff world.
Bane’s idea of justice is to sweep the elites, the ruling class, the fat cat CEOs and their politician allies from their lofty perches and usher in an era of power for the little guy.
Be careful what you wish for.
As final movie in the trilogy opens, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has shut himself off from the world, mourning his lost love Rachel Dawes, who was killed in the previous movie, The Dark Knight. His seclusion is not really a problem for anyone but himself because in the eight years since his victory over the Joker, Gotham has lionized the presumed hero Harvey Dent and ushered in an era of low crime, peace and justice.
Batman is retired.
His solitude is broken only by a visit from a cat burglar, the crafty CatWoman (Anne Hathaway), who invades his home on behalf of a shadowy syndicate, and his faithful butler Alfred (Michael Caine), who wishes he would get out and enjoy life. As cracks in the seemingly smooth face of Gotham’s contentment begin to hint at a sinister future, an idealistic young police officer (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) begs Wayne to bring Batman back to the city. He’s supported by the police commissioner, Batman’s old friend Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman), the lone keeper of the secret of Harvey Dent’s true villainy.
Broken in both body and spirit, does Batman even have the strength to stand up to the tidal wave of tyranny that threatens to break over the city?
Bane’s plan turns out to be more French Revolution than utopia. As in so many high-minded revolutions, some people are more equal than others and that greater equality is usually gained at the right end of a sub-machine gun. Bane does not shy from destroying the common man in an effort to liberate him.
He offers the people a chance to rise against “the corrupt, the rich, the generations that have kept you down with the myth of opportunity.” He gives the doorman a reason to strike the luxury high-rise dweller and the maid a chance to take down her employer. If the common man does not desire to do so, he can be thrown out with the others.
But the smashing will leave only blood and broken glass in its wake, a city fit for none.
Beyond philosophy, the movie has great, fun moments. Batman still has his cool toys that make loud booms, chief among them a new sort of urban flier that darts among the canyons of the city. The battles are epic and grueling, the chases thrilling. The film pushes the limits of its PG-13 rating with gritty, dark fight scenes and a scene of implied sexuality. There is little language. Parents should consider their children’s tolerance for dark (but not gory) violence before taking children younger than 13.
Hathaway makes a charming Catwoman, all haughty self-interest and sideways glances. Gary Oldman, as always, is excellent, with an arc that nearly rivals that of Batman. But the most moving parts of the film come from Michael Caine as Alfred, a loyal handler desperate to protect his charge and from brave police officers willing to lay down their lives for the rule of law.
With iconic images of football and the sounds of the National Anthem, Bane launches his attack on not only Gotham, but metaphorically on America itself. Are we so far gone that revolution is desirable, or as Bane calls himself, “a necessary evil?” Or is there something about our system and our values, as broken as they can be, that is inherently worth fighting for?
The blend of deep questions with edge-of-your-seat watchability makes this film one of the best of the year, and perhaps a contender in the Oscar race. Go see it.
For all our coverage of The Dark Knight Rises, check out our Batman Page.