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The Dark Knight Rises: A Perfect End

Nolan's Batman trilogy has no doubt brought with it a new perspective of superhero movies where the genre is pushed into more serious, gritty territories than ever before. Nolan's crime epic is undoubtedly a gamechanger. Before the trilogy, superhero movies weren't as big and well-regarded as they became after Nolan grounded the genre, bringing a more realistic, worldly feel to it than just another boom-bam, fight-scene infested, trunks and colourful constume wearing event.

The Batman trilogy in itself is such a vital moment in modern pop-culture. In movies general, where there is a connected universe involved, it's not often that you witness a seamless transitioning of themes as you see in Nolan's trilogy. Take Batman Begins for instance, in this film we get to see the literal beginning of Batman. And as with many things, beginning something is often hauntingly terrifying, which is exactly the themes this particular movie centers around. We see both Bruce Wayne as the Batman terrified by his own life, his abandonment issues, right down to the horrors of the city he has vowed to protect since the murder of his parents, Gotham. We also get to meet the man who brings his worst fears to life, Ra's Al Ghul. Ultimately, Batman feels like unimportant and an understudy in his own city and Ra's, but do everything he can anyway because that's just the Batman way.

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In The Dark Knight, Batman is more prepared but the situation has gone from bad to dire, which challenges him to push himself further while realising that he will not always save everyone, and the world is not always as black and white as it seems; the same way a teenager transitions into adulthood. This eventually prepares him for the ultimate test that comes with The Dark Knight Rises. Bruce/Batman is pushed to his limits in Rises, so much so that he breaks both physically and spiritually, resulting in him losing all glimpses of hope for most of the movie as he watches his world burn to the ground around him. Will Bruce Wayne and The Batman survive this test? Begs the movie. Rises, of course, is the end of the story of Batman in Nolan-verse, thus it offers closure and a glimmer of hope for the future, even among all the mayhem that takes place throughout the movie- ushered by the ruthless Bane (Tom Hardy).

The Dark Knight Rises is often considered the weaker of the three movies, but that conclusion couldn't be more wrong. In fact, all three movies can be balance out on the same scale. They do good as standalones, as much as they do serving as a vital part of a universe. That's not something you could say for most of the trilogies or connected stories since the 2000s and beyond. Rises offers a final test setting where Bruce Wayne and The Batman has to either survive or wither under pressure altogether. Rises is an unequivocal gut-wrenching closing to the trilogy that you get to experience both in story and aesthetic. We're brought into a world of extreme governance and totalitarianism, where which Nolan often uses dark and grey colours, soothed by softer layers to bring out the true grit of the situation.

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Rises helps the story of Batman come full circle in that it considers the previous two movies in many ways without being a reiteration of them. We not only get to see Batman's story come to an end, we get a "where are they now" with some of Batman's challenging villains showing up for cameos; being Scarecrow as now a judge of the new Gotham, under Bane. And a flashback backstory of Ra's Al Ghul, centered around the history of his daughter, Talia Al Ghul. William Neeson makes a cameo as as the eerie and gruesome Ra's in a vital scene where Bruce hallucinates his return—which goes to show just how much of his fears from Batman Begins still terrorise him as he edges to his end. We also get to see where Bruce and some of his close friends and confidants end up in life.

Bane might not be as iconic, and intentionally menacing and spirited as Joker, but when you first meet him in action in that opening scene on the plane, and when you first hear his sandy voice filtering and echoing through that aggressive wired mask, you know he means business. Not a lot of villians are able to capture a movie so much that they're considered on the same level as the hero, but Bane is able to hone such interest around him with his silent malevolence that keeps you wanting more and more of him on-screen. Bane's violence is only used when necessary, which makes sense that he dubs himself a "necessary evil", making him even more terrifying. This aspect of him creates a bubble of mystery and terror around the character, enough to scare a crow away.

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This movie covers so many aspects of Bruce Wayne as the Batman, as it pledges to reconcile them. We see a Bruce Wayne recovering from injuries from TDK. A Bruce Wayne mourning Harvey and the loss of his love, as well as his long time cooperate Alfred leaving him. Bruce is also depicted as an outcast in his own city. It's not many times that we see our protagonist/hero down and out for almost half the movie, but in TDKr we witness Bruce literally experiencing his lowest of lows captured and tortured in a secluded cave, back broken and ailed physically and psychologically, by Bane. Bane and the League of Shadows' cruelties don't stop at breaking down Bruce. They have a bigger appetite than that; they want to rule Gotham City and see it to its ruins, in the name of Ra's Al Ghul. And the self-instated protector of the brooding city can't do anything but watch his home burn to the ground.

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Meanwhile Bane is leading an authoritarian state in Gotham; showing the true and raw cruelties of being led by a man with no soul, no boundaries and most of all no integrity. Gotham has no fair trial, no peace, no fairness, in fact it is worse of under Bane than before, despite his pledge to better the city and bring so-called balance. Upon this revelation the true saviour of Gotham pushes his own limits to see to it that his beloved city is restored. Only, he's now desperate and led by anger, which seems rather out of character for a hero on a quest to cleanse his world of the evils that menace its alleyways—often sparked by these very emotions. This brings us to the intensities, frustrations and self-evalualtion that take place in the last act. Will The Batman fail? Will Bane be defeated? Will Gotham City be restored? The fast pace and thrill, accompanied by the score, is both heart-wrenching and exciting. The city of Gotham is now downright savage and terrifying as hell, and now more than ever it needs its Batman.

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The film begs the terrifying question of, what if our goverments became authoritarian? What if our streets were crawling with corrupt mercenaries and criminals who stripped away our freedom for their own cause? What if we were made to exist in a world infested by mayhem? As a South African, I can attest to the tragedies and traumas of such a state being incurable. Years upon years after the dismantling of such a state, Apartheid still lingers at the pores of and haunts every South African even today, 24 years later. If any movie can help you either escape from or reflect on society, then the filmmaker has done his/her job. Christopher Nolan does so beyond expectation, and gives us a Batman who is flawed and thus relatable, and ultimately only human after all.

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Besides the story content, the film is visually titillating; the dark, grey and misty colours highlighting the bold cityscapes of Gotham are something to marvel over. The fight choreography and the action sequences are one of the best you'll see in a movie of any genre. The brilliant cast takes their respective roles so seriously that it's almost impossible to imagine them as merely fictional. Hans Zimmer's score takes on a life of its own; as emotional, thrilling and heartbreaking as the scene requires. The Dark Knight Rises closes off the Batman trilogy with heart and determination, and for this it should forever be revered as a perfect ending to a monumental Batman story.

Film movies essays articles Batman Op-ed DC Warner Bros Christopher Nolan The Dark Knight Rises

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