There's some plot point spoilers in here, but mostly it's spoiler-free.
“Dark Knight Rises” brings together the Batman saga full circle. Instead of adding anything to the series, it ends where it began: with a plan to eradicate Gotham’s decadence and begin anew, and with Batman trying to stop it.
The final entry in the saga is more thematic than it is in-depth, and focuses more on characterization than moral conflict, which is what truly made the first two entries of the series stand out, and where the final chapter fails. “Dark Knight Rises” is more about spectacle, mixing in epic hostage situations and a grand scale of chaos. But this sort of chaos is aimless. The main villain (terrorist is more fitting) Bane operates with a “Don’t move or I’ll blow everyone” mantra, a far cry from the Joker’s schemes in the previous movie. Bane simply wants to finish the job that Ra’s Al Ghul, the leader of the League of Shadows, failed to do in the first movie.
One of the best chances to tug on the morality of the scope of director Christopher Nolan’s final Batman film went completely unexplored.
Bane reveals the truth about the events of Harvey Dent’s death. The people of Gotham learn that the Joker’s ultimate plan to prove that everyone can be corrupted did, in fact, work to a certain extent. Bane uses that as a springboard to release all the criminals put away under Dent’s watch and to manipulate the people of Gotham by pointing the finger to the city’s leadership. But earlier in the film, the mayor gives a speech about how organized crime had come to an end thanks to Dent’s efforts. So was wrongfully pinning Batman instead of Dent really that bad? Was that small sacrifice by Batman, albeit under false pretenses, worth all the good that came out of it? Would the people of Gotham really change their minds that quickly? These were pressing issues that felt more like the other two films than anything else, but they weren’t so much as glanced at. Oh well.
Fittingly, a primary theme in the saga’s end is new beginnings. For Bruce Wayne, he’s struggled to let go of his need for Batman and to move on with life since the ending of “Dark Knight” (the new film takes place eight years later) and the death of Rachel. One of the most powerful scenes is an exchange Wayne has with Alfred, who tries to convince Wayne that he doesn’t need Batman to be hero (an intriguing flip from the other two movies). The two disagree, and go their separate ways.
In “Batman Begins,” Ra’s Al Ghul mentioned how the League of Shadows had once tried to steer Gotham in a new direction using the manipulation of economics. That idea gets resurrected in “Dark Knight Rises” when Bane crashes the stock market and, through a small series of ploys, reduces the pocketbooks and, consequentially, the influence of the wealthy to nothing. Another theme of the movie knacks of Robin Hood: stealing from the wealthy and giving to the poor. Bane wants to bestow true power and influence back to the people (Yet he later uses them as hostages for his master plan. Curious).
Catwoman gives this theme a personal touch. She justifies a sense of entitlement to herself by taking from people who have more than enough to spare. Perhaps unknowingly, she puts up a façade to remove all sense of guilt or remorse for her actions. She also is looking for a way out and a fresh start. But after given the chance, she realizes there’s something more important than that as she eventually teams with Batman to stop Bane.
Like in the comics, Catwoman is a mysterious character. Anne Hathaway does a marvelous job in her limited opportunities to be flirtatious and sneak in kisses whenever she can. Though a little more on the serious side than in the comics, Catwoman gets her comical fancies from time to time, including a chance to steal Bruce Wayne’s exotic sports car after a charity fundraiser.
Her mysteriousness often is a result of playing both sides, almost like a double agent. Probably the most powerful scene of the movie is when, perhaps with good intentions, Catwoman leads Batman to Bane in his sewer hideout, and into a trap. There, Batman and Bane have a brutal, grimacing, in-your-face fist fight that isn’t tricked out or poorly spliced by the editors, which is a very good thing. Bane’s sheer brute is discovered as he mercilessly ravages Batman. A shot of Catwoman watching the fight reveals a regret she didn’t have in her previous engagements that mainly involve taking care of herself, and only herself.
Bane dispatches Batman and leaves him in a prison while allowing Wayne to see the chaos unleashed on Gotham. To escape the prison, Wayne realizes there’s still one more fear he must deal with: death. He discovers he must embrace his challenge with the real possibility of death. In a way, this is one of the most important themes as Batman must be prepared to do whatever is necessary to save Gotham, though the ending (without spoiling too much) takes the cop-out path of least resistance.
Nolan is one of the best directors of this generation. He balances several storylines while continually moving forward, rarely stagnating. There are a few more cinematic tricks up his sleeve that he saved for this film, including Batman’s new ride. Though it wasn’t likely to top the previous installment, Dark Knight Rises takes the audience for a crazy ride that has several twists at the end and brings a satisfactory conclusion to one of the greatest series in cinematic history.