Bringing it Full Circle: How The Dark Knight Rises Completes the Trilogy

"Culturally significant movie that perfectly completes the trilogy."

That was my first thought after exiting the IMAX theater at the conclusion of The Dark Knight Rises. It's been four years since The Dark Knight came out and fans have been chomping at the bit for the finale. There's so much going on in the third film that it's almost impossible to come away not impressed.

It boasts a heavy Occupy Wall Street theme throughout, garnering the cultural significance. And it does rather perfectly complete the trilogy, by wrapping up loose threads, setting new ones to unravel and making sure the main characters all have a happy (semi-happy?) ending.

The film isn't without flaws though and Julian Darius provides an excellent look at some of them over at his site Seqart. I'd recommend giving that a read and while I'm not here to critique the film nearly as harshly (but well defended) as he did, he does make some interesting points.

One of the seemingly bigger complaints is that the third film invalidates a lot of the previous two, which as Darius presents is a very valid argument. The thing is that's not entirely the case, as The Dark Knight Rises does stay within the trilogy very well, continuing themes Nolan presents in the earlier films.

This isn't meant to be a point-by-point counter-argument to the Darius piece. Again, he makes very valid points regarding the movie and, again, it's worth a read. This is simply meant to look at The Dark Knight Rises as it fits within and as a conclusion to the trilogy. It fits in especially well as it continues the themes of choice, symbolism and survival.

Before we head deeper, a few quick thoughts on the movie. Overall, it was great, but Nolan may have let his theatricality get the best of him at times. There were some plot holes and the entire film felt plot-driven (as opposed to character driven). Some things were a little too convenient for the story's sake and how everyone knew Bruce Wayne was Batman was a little baffling. The Dark Knight remains the best of the three, but, again, The Dark Knight Rises is a satisfying conclusion.

Now then. Let's roll. Yes, there are spoilers ahead. Yes, you have been warned.

In Batman Begins, Bruce Wayne wanted a way to fight against the injustice of the streets; the same injustice that took his parents from him. He traveled the world, eventually finding Ra's al Ghul and the League of Shadows, both of whom aligned his views with theirs and gave him the capacity to become Batman.

The first movie was a balancing act between Bruce and Batman, with Bruce learning what it really takes to become the Batman. The ideas of loved ones being hurt or his actions spawning more crime were never really focused on in the first movie. Instead, Batman fought a psychological villain in Scarecrow, forcing him to face his fears.

The big reveal was Jonathan Crane's "partnership" with Ra's al Ghul as a means of completing the goal of the League of Shadows. That goal was to essentially raze Gotham to the ground so that it may be rebuilt from the ground up. Batman chose to destroy the legacy of his father, Thomas Wayne, by destroying the rail system so that Gotham could live.

The Dark Knight carried the idea of balancing and choice a step further. Bruce no longer had to balance the personas of himself and Batman. He now had to balance that of his loved ones and the city of Gotham. Crime stepped up in response to Batman, almost as if criminals felt a challenge was issued.

Faced with the impossible decision of choosing to save Harvey Dent, relief for Batman as the proposed face of salvation for Gotham, and Rachel, Bruce's longtime love, Batman made the choice to save Rachel. This was a powerful dichotomy of choice that spoke to Batman's opponent in the Joker, a master of manipulating emotions.

When Batman's attempt to save both failed (as Harvey became Two-Face), it was then that the Nolan kicked the idea of choice into overdrive. Two-Face lived and died by the coin and Batman decided that in order for Bruce Wayne and Gotham to live, Batman had to "die" metaphorically.

The Dark Knight Rises is a film where Bruce Wayne is, again, making the choices. It's eight years after the second movie (which is one of Darius' incredibly valid points in that Batman really only operated for a year before retiring). This time around, he's weighing the choice of whether or not he should become Batman again.

The Dent Act has greatly reduced crime in Gotham, creating boredom amidst the ranks at the Gotham Police Department. Commissioner Gordon is tired though, having lied for eight years regarding the night Harvey died in order to preserve that order. The ironic thing is that it's the lie that spawns the truth and chaos.

Gordon makes choices that change things (taking care of a young Bruce after his parents died, keeping Harvey's death a secret). Selina Kyle chooses to come back and help Batman after betraying his trust. Rachel chooses Harvey. Alfred chooses to leave. Lucius Fox chooses to destroy the surveillance computer. These are all choices that Nolan litters the film with, invoking the grey area.

For three-fourths of the movie, Bane is the villain. Bane is a big, hulking man who is one of the few who can go toe-to-toe with Batman in combat. He's shown as the muscle and intelligence, quietly building a secret army in the sewers to undermine the infrastructure of the city.

It's a concept similar to that of Joker in The Dark Knight, only Bane is using the construction as the metaphorical representation of his gifts (sheer physical strength). Scarecrow used the fear toxin as an embodiment of fear to dispel rational thought, while Joker used the boats and the prisoner's dilemma to elicit emotional decision-making.

It's not until the end that viewers learn about the involvement of Talia al Ghul, seeking to complete what her father started. It's clear from both her and Bane's involvement that neither of them plan to leave Gotham; the bomb is slated to go off regardless of whether or not the triggerman is found. Batman still feels obligated to stop him, regardless of the cost, which explains his reliance on the Bat and getting back in shape.

Bane is a physical villain. Bruce was out of the game for eight years, relying on a cane and not being forced to come to terms with his condition until he's in the prison. There's one scene where a doctor lists off all the ailments afflicting Bruce and it's both comedic and poignant. It's especially the latter because it tells the viewer what Bruce Wayne has given up as Batman to keep Gotham safe.

Every villain used is symbolic of the ranges of humanity. Some rely on wits, others strength. Some rely on beliefs and convictions, while others rely on emotion. Batman is forced to reconcile all those in order to defeat them and it's a characteristic that Nolan got perfectly.

Batman is the embodiment of everything the villains are comprised of. At the end of the day, he's essentially a vigilante fighting crime to avenge his parents. If he can't get a handle on everything that comes with that, then Gotham City is doomed.

One thing all three movies have in common (besides Batman, Gordon, etc.), is the idea that Gotham City itself is a character. Sure, Nolan has used about a million different real life cities to represent Gotham City, but that's sort of the beauty in it. Every city is Gotham City in a way and every city has citizens who will do what it takes.

The villains all use Gotham City as a launching pad for the burgeoning criminal careers. It's almost as if criminals are born there, which is similar to that of comics. Arkham Asylum is not a nice place and, while it only primarily played a role in Batman Begins, the idea is that any of the six villains in the three movies could find cause for being sent there.

Batman has always been just as much about his Rogue's Gallery as he has been about Bruce Wayne/Batman. And that's something that Nolan managed to capture perfectly across the trilogy. Sure, there are issues in the third film (Bane's reasoning for blowing up half the city, Selina Kyle instinctively knowing how the Batpod works, the timing of the three movies). Those issues are overshadowed by Thomas Wayne's mantra in Batman Begins.

"Why do we fall? So we can learn to pick ourselves up."

The answer to that question is even in the title of the third film in "rises." The trilogy has been about rising to the occasion and doing what it takes to succeed. Yes, some of those above mentioned choices lead to the fabled grey area, but they also provoke thought and dialogue.

Batman is a complex character, one steeped in mythology where each of his villains could easily represent a different diagnosis in the DSM. The movies are about survival, with the characters doing whatever it takes. The Dark Knight Rises takes that concept a step further, with both Bane and Talia willing to die to fulfill their beliefs and ensure what they believe to be the correct survival of Gotham City.

Again, the movie did have it's flaws and Darius was very thorough in pointing some of them out. I'm not necessarily agreeing or disagreeing with any or all of them. What I'm simply trying to say is that when viewed within the context of the previous two movies, The Dark Knight Rises is a worthy conclusion to one of the greatest superhero trilogies of all time.