Batman: The Dark Knight Rises part 15

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So, in eleven minutes, Gotham City is going to blow up.  A lot can happen in eleven minutes, in a movie, when a nuclear explosion is imminent.

First, we have Blake leading the orphans (and some other citizens) on an exodus out of the city.  Depending on where they are in relationship to the bomb, they’ll all die in the explosion regardless of whether they get across the bridge or not, but let’s say that somehow crossing the bridge will magically get them out of harm’s way.  Blake gets them halfway across the bridge and runs into another police force (Newark?), whose job it is to keep people from trying to escape (for the public good).  As at the top of the sequence, it’s a confrontation between civilians and police, but the positions are reversed.  No civilians were in the fight against Bane’s army, because they’re all here with Blake confronting another police force.  (The police, don’t forget, are the “thin blue line” separating civilians from criminals — it’s their job to confront thugs, they’re urban warriors.  It’s appropriate that the police don’t enlist civilian aide in their attack on Bane’s HQ, just as it seem garishly inappropriate for a police force to threaten to fire upon civilians whose only crime is to wish to escape a nuclear blast.)

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Talia, meanwhile, says a tender good-bye to Bane while she leaves Bruce alive (to witness the blast) and goes off to see what happened to the bomb.  She plows through the remaining cops attacking Bane’s HQ, killing them all, including Foley, who, as unlikely as it sounds, goes down shooting like a rebel hero, dying for a cause, in his dress blues, ready for his funeral.  Bane, on the other hand, suddenly loses faith in his cause, and, in his final moments on Earth, says to Bruce “You know that I have to kill you now, you’ll just have to imagine the fire.”  He, in a small way, betrays Talia, I assume because he’s decided to high-tail it out of there before the bomb goes off. [A number of readers comment that Bane may also be taking the moment to kill Batman himself, which also makes sense, but which paints him as a “bad guy” rather than a tragic figure, a man who must kill his enemy before they are both vaporized or else he just can’t live with himself.]  How fitting, that, in the end, he really was just a mercenary, in love with his mistress but not a fanatic, not a true believer, not willing to die for a belief, not after Bruce has reintroduced him to pain, the same kind of pain that made Bruce change his mind about wanting to die for his cause.  No sooner does he reveal himself to be a common hired thug than Catwoman shows up on the Bat-Pod and unceremoniously shoots him, killing him — offscreen.  Bane, when he was broken, was tragic, but Bane when he’s a chicken doesn’t even get a close-up.

Gordon, stuck on the truck with the bomb, is joined by Talia, who commandeers the truck but is soon set upon by Batman in The Bat.  Lucius, waiting at Reactor Central to plug in the core, announces that he has “ten minutes” to get the bomb back, which means that Talia’s cruel speech to Batman, her tender good-bye to Bane, her slaughter of the cops, Bane’s good-bye to Bruce and murder by Catwoman, Batman’s finding The Bat, climbing into it, starting it up and locating the bomb truck has all taken (according to the timer on the bomb) 58 seconds.  Given all that Batman was able to accomplish the night before, that sounds utterly plausible.

Blake, on the bridge with the orphans, is understanably upset with the Newark police officer who blows the bridge rather than let him and his charges pass, although, again, it seems like if the bomb is going to go off, being on one end of the bridge instead of the other doesn’t seem like it would make that much of a difference.  Meanwhile, Batman and Catwoman pursue Talia in the bomb truck through the streets of Gotham.  Talia’s goal is only “to make sure the bomb goes off,” while Batman’s goal is “to get the bomb back to the reactor, although, with less than six minutes left now, that sounds wildly implausible, even for lightning-fast Batman.

Talia’s goons shoot guided missiles at Batman, who takes the missiles all around the city on a merry chase (sorry, property values) before leading them straight back to their owners, a literal case of “blowback.”  He kills Talia’s driver (with a gun!) which causes the truck to dive onto a lower street level and crash.  (It’s great to watch this sequence with a knowledge of all the different places it was shot; some beats begin in New York, continue through Pittsburgh and end in Los Angeles — Gotham City is All America.)

Jim Gordon, loose in the back of the truck with a nuclear bomb, comes out of the crash with a hurt arm, but Talia is not so lucky.  She is mortally wounded, but not so far gone that she’s incapable of remotely flooding the reactor before she dies, scotching any possibility of plugging the core back in.  (Why she didn’t do that ages ago I’m not sure.  She certainly has a grasp of the theatrical.)  Like Bane, she doesn’t get a glorious death, and Batman doesn’t even get to trade quips or gaze into the eyes of the woman who plotted for years to take over his business, gain his trust, act as his lover and finally stab him in the back.

“You could have gone anywhere, did anything, but you came back here,” says Catwoman to Batman.  “So did you,” he says.  Which, come to think of it, we never saw the streams of people escaping via the tunnel Catwoman opened, never saw many civilians anywhere this day really, but the point is, Batman and Catwoman, the wealthy autocrat and the marginal master thief, the odd couple who bonded through a common desire to escape their identities, have both elected to not escape after all, but to come back and fight for the city they love.

Batman, before he takes off with the bomb, stops to finally tell Gordon who he is — or rather, he tells Gordon who he is.  He reminds Gordon that it was he, all those years ago, who put his jacket on the young Bruce’s shoulders, who showed kindness to a stranger, a wealthy, privileged boy whose parents had just died, making him an instant billionaire.  Batman is Gordon’s hero, but Gordon was always Bruce’s hero, the man he could never be — an ordinary hero, a Daytime Batman, unfamous, brave, kind, a man doing his job and protecting his family in a dangerous world.

Batman takes the bomb out over the ocean, over the heads of Blake and the orphans.  Blake is, theoretically anyway, the last major character to see Batman alive, the last witness to his commitment to Gotham.

As Gotham rises from its own pit, Gordon ponders the future at Bruce Wayne’s grave.  He sees that Bane’s and Talia’s attack on Gotham will have the opposite effect as intended, that Gotham will gain new purpose and new glory because of the work and sacrifice of Bruce, and ends with a quote from — not Hugo, oddly, but Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities, lending, finally, a reference to the French Revolution to Bane’s folly.  Loyal Alfred, also at the graveside, sobs openly, feeling that he’s failed his charge.  Such hurt needs to be answered, of course, which the narrative supplies: Bruce, in his own way, was kidding as much as Bane was — his commitment to his cause was strong but not absolute — he pulled a fast one — somehow — and got out of the Bat before it went kablooey over the bay.  He loves his city but he’s not a martyr, not Bruce Wayne.  Earlier in the movie, Selina cracked to him “The rich don’t even go broke like the rest of us,” and that’s true, as it’s true that the rich don’t die for a cause the way ordinary people do.  Ironic that the most spineless member of the cast, Foley, truly did die for the cause of defending Gotham, while Gordon somehow survived and flourished, Blake was put in charge of the orphans, Selina squeaked by and Bruce, at the last moment, pulled a fast one with the Bat’s autopilot — Alfred finds him, and Selina, the young couple in love, in that sunlit Florence cafe, just as he dreamed he would.  Yet it’s Bruce, or, rather, Batman, Bruce’s mask, that ends up with the big statue in City Hall, while no one remembers Foley.

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Inspired by Batman’s commitment and Gordon’s compromise over the Dent lie, Blake quits the police force and, with a bag of clues left to him by Bruce (what a day Bruce had coming back to Gotham, he had to pack a bag of clues for Blake too!) that leads him to the Batcave, and, as we learn Blake’s given name is “Robin,” to becoming a new Batman.  Will he be a better Batman than Bruce?  He does not fall into the Batcave, it is not his pit, not his deepest fears, rather he swings into the Batcave like Robin Hood.  He has the edge of an orphan but is of the streets, not the manse, he had no Alfred growing up, he had Father Reilly, the leader of the boy’s home (so that’s why that guy has so many scenes, he’s Blake’s low-budge Alfred).  His stated purpose is to find a way to help the city from outside the system, because institutions come with shackles, although, now that Batman has a statue downtown, he himself has become an institution.  Maybe that’s why Gordon looks so uncomfortable during the dedication, while he looks much happier when he finds a new Batsignal waiting for him.  Bruce bets that Batman cannot become an institution as long as there is an ordinary men behind the mask.  Bruce leaves Gotham Batman as his legacy, finally absenting himself, and his neuroses, from the equation, leaving Gotham to, finally, be its own city.


29 Responses to “Batman: The Dark Knight Rises part 15”
  1. George Poles says:

    Thanks for yet another hugely insightful and thought-provoking analysis. This made me look again at Bane’s arc. I had a completely different take – Bane had successfully usurped Batman as Gotham’s Dark Knight, the man behind the mask who enforces the law (Batman for Gordon and those behind Gordon, Bane for Talia). By returning and defeating Bane, Bruce/Batman has replaced Bane in his turn and resumed his role. As a true believer in *himself* Bane needs to defeat Bruce by his own hand [as an aside, this makes me think of the Rex Nemorensis, the high priest of Diana at Lake Nemi who was a slave who had murdered his predecessor]. I didn’t think he planned to run, he just needed to be standing over the defeated Bat when the clock ticked down. In this instance, Talia has asked too much of him, requiring to give up all ego in her service.

    • Todd says:

      That is certainly another possibility.

    • ShireNomad says:

      I had yet another take on it. Bane is tasked with guarding a man for eleven minutes. This man has, in one busy night, announced his presence to the city, freed 3000 cops and organized them for a march on Bane’s HQ, organized yet more allies to take the reactor, the tunnel, and three armored convoys, and injured Bane himself to the point where Bane would be defeated were Talia not available with an unexpected backstab. Furthermore, this man has proven that he cannot be considered contained, even when stuck at the bottom of an inescapable pit with a broken back. In eleven minutes (as we shall indeed see), such a man can do an incredible amount of damage to Talia’s plan.

      Previously, Bane had been working on the assumption that he could control Batman, that he was Batman’s superior in every way, that he had defeated him in every way. He now knows that is not the case; Batman has beaten HIM in every way. So Bane, while momentarily back in control of the situation (again, due to Talia, not Bane’s own ability), cannot assume that this will still be true eleven minutes from now.

      So what will Bane do against such a man? Like all true members of the League of Shadows, he will do what is necessary, and remove the Batman from the world entirely. Only then is Talia’s plan guaranteed success.

    • Jack says:

      Thank you Todd, I’ve been eagerly awaiting your take on Rises.

      The way I see it, Bane was annoyed that Batman caused him pain, and as revenge decided to finish him off before the bomb detonated simply as a point of honour.

  2. I don’t mean to sound snippy here, but why do so many people feel so slighted that the villains – particularly Bane, who many feel is an inferior nemesis compared to Heath Ledger’s Joker – don’t get these giant, grandiose death scenes? Are they even worth the trouble? Yes, both Talia’s and Bane’s deaths seemed anti-climactic in the moment, but I am reminded, especially in the wake of the tragic Colorado theater shooting, that glorifying such monsters lends them a celebrity/credibility they simply do not deserve. In a way, it’s like saying, “Boy, they sure killed their share of innocent civilians in cold blood, but I do wish they could have gone out in a bigger blaze of glory. They did put in the extra effort, after all. I think we should respect that.” Or maybe, as usual, I’m overreaching a bit.

    I thought Bane, by the way, was already defeated by Batman in rather spectacular fashion – his mask broken, reduced to a simpering child on the marble floor at the Caped Crusader’s feet. So getting blasted by the Batpod was just icing on the cake. And it was nice to see Talia bite the dust in the same basic way as her father – in a moving vehicle, crashing headlong from one city level down to another. (I also think she pre-timed the reactor to flood should anyone attempt to tamper with it – thus Lucius’ surprised reaction as he’s priming the machine to be reconnected with its source. So it’s not that she’s being theatrical so much as practical.)

    • Todd says:

      Good catch with Talia re-enacting Ra’s’s death.

      I don’t feel slighted by the villains’ deaths, I was just surprised that at one moment Bane is given pathos and in another he’s summarily dismissed. And I’m a little surprised that Batman doesn’t even check to see if Talia is still alive, but has tender conversations with Catwoman and Gordon.

      • I don’t mean to nitpick your thesis. My argument comes from a recent article quoting Mark Millar on the “Bane vs Catwoman thing” ( and also a conversation I had with a trusted friend and colleague, who thought Talia had a “pretty lame” death scene. I just didn’t mind either in retrospect, since the Nolans don’t seem to include things off-handedly.

        I admire your analysis (not to be a kiss-ass or anything) and again wish to point out how impressive it is that a movie like this has brought about such deep discussion, warts and all. You replied to a previous comment that TDK had a near-perfect screenplay and story structure, and I wholeheartedly agree with you – it will be the gold standard by which we judge all Comic Book Movies for a long time to come. (I also agree that Ledger was only A PART of an already ambitious piece of work, and other people would do well to remember that.) What I loved most about TDKR, though, is how ambitious it was, how many ideas it tried to tackle, when so many other threequels simply rest on their laurels.Yes, I admit that it bit off more than it could chew, but at least it TRIED.

        I wonder then: How did the overall movie make you FEEL – i.e., did it make you feel anything at all, as opposed to other Comic Book Movies? How do you think it rates compared to the other two films in the trilogy? And does the “ending” sway your opinion at all, seeing how every other franchise feels the need to keep their protagonists stagnant, while Nolan gives Bruce Wayne a very clear, very concise emotional goal to strive for?

        • Ashio says:

          I would also very much like a an answer from you regarding those last questions, I kinda hoped you would have had it in this last part of your analysis.

        • I can’t answer for Todd, but I was extremely glad the series had a clear arc and a clear ending, rather than the ongoing status quo that is so often the norm for superheroes. As for how it made me feel . . . when the movie was over, I turned to my husband and said, “That is what sticking the landing looks like.” It may not be as complex as TDK, but it’s the end rather than the middle; I’m not surprised its attention is more on wrapping things up than launching new threads (Blake aside). I felt pretty thoroughly satisfied by the wrapping up, even if after the fac there are bits I look back at and quibble over.

          • Todd says:

            I also find TDKR perfectly satisfactory, especially for its desire to tell a complete story for Bruce Wayne, and, for that matter, finally making Bruce Wayne a protagonist in his own story. Because I enjoy Nolan’s take on the material I would have loved to have seen more movies like this, but there’s no denying that he’s changed the landscape of what’s possible in the superhero genre forever.

            • Thank you, Todd. It’s insightful analyses like these that keep me coming back to your site. (Your comments were terrific, too, Marie!) I can’t tell you how excited I was to see you tackle TDKR, and I didn’t walk away disappointed.

  3. Colin Smith says:

    The self-sacrifice vs will-to-live math in this movie left me fairly confused. Bruce begins with a death wish, and has to find a fear of death in order to escape the pit. This fear later drives him to survive the bomb and reclaim his life. Talia not only escaped the pit in the same manner, but is in fact the model and example for Bruce’s escape — The Child Who Rose From The Pit is her defining trait. But not only is she not afraid to die, she has devoted years to developing elaborate and unnecessary death for herself. Is this because she lost her father after she climbed out of the pit rather than before? I can’t figure out the point of this.

    • N.A. says:

      I think that in Nolan’s cosmology, being unafraid to die means you have nothing left to live for. Talia has only her vengeance and hatred driving her. Foley goes out to lead the charge (and get cut down) only after he becomes consumed with shame at his own cowardice; he dies to redeem himself.

      Why does Bane prepare to kill Batman after Talia leaves? Because Batman shamed him by revealing that Bane was not, in fact, ready to die — that Bane had some tiny spark of love for Talia that made him afraid when Batman crushed his mask. Bane’s pride can’t allow Batman to live, knowing that.

      (Also, can I just take a moment to praise Tom Hardy’s wonderful, often hilarious performance as Bane? The pleased strutting around with his thumbs in his suspenders, the offhanded, Conneryesque delivery of lines like, “You’ll just have to imagine the fire!” — it’s just delightful. Between him and Javier Bardem’s Silva in SKYFALL, and arguably Loki in AVENGERS, this was a great year for terrifying-yet-funny villains in major blockbusters.)

      Remember that in Batman Begins, Bruce takes a gun into the nightclub where Carmine Falcone dines, ready to put a bullet in him, knowing full well that he’ll likely be killed by Falcone’s guards in the process. Nolan portrays that as a stupid, wasteful course of action.

      The whole point of this movie is Bruce’s rediscovery of a reason to live — making a connection to Selena, building a legacy through Blake, outgrowing his need for Alfred’s constant nannying, and repaying Gordon’s kindness. That’s the opposite of Bane, Talia, and the Joker’s nihilism. You can’t be a hero, Nolan argues, unless you have something larger than yourself, something living and thriving, to fight for.

      — N.A.

      • Colin Smith says:

        So why is it the rise from the pit used as a symbol of discovering a reason to live if it turns out Talia’s done it too and not made the same existential journey?

        • Todd says:

          I guess because she was born there?

        • Just because they both escaped from the pit doesn’t mean they learned the same lessons there. Talia was also a child when she escaped, and immediately went to find her father so he could enact a terrible vengeance on those who murdered her mother and brought harm to her only protector in the pit. She is striking back at the injustices of the world (having learned that from her father) and took up Ra’s’ mantle after Bruce “murdered him” – only now she’s taking it to the next level.

          Bruce simply finds a reason to refresh and soldier on – he’s healing himself, whereas little girl Talia was simply trying to escape certain death.

        • Colin Smith says:

          These points all make sense to me rationally, but in the context of the movie it still rings false somehow. I guess with this level of melodrama I expect stuff to signify stuff. Perhaps if there was more of Talia being herself in the movie, I’d have a better sense of the who and why of her, rather than just trying extrapolate her character.

  4. BenjaminJB says:

    No civilians were in the fight against Bane’s army, because they’re all here with Blake confronting another police force. (The police, don’t forget, are the “thin blue line” separating civilians from criminals — it’s their job to confront thugs, they’re urban warriors. …

    I want to be very careful with my words here, because I’m not claiming that this film is bad because of the choices it made, only that I feel uncomfortable with some of those narrative/thematic choices. Maybe it’s a good thing for the film to challenge me in this way?

    That said, whenever we see civilians, they’re either leaderless mobs turning on themselves–the poor throwing the rich out of their homes, howling in approval at Crane’s kangaroo court–or being led by the police. Let’s not forget, the bus full of civilian orphans is being lead by Blake, who is still a cop here. So when the cops are trapped underground, they work together; when the criminals are brought out of their prison, they work together. But regular civilians? Those people are a fucking mess without authorities to rule them.

    As you pointed out, Bane’s whole shtick is to use the existing levers of power against the pre-existing authorities: occupying Classic Greek civic temples, driving Batmobiles, co-opting the nuclear bomb, even running a scheme on the intelligence agency by faking Pavel’s death. So at the end of the movie, do people get together and say, “hey, maybe we need to rethink these levers of power?” No, they put up a statue of Batman, enact some new version of the Dent Act, and continue to occasionally throw charity cocktail balls.

    Which is why the inclusion of the Robin BlakeBat seems so fraught to me, a tragic ending. Bruce has learned the important lesson that being Batman was terrible, from soup to nutso supervillains: it’s bad for his emotional, social, economic, physical life, and also bad for the city. Okay, you say, but BlakeBat won’t bring Bruce’s emotional issues. Sure, but he’ll bring his own issues, which, if we’re to judge by his first confrontation with Bruce–“You gotta learn to hide the anger, practice smiling in the mirror. It’s like putting on a mask”–aren’t all that different.

    It’s that combination–an ongoing Batman legacy and the absence of any real agency for the civilians (outside of “father figure” roles)–that makes me a little uncomfortable about the themes here.

    • BenjaminJB says:

      And, despite whatever disagreement we have about the end, thank you for an excellent analysis and for hosting these conversations in your comments section. I’m looking forward to what’s next.

      (Also, if you don’t listen to John August and Craig Mazin’s Scriptnotes podcast, they had a nice episode recently about theme and structure in Raiders of the Lost Ark.)

    • Awkshwayrd says:

      The ‘ending being tragic’ idea makes more sense to me even if it feels less than satisfactory. It feels like after a movie full of showing the audience how Bruce being Batman has messed up things, Nolan holds back in the end and doesn’t completely deconstruct the idea of Batman in his own movie a la Watchmen (The whole motivation for Bane and Talia trying to destroy Gotham is to specifically take revenge on Bruce. The rest of the city become innocent pawns in their private little war.) That could also be the reason we don’t get to see the citizenry proper of Gotham taking part in the final battle (which I was kind of hoping would happen). Once they have taken full responsibility for Gotham, BatBlake isn’t really needed.
      What’s particularly egregious is that Blake’s whole purpose in the movie is to set up the last shot. He plays close to no role in the resolution of the plot and has that one scene on the bridge where he reaches the conclusion that the ‘existing structures’ have limitations. Structurally his ‘losing faith in structures’ arc is in direct opposition to the overall arc of the citizenry of Gotham ‘taking back the city and fixing their structures’ which is literalised by Gordon reading the ‘It is a far far better thing I do…’for how Bruce might be feeling. Could it be that Nolan doesn’t believe it himself and both Gordon and Bruce are arrogant and incorrect even at the end, still part of the old guard trying to defend flawed structures.

  5. Michael says:

    You never cease to amaze with these great analyses, Todd!

    I’m a little surprised you didn’t bring up the idea of Blake as an audience surrogate. Ever since he was young, he’s grown up idolized Batman, hearing the stories about him like a kid reading his first Batman comic book. Important to note that, like the audience, he is aware that Bruce Wayne is Batman without knowing either of them personally. Like the millions who packed the theatres this past summer, he still believes in Batman, — he wants to see him return, to be back in action. Towards the end of the movie, when he watches Batman take down five or six of Bane’s thugs in about 15 seconds, he doesn’t intervene, but watches in amazement, seeing his childhood idol beat the bad guys. The look of childlike wonder on Blake’s face at the end as he watches The Bat fly off into the distance with the bomb, saving the city, is a piece of sublime acting by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, especially as the almost Spielberg-esque look of wonder changes into one of dawning sadness when he realizes that it means the end of Batman.

  6. Curt Holman says:

    Reading these analyses has made me notice that the Nolan Batman films have a through-line that seems to argue that Bruce Wayne shouldn’t even BE Batman. Being Batman’s generally positive in BATMAN BEGINS (apart from the likelihood of getting himself killed). One can make a case that Batman’s presence makes Gotham City worse in THE DARK KNIGHT — which doesn’t seem entirely fair. THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, as Todd demonstrates, sends Bruce on a journey that leads him out of his bat cave (both metaphorically and literally).

    It’s like an inverse of the argument (stated earlier on the blog) that Bruce Wayne is the mask and Batman is the real person — Nolan seems to say ‘Nope, Bruce Wayne really is the real person — just not drunken playboy Bruce Wayne.’ Superhero stories often put the main character through some kind of identity crisis or trial — “I will be Spider-man no more!” — but ultimately endorse being a hero. TDKR does not. Almost.

    If it weren’t for Blake, I”d wonder if TDKR is against the whole idea of being Batman, but Blake’s arc counterbalances it. Of course, we don’t see him become Batman (or even Nightwing) at the end, although if memory serves me right, the film’s final image is Blake literally rising on that platform in the bat cave.

    • Todd says:

      It’s funny, there’s been a shift in the past 30 years or so towards Batman being a burden instead of being awesome. I’ve noticed it in the various TV representations too. At this point, the dominant image of Batman is that he’s the last thing in the world anyone would want to be, like it’s a big drag being Batman.

      I wonder sometimes if Batman’s makeover in the movies corresponds at all to American history during the same period, that Americans see themselves as Batman, richer than God, burdened with this job of ridding the world of giggling lunatics, everyone hating us for it, never being able to be happy, making the world worst while trying to make it better.

      • Curt Holman says:

        Superman seems more consciously tied to images of Americana — you don’t see Batman with an American flag very often. Your description reminds me of how Superman comics will often have a cover with Kal-El confronted by suffering masses — starving or diseased or injured in war — and a spokeshuman who angrily says ‘Why can’t you use your superpowers to solve this social problem, Superman?!!”

        The thing about Batman is that the character seems to lend himself to the dark, broody, Gothic treatment better than most of the other enduring superheroes.

  7. Greg Manuel says:

    That shot of Blake holding up the light there made me wonder if that was a nod to Superman: The Movie, and young Clark holding the glowing crystal in the Artic? A hero’s birth, twice over?

  8. Alan Bostick says:

    Nolan is clearly aware of the cinematic representations of Batman that preceded him. I can’t help but wonder if the climax of TDKR is an unwrapping and examination of the thesis, “Some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb!”