The Dark Knight Rises was the end of an era. It was the final time the DC franchise focused on standalone tales before launching their shared universe, which officially continues in the 2020s. As such, a lot of what makes it so unique also disappeared in the wake of that transition: the first 40 minutes is all setup. Rather than jumping into a new Batman adventure as quickly as possible, Nolan allows the ending of 2008’s The Dark Knight to sit in order to maintain dramatic value: Batman is gone. This is not a Batman film, instead working as a drama about the life of Bruce Wayne, while providing plenty of space for the other characters. The Dark Knight Rises stands out by being the sole DC film of its decade to be literary, taking its time and trusting the audience to have patience – something lacking from their successive superhero efforts.
Not only is it the end of an era but it’s the conclusion to a version of Batman more removed from its source material than any other. The Dark Knight Trilogy is more comparable to The Lord of the Rings and The Dark Knight Rises is ‘The Return of the King’. Gotham is a microcosmic Middle-earth. Bruce Wayne’s story is Gotham’s story, they’re inseparable. This trilogy has been about one city and how it became the battleground between all that’s heroic and villainous in the world. In the conclusion to that trilogy, that concept is pushed to its logical conclusion in the most apocalyptic way imaginable: Gotham is the world, Bane is the tyrants that would see it in servitude and the fusion reactor is the nuclear weapons that will blow us all to Hell if they fall into such hands.
The Dark Knight Rises is a film I appreciate more every time I watch it. Christopher Nolan’s films are all multi-layered in their own way but this is one of his more emotionally-crafted films, in which the human drama is at the centre of the narrative structure, rather than embedded beneath it, as is the case most of the time.
The real bravery of the film is that it doesn’t exist in the shadow of The Dark Knight. That previous instalment redefined what the genre is capable of being – but rather than taking the obvious sequel route by trying to impress us with the same thing, The Dark Knight Rises once again finds something new to do with the superhero film while its peers continued to play it safe.