If you have not seen Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, you should before you see Rises.  Nolan brilliantly weaves themes and characters from the first two films into Rises, much to the delight of Bat-fans. Rises picks up months after Dark Knight. The lie that Batman created for Gotham that Harvey Dent was the hero, despite his transformation into Two-Face. Thanks to the Dent Act, in memory of Harvey, the streets of Gotham have been swept clean of organized crime. For the first time in decades, the city knows peace. It is a city without the need for Batman. As such, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has secluded himself in the east wing of Wayne Manor.

With the city and Bruce Wayne vulnerable, Bane (Tom Hardy of Nolan’s Inception) enters the story. Bane is quite possibly the epitome of evil. His presence alone is intimidating due to the way he carries his physical bulk.  And never mind the Hannibal Lector-like mask he wears. He speaks in a calm and thoughtful manner, that reminds you of a great philosopher, yet he can break a neck in a single twist. A mercenary who speaks of revolution, Bane exploits the class warfare already in existence for his own means; for his own power.

As Bane and his goons wreak havoc in Gotham – which looks more and more like New York – Bruce must decide if he will rise from the self-inflicted daze to regain his vocation as the Batman. The question, however, shifts from, “Can he?” to “Should he?” The answer, as is true for most of Nolan’s films, is nowhere near simple. In a Jonah-in-the-whale kind of way, Bruce is imprisoned in Bane’s prison where he heals physically and emotionally. As Bruce catapults out of the prison’s hole, he claims his mission and sets out to wear the mask and cape.

In the midst of all of this, there is a mysterious woman in a cat costume.  Catwoman, or Selina Kyle is played by Anne Hathaway.  Hathaway handles the role of Catwoman in such a casual way that it makes us think, “Of course she’s the Catwoman.” Her morality is as flexible as her body, which is no wonder she and Batman seem to have a kinship.

The Dark Knight Rises does what every great film should do – spark conversation on the drive home. And I don’t mean conversations about how awesome the special effects were. I mean conversations about the themes and statements the film is saying about humanity.

Catwoman embodies one of the many themes in this film: grace. She is searching for ways to clear her slate, erase her record. She was made promises by Bane’s people that never came to fruition. Wayne/Batman offers her the same BEFORE she does anything. As a result, she offers assistance to help him find Bane.  But, it turns out to be a trap.  Even so, Wayne/Batman offers her grace and a chance to be a part of the redeeming of Gotham.

“Born in hell, forged from suffering, hardened by pain.” That line from the film is about Bane. It could easily be about Bruce Wayne as well. Both men have been forged from suffering and hardened by pain. The difference is how the men response to this tragedy/crisis/struggle. Like Jonah, Bane prefers vengeance to those who have done wrong. Like Jonah, Bruce Wayne rises above his own struggles to reclaim a commitment he has made to do good. And like Jonah, grace is the lesson learned. We rise because we have grace.

The film is the home to many more themes and theological ponderings. Too many to name and discuss here. One question remains, though, what will the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences do with the Batman?

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