So five years have passed since the release of The Dark Knight (check out the retrospective here) but it’s also a year since Christopher Nolan’s Batman film trilogy came to its epic and hotly anticipated conclusion…
‘THE DARK KNIGHT RISES’ – LOOKING BACK
It’s been eight years since the last reported sighting of the Batman and eight years since the events surrounding the death of Harvey Dent, forcing Bruce Wayne into ‘retirement’ and seclusion. The passing of the Dent Act has meant that the streets of Gotham are safer but in this time of complacency the legacy of Ra’s Al Ghul and The League of Shadows threatens to re-emerge – Gotham’s reckoning is at hand…
Taking time out from Gotham City to write, produce and direct the inventive sci-fi heist thriller Inception, Christopher Nolan would soon calm the anxieties of many a Bat-fan and confirm a third and final instalment of his Dark Knight saga. Following a tightly secretive production and a series of hype inducing trailers – the end result was presented to audiences in July 2012 as The Dark Knight Rises.
The main principle cast reprised their respective roles, giving arguably their best performances of the trilogy – particularly Christian Bale, fresh from Academy Award success having received a Best Supporting Actor nod for The Fighter. Michael Caine featured in a slightly smaller, but no less significant role as Alfred and Nolan brought across more of his Inception stars – Tom Hardy as the film’s main villain – Bane, Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Blake) and Marion Cotillard (Miranda) together with Anne Hathaway (Selina Kyle) and Full Metal Jacket’s Matthew Modine (Foley). Liam Neeson appears in a neat cameo during a dream sequence, giving a realistic twist to the immortal (making use of a ‘Lazarus Pit’ to periodically rejuvenate) comic book counterpart of the Ra’s Al Ghul character. We also saw another appearance by Cillian Murphy as the ever wicked Jonathan Crane.
When announced it was perhaps with both excitement and trepidation that the film’s main villain would be Bane – the hulking (sorry Marvel), muscle-bound, spandex and wrestling mask sporting character from the classic Knightfall comic book saga of the early 90’s. Bane, despite his appearance is a great character much improved by a reimagining that remains true to the comics (gone was the spandex with the wrestling mask replaced with a more functional version serving to release painkillers) and given validity and stature by Tom Hardy together with some great dialogue. If Batman Begins gave us the idealist in the form of Ra’s Al Ghul, The Dark Knight the anarchist in the Joker then The Dark Knight Rises presented us with the terrorist – Bane, excommunicated from The League of Shadows but non-the-less seeking to fulfil Ra’s Al Ghul’s plan to eradicate Gotham.
Anne Hathaway proved a treat (more than just mere eye candy) and is easily the best screen interpretation of Selina Kyle to date. Referred to simply as the ‘Cat Burglar’ as opposed to Catwoman, she was given a more realistic and functional look (which the comics have continually leaned towards), her goggles flipping upwards – and given cleverly placed camera shots – the upward curves of which look suspiciously (and pleasingly) like those iconic cat ears.
Prior to release of The Dark Knight Rises there was much speculation as to the true identity of Marion Cottilard’s character, Miranda Tate and with a well handled twist we discovered that Tate was indeed Talia Al Ghul – daughter of Ra’s and another significant character of Batman mythology (in the comics she mothers Wayne’s son and future Robin, Damian).
This brings us to Joseph Gordon-Levitt, cast as Detective John Blake – a twist on the Robin character (or probably more Nightwing here). The screenplay (once again by Christopher and Jonathan Nolan from a story by Chris Nolan and David S. Goyer) cleverly set up Blake as the likely successor to the cape and cowl, from his unease at the use of firearms to his eventual frustration – and loss of faith in – ‘the system’. This set up also provided the trilogy with a satisfying closing scene.
Wayne Manor had finally been rebuilt and in terms of the on-screen hardware, the Bat-pod made a welcome return but the limelight was well and truly stolen by Batman’s new vehicle: the ‘Bat’ – obviously Nolan’s version of the Batwing. As with the Tumbler, the Bat was a well-designed military-grade reinvention of Batman’s iconic flying vehicle and allowed for some exhilarating action sequences in The Dark Knight Rises.
The action and excitement is second to none, from the Police pursuit of the Bat-pod, Batman’s initial (almost deadly) bout with Bane, Bruce Wayne’s escape from Bane’s pit prison right through to the edge of the seat climax through the streets of Gotham. Despite a longer running time, the pacing seems to flow better than The Dark Knight. True there is the odd plot-hole but the running time would have to have been significantly extended to fill in every detail and we’re not reading a novel after all.
The Dark Knight Rises built to a thrilling final act with Bruce Wayne’s afore-mentioned triumphant escape from Bane’s pit-prison, returning to Gotham to don the Bat-suit one last time as Gotham’s police battles Bane’s mercenaries all leading to Batman once again facing off against Bane, the betrayal of Miranda and the revelation of her true identity and Bruce Wayne’s apparent sacrifice, saving Gotham from the detonation of a nuclear bomb.
HOW DOES ‘THE DARK KNIGHT RISES’ HOLD UP A YEAR ON?
The Dark Knight Rises proved divisive amongst some fans (despite positive critical reception and another healthy $1 billion plus at the box office) but for the majority (this writer included) it was a breath-taking and fitting final chapter of Christopher Nolan’s foray into the world of Batman.
The film is of course still fresh in the minds of cinemagoers the world over and I’ve found that it holds up just as well after several Blu-ray viewings since last summer’s theatrical release.
The production was as strong as the previous entries and resisting the lure (and no doubt studio pressures) of 3D, Nolan decided to once again employ the IMAX format (shooting over an hour of footage with the cameras, roughly double that of The Dark Knight) allowing even more grand and epic visuals (kudos once again to cinematographer Wally Pfister). Hanz Zimmer’s (sans James Newton Howard this time out) score is more than worthy of a mention easily conveying the anticipation, tension and excitement of every scene.
With The Dark Knight Rises, Bruce Wayne’s story came full circle but leaves the Batman legend to endure. Although I would still rate Batman Begins as arguably the best of the series, The Dark Knight Rises comes awful close.
The closing moments of the film have been (and still are) endlessly discussed and dissected with two outcomes: Bruce Wayne is dead or…Bruce Wayne is NOT dead. I’m firmly in the camp of the latter, it seems that Nolan ideally would have liked to kill off Bruce Wayne to end his Batman story but ultimately did not want to alienate die-hard comic fans. Nor would the studio allow someone to kill off a 70+ year old icon – there can really be no Batman in the long term without Bruce Wayne (notwithstanding Dick Grayson’s tenure in the comics prior to the current ‘New 52’ run).
The evidence is there: the software patch to the Bat’s autopilot system, the missing pearl necklace from the items in Bruce’s Will and his acquisition of the ’clean slate’ programme – however, it is all presented in a way that if you choose to believe Bruce is dead then, in fairness, each point could be argued. Regardless, the debate over the finale of The Dark Knight Rises will perhaps never be settled.
When we next see Batman up on the big screen it will be in the recently announced (as yet untitled) Batman/Superman crossover with Man of Steel director Zack Snyder at the helm (and a screenplay from David S. Goyer) with a new actor to don the cape and cowl. Although we are unlikely to see as sophisticated and artistic a take on the Batman mythos as presented by Christopher Nolan it’s reassuring that the character, so ingrained in popular culture, will continue to endure…we can only hope that there isn’t a return to the dark (and camp) days of Joel Schumacher’s tenure!
Top three moments of The Dark Knight Rises:
- Russian scientist Dr. Pavel has been captured along with another hooded man and taken into a plane where he is questioned by American agents. Bane is revealed as the other man as a cargo plane flies above, heavily armed men dropping down to facilitate Bane’s escape with Pavel and the destruction of the plane…with no other survivors.
- After recovering from his back injury and a number of failed attempts to escape from Bane’s prison, Bruce Wayne summons all his will and strength to make one final climb – he ascends as bats swarm out of a crack in the wall, finally reaching the surface…and freedom.
- Batman has supposedly died saving Gotham City one last time. Commissioner Gordon mourns, only to discover a replacement Bat-signal has been installed on the roof of the GCPD building; Blake collects items left to him in Bruce’s Will – giving his legal first name as ‘Robin’; Alfred relaxes at a French bistro where he sees Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle sat not too far away; Blake arrives at the destination Bruce Wayne has sent him to, he discovers a cave, a swarm of bats rushes forward and the ground elevates beneath his feet…the new Dark Knight…Rises!