Wednesday, 1 August 2012

The Legend Ends.


Writing about The Dark Knight Rises proved more difficult than I imagined. It should have been easy since I love all of Nolan's Batmans with great passion and I consider him to be a present day Hitchcock, but it’s Christopher Nolan! I feel like I should take the time to carefully choose words to write about my favourite film trilogy.

I’ve never had much interest in Batman, or any other superhero, as a child, and my interest in them as a grownup was mild and superficial. I went to see Batman because it was a Tim Burton film and I loved it because of that rather than its Batman-ness. Similarly, it was because of Christopher Nolan that I went to see Batman Begins, however, this time I've developed an interest in The Batman outside the film and the wish to explore the character.

Batman placed the Batman and the Joker in a predetermined Burton-esque universe and they fitted in it beautifully. Christopher Nolan, on the other hand, built Batman and his world slowly, with a great deal of care and attention, from the beginning, as if there was never any Batman before. I almost wish that Nolan’s trilogy would have come first, then the Tim Burton films, with an added wishful thinking that he would have finished his own originally planned trilogy.

Risking controversy, I am going to make the dramatic statement that I think The Dark Knight Rises may be my favourite of the three films. Since I consider all of them to be nothing less than extraordinary, it says a lot. However, because I am crazy like that and oh so changeable, I should add that my outrageous above declaration may have a little something to do with the current nurturing of my obsession with The Dark Knight Rises and every time I watch the other two films I am still in awe of them and my favourite can alter at any time, which only makes this trilogy that much better. 

I think the love for The Dark Knight Rises is not quite as obvious and sweeping as it was with the other two films, especially The Dark Knight. Maybe it is one of the things that made me love it that tiny bit more. Batman Begins was the film that set the tone, recreated the hero and put Nolan on the map. Its impact is still so strong. The Dark Knight destroyed that hero and recreated a loved villain. It made The Joker one of the best onscreen villains of his time and Heath Ledger a legend. 

With great masterpieces like The Prestige and Inception in between, The Dark Knight Rises had a lot to live up to both within the Batman sphere and within the Nolan one. The eagerness and anticipation sky rocketed. Such build up, The Dark Knight to follow, the fact that most trilogies have a history of disappointing third parts and the general scepticism and antagonism that box office popularity and critical acclaim brings, could have lead to a disaster were it any other filmmaker. But Nolan rose to the challenge and delivered an ending so thrilling that I found myself, once again, wishing that all films would be a little bit more Nolan.  

I won’t discuss, well not at length anyway, how wonderfully brave it was to make a Batman film with such hype and such budget and have so little Batman actually in it, because many have done so, but it’s not just that Batman’s presence is little, his significance and his role changed. On the one hand Batman’s absence is so strongly felt it hurts Gotham, Nolan took his time as we watched the downfall of Gotham city into real despair before he brought Batman back, on the other hand, Batman’s return involves emotional as well as physical pain to himself. Alfred, damn you Michael Cane for making me cry every time, sees the return of Batman as the inevitable death of Bruce Wayne. And indeed Bruce Wayne went through his own decline, so masterfully portrayed by Christian Bale, and quite literally broke. He had to decide he wanted to live before he could go back and fight Bane.

The comparison between Bane and The Joker is irrelevant and to say either one was better or worse is moot. They were both the right kind of villains for the film they were in. The Joker was the perfect 'agent of chaos', with no background or clear motivation apart from his urge to destroy, and as such he was brilliant. Bane is an enhanced and extreme version of Bruce Wayne and as such he too was absolutely brilliant and Tom Hardy managed to convey so much not just through his eyes, but his presence, his body language and the way he fought, I witness the transformation to anger, pain and sadness with every punch that echoed louder than any word could. 

The common ground between Bane and Bruce goes deeper and further than the League of Shadows, of which they were both part of at one point. As a child, Bruce fell in to a well and spent several hours facing his worst nightmare. His dad was his mentor and helped him overcome his fear with love and care. Bane spent the better part of his life in the pit from hell facing the kind of torture that makes Bruce's nightmares seem like child play. The closest thing he had to a father, Ra’s Al Ghul, turned his back to him. Unlike Batman, who left the woman he loved for dead, Bane saved the love of his life. 

Bane turns Batman back into Bruce Wayne even when he is wearing the suite, which is why, unlike The Joker and Commissioner Gordon, he never refers to him as The Batman, he strips him from his superhero identity and exposes him for who he really is, which is why Batman’s/Bruce’s secret identity becomes redundant as the film progresses and the line between them becomes blurry. Bane is physically stronger and essentially intellectually superior, neither Batman nor Bruce figured out who the real villain was until it was too late. If it wasn’t for Catwoman he probably would have died. 

Just like he reinvented The Joker, Nolan reinvented Catwoman. I love the fact that not once in the film, nor on IMDB for that matter, is Selina referred to as Catwoman, I never really liked that name, but at the same time it is clear that she is Catwoman. Though her body outfit did not differ much from that of Michelle Pfeiffer in Batman Returns, or that of Scarlett Johansson in The Avengers Assemble, there was something about the gorgeous Anne Hathaway that made her look elegant as well as sexy in it, like a career woman wearing a beautiful work suit. Her fight scenes were fantastic, not because they were sexy or that it's cool that to see a girl in a leather suit kick some ass, but because you can actually see the work she puts into every kick and punch on her face and body when she fights. Her fight scenes, even the small ones, are handled with the same care as those of Batman's and it’s superb to watch. Selina and Bane were the characters I missed most when they weren’t on screen.

Another new character was introduced in this film, John Blake and his development was a clever one. Blake is the heart and conscience of the film, pointing the finger at Bruce and Commissioner Gordon when no one else will. I don’t think anyone had any doubt that he is Robin, only in the end he actually skips being Robin to take over from Bruce and become Batman, like one of the many directions in which the comic books developed. Unlike Batman, Selina and even Commissioner Gordon, Blake has not been had a brush with darkness, his heart is still pure and he handles his personal tragedy better than them, it makes his disappointment of the people he looked up to so sincere and strong, but it also makes him possibly a better Batman.

Across the Dark Knight trilogy, Christopher Nolan created a hero and destroyed him only to rebuild him as a symbol. Anyone can be Batman can also mean anyone can create Batman. Of course there will be cynics who would see this ending paving the way for WB and DC to go back and milk that cash cow, and why shouldn't they? The choice is in the viewer's hand. Christopher Nolan, the one man who stands almost alone against 3D pressure from Hollywood (you didn't think I would leave that out did you?), the one who insists on film even when projecting and gets it, and the man who makes a Batman film which tells the story of Bruce Wayne, doesn’t exactly strike me as a man who would compromise on the ending of the trilogy that made him. Whether it's a calculated ploy or the ending Nolan always envisioned, in my view it fitted with the direction of the films beautifully.   

The Dark Knight Rises is the film in which I felt the Nolan most strongly, not that he wasn't present in the other films, but perhaps like Batman, he took his time and made us wait until he rose bigger than ever. The taking pleasure in telling the story and savouring it, the physicality and grittiness of both the phenomenal action on screen, which I think every action filmmaker should learn from, and the look of the film (in those few cinemas that still project film), which makes you feel like you can almost touch it especially in the enhanced experience of the right kind of IMAX, and most of all the structure, for Nolan’s dedication to structure is that of a fine architect and like no other filmmaker today, reached a stupendous climax in a fitting ending for this genus' groundbreaking trilogy.

The individual films are built with such consideration that they work separately, but when you put them together, they lean on each other to make a cinema Pantheon where I want to live. 


  1. It's well-put--I'm still not convinced, but I think you highlight why it's a great film.

    1. I think most people will choose The Dark Knight over The Dark Knight Rises. When I buy the box set I won't have to choose :)

  2. Good. I didn't realise that "Robin" might not be becoming Robin but Batman. That improves things for me. Anyway, well done Aya. I think Nolan is like Hitchcock too - simply, he knows how to put a film together. Also, he always wears a suit on set! Nice!

    1. I'm always happy when I can improve a Nolan film for anyone :)
      Yes, when I first heard/read that Nolan was wearing suits to sets it has confirmed to me beyond any doubt that he is indeed the present day Hitchcock.