Continuing our Comic Book Movie Month here at Flickering Myth, Scott Davis revisits The Dark Knight Rises…
A year or so on from its release last summer, a lot has been written by fans and critics alike about Christopher Nolan’s trilogy closer, The Dark Knight Rises. It seems strange to look back at such a mammoth success with a sense of disappointment, but for quite some time, even to this day, lots of talking and opinion has been made about the film.
In finishing his trilogy, Nolan went all out: an epic movie to end all epic movies, Enveloping Bruce Wayne’s final chapter in a massive disaster movie. Streets fall, stadiums explode, heroes are beaten and banished as Gotham comes crumbling down under the weight of Bane’s tyranny and its own corrupt systems.
But while its spectacle is unmistakable, what is the bravest choice of Nolan and co. is to return to the roots of their story, namely Batman Begins, and removing Batman from the story for large parts. Batman has about 20mins or so of screen time, reduced to three big scenes in which he inadvertently lets the villain escape the police clutches, beaten to a pulp by said villain, before his triumphant return to face his darkest fear: a life without Batman. A life, period.
Nolan maintained that this was Bruce’s story, with each chapter acting as beginning, middle and end of his journey from damned child, through volatile teen years, through his disappearance and re-emergence as Gotham’s hero. In TDKR, it’s full-on Bruce for the majority: in self-induced hibernation, Bruce.
Anchored by Christian Bale, in his finest hour of the trilogy, Bruce’s journey in TDKR is perhaps the most profound, facing his darkest fears as his home and ideals are ripped apart at the seams, in spectacular, realistic fashion. While it lacks the anarchic, unpredictable nature of Ledger’s ground-breaking Joker, it more than makes up for it with the controlled, militaristic, brutalitarian Bane, with Tom Hardy on superb form, even with the voice issues. He, as well the superb cast around them, envelopes us in the terror that is unfolding, and grounds the film with depth, warmth and skill throughout.
A lot too has been made about the “problems” with TDKR. I myself have had many discussions with friends about said problems, whether its how Bruce got back to Gotham, or how Bane knew where the “precious armoury” was located, or Bane’s death, or how day becomes night in the blink of an eye. As trivial as they may be, and as many different opinions people have on such things, it was perhaps partly to blame for the lack of recognition TDKR received against the previous two. No real awards wins (Academy, Foreign Press, British Press, even Empire and MTV awards failed to bestow anything on the film) and its thunder stolen in a sense by the monstrous returns from The Avengers.
But its lack of recognition for the big awards, which were being talked about as a realistic target this time last year, does nothing to decrease its power, and is arguably the best of the trilogy in terms of filmmaking success and scope. It deserved better. Josh Whedon brought his a-game for The Avengers, for sure, but Nolan trumped him with the sheer size of the film. Right from its superb opening prologue (horrible Hardy re-dubbing aside), TDKR is the most immersive blockbuster of recent times and helped along by its use of IMAX, it feels like your right there watching the mayhem unfold.
There are many standout scenes throughout TDKR, some of which were the best of year. The highlight no doubt is the fight between Batman and Bane, where Nolan dropped Hans Zimmer’s epic score so all we hear is Wayne’s battered body, hopelessly trying to galvanise himself as Bane delivers blow after blow without breaking a sweat. It was (and still is) so rare to see the hero so brutally tested, that it looks for all the world that there is no end in sight, no redemption but utter torture and despair. Similarly, once Bane has disposed of old Bats, his decimation and terror of Gotham is a feast for the eyes. Not so much the content (any terror is always uncomfortable viewing when it’s this real) but the visuals are a stunning realisation of “the true despair of failure” as Bruce watches on in horror as Gotham is reduced to rubble.
Whatever problems (small or big) The Dark Knight Rises has, it is still a monumental achievement in all areas: Nolan’s direction, Zimmer’s score, Wally Pfister’s beautiful cinematography, Chris Corbould and co.’s superb physical special effects and many more, combine to create a spectacular motion picture designed for one purpose and one only: entertaining and enlightening it’s audience. Coupled with some superb acting across the board, and it is unquestionably one of the great modern blockbusters. Yes, I said it. Even with the brilliance of Whedon’s Avengers and Vaughn’s X-Men lingering in the background, it’s Nolan superb trilogy that has truly raised the stakes for the blockbuster and the superhero movie alike. Would we have these and many other great recent comic-book movies without Nolan? Of course we would. But I guarantee none of them would have been half as good without Nolan’s influence in bringing out the real and the truthfulness of comic-book movies. Despite their nature, we all want people to look up to, and “ideals to strive towards.” Thanks to Nolan, now we do.