The Dark Knight Begins, Falls & Rises.
I remember seeing Batman Begins in 2005 and being completely stunned. “Did that just happen?” Batman was rebuilt, re-configured and we finally got a chance to know the man behind the mask; what drives him to don the cape and prowl the night-time rooftops of Gotham. He became just a man that we could relate to in not knowing his place and purpose in the world, and in the end becoming, “more than just a man.”
After the loss of his parents, Bruce was in search of a father figure, and in the end found 4 “foster fathers”. Jim Gordon was the nurturing and caring father-in-the-making, Ducard provided him with direction and the means to become Batman, Lucius Fox was the fun father with all the cool toys, and Alfred is the worldly-wise side with unconditional love for Bruce. It’s hard to find anyone unaware of the critical mauling the series took after Joel Schumacher’s films, and I was intrigued before going into the cinema to view Christopher Nolan’s reboot, merely going along because I remained a loyal fan and hadn’t given up on the Bat yet. During scenes such as the training on the ice lake, the Tumbler chase and, “Why do we fall?”, it was cementing the foundations of a change in the series and films in general, such as Casino Royale. The reconstruction of the south-east wing was under way, if you will.
[Oh yeah, SPOILERS!]
After the closing scene, The Dark Knight was inevitable, but no-one could have predicted the massive cultural impact that it had in 2008. Heath Ledger’s tragic and unfortunate death shortly before it’s release cast a big shadow over it’s release. Of course the sequel would be bigger, but this defined the superhero movie genre whilst simultaneously breaking all of the rules, finally, after becoming an industry itself since 2000 with Bryan Singer’s X-Men. The good guy got corrupted, the girl died, and the main hero became an outlaw. Some critics thought the Harvey Dent/Two-Face storyline bloated the film, but I found the character arc to be tragic, but also gripping at the same time. One of the fundamental questions it asked, was how far are you willing to go for justice in the state of adversity, and at what cost? Echoing Ducard’s words in Batman Begins, “Are you willing to do what is necessary?” Batman sticks to his guns and uses the symbol he has created to take the fall for Harvey “Two-Face” Dent’s crimes. Then, for me, the greatest cinematic sign-off ever, riding off into the night as an outlaw.
20th July 2012, The Dark Knight Rises is released. How does Nolan top his 2008 entry into his Bat trilogy? If “fear” was the theme of the first film and “chaos” of the second, the conclusion is ultimately about “pain”. Mentally, Bruce Wayne is still mourning the loss of Rachel, and physically suffers critical injuries from both his previous and current encounters with Gotham’s scum. Alfred cannot bear seeing the boy he has cared for all of his life destroy himself, Commissioner Gordon is injured by Bane’s thugs, and Bane himself is in constant pain which can only be suppressed by his mask. The film also deals with current themes in society as the great divide between the rich and the poor, in a very Dickensian “A Tale Of Two Cities” way (which happened to be a key influence on the film, according to Nolan).
Anne Hathaway practically steals the show as Selina Kyle, effortlessly switching from her “regular gal” persona to scheming cat burglar, really showcasing her fantastic acting ability. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a great addition as GC cop John Blake and, some fans may hate this aspect of the conclusion, earns his stripes as Batman’s potential successor. Tom Hardy is absolutely menacing as Bane, both physically and verbally. I dismissed all of the initial criticisms of his voice issues with the mask after seeing the 6 minute prologue earlier in the year; I could understand everything he said, and when I heard the petition to alter the voice I was a little disappointed. Even so, viewing this film with a good sound system is a must. During the confrontation between Bane and the Bat in the sewers, it really conveyed just how sinister and devoted this villain is to his destructive plan. How can we also forget the man of hour, Christian Bale. Ever since his American Psycho performance, he as continued to impress. He has been fantastic as Bruce Wayne and really steps it up several gears for TDKR; you can feel his emotional wounds that continue to haunt him day and night. More so in this film than the previous two. However for me, Michael Caine hits the emotional notes of the film. His turmoil of seeing Bruce destroy himself and failing to protect him really put a lump in my throat in the cinema! When he and Bruce go their separate ways, eventually leading to Alfred’s worst fear, it’s very rewarding right at the end to see Bruce find happiness and succeed in making the Batman a symbol, whilst hanging up the cape and passing the torch. During the closing scenes, I was a little scared that it would be an Inception-style cut away to the credits. Thankfully, Nolan finds closure and doesn’t leave any stone unturned.
The sheer scale of this film is unprecedented; Gotham City is locked down and at war. Whilst other summer blockbusters in the last year or so (such as The Avengers and Transformers 3) have bloated the destruction of a city at ransom with CGI, this felt somewhat fresh. Wally Pfister’s cinematography of Gotham in the winter snow is somewhat beautiful but harrowing at the same time. It feels like it actually could be your city. The set pieces are very impressive too and it was hard not be stunned by the Batman’s triumphant return in the Stock Exchange attack. Along with the parallels to the Knightfall story line from the comics, it was nice to see Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns be one of the key plot influences too in Batman’s eight year hiatus (“Son, you are in for a show tonight!”). Christopher Nolan and the writers clearly know their source material well, more so than previous directors, and it pays off immensely. The parallels to Batman Begins were well utilised; linking it back full circle with the League of Shadows and the resemblance of climbing the pit to climbing the well at Wayne Manor as a child.
As trilogies go, this sits at the top of the bill. Fantastic writing from Jonathan & Christopher Nolan and David S Goyer, stunning production design all captured by Wally Pfister’s beautifully natural cinematography. Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard’s excellent soundtracks are a character as much as Gotham City itself. They continue to impress more and more with every viewing. The sequels may have been unplanned, but the film-makers have been uncompromising in creating fantastic characters that have gone on a thrilling journey with moments that have seared into our cortex’s as well as celluloid history. It’s a superhero trilogy with a soul, even if it is a tortured one. I feel privileged to have been able to see all three from beginning to end in the cinema and see the effect that they have had. The overall story arc focus of Bruce Wayne (as opposed to previous films where the focus was on the Bat) from mourning the loss of his parents, finding his purpose and creating the symbolic legend was pitch perfect. My only wish? That I can watch them all again in the cinema for the very first time. This bat trilogy was more than we deserved, and the one we needed.
The Dark Knight
The Dark Knight Rises