The Dark Knight Rises

  • Year:  2012
  • Director:  Christopher Nolan
  • Series Rank:  #3
  • Year Rank:  #9
  • Oscar Nominations:  none
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Adapted Screenplay, Supporting Actress, Sound, Sound Editing
  • Batman Villains:  Tom Hardy (Bane)
  • Love Interest:  Anne Hathaway (Catwoman), Marion Cotillard (Miranda Tate)
  • Batman Allies:  Michael Caine (Alfred), Gary Oldman (Commissioner Gordon), Morgan Freeman (Lucius Fox), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (John Blake)

Any movie that has a countdown, a race against time as its climax will always beat the clock.  Sometimes you can beat the clock with wit (like Goldfinger, ending on 007 even though Bond himself doesn’t do it) and sometimes it’s just pathetic (like in Octopussy).  But they will always beat the clock, because otherwise what’s the point?  So it’s always a question of how artfully you do it.  To my mind, the best examples of when you’re so caught up in the moment, so pulled in by the editing and the cinematography and especially the music (music is always so important in any kind of race against the clock like this) that you’re ignoring the cliche and just reveling in the race are Star Wars, of course, and The Dark Knight Rises.  But then, the film takes an added step and we really haven’t beaten the countdown, because that bomb is still there and still deteriorating and we’re running out of time.

The entire race and the ending are a reminder that Christopher Nolan is a director who doesn’t necessarily do things like other directors.  Most super-hero films, before and after Nolan, rely on a big fight to conclude the film.  Indeed, think of how much of the (long) screen time of the DCEU films rely on the big fight for the climax.  But the fight between Batman and Bane doesn’t last very long and he actually loses thanks to the intervention of someone he didn’t see coming.  I have to admit, even though I should have seen it coming, I didn’t either.  Nolan did such a perfect job of setting things up with a decoy, just like he had done in the first film that I was genuinely surprised when I first saw this film.  It worked because Nolan is so good a writer and all of the actors involved do such a magnificent job (even Tom Hardy and I am hardly a fan).

The Nolan films, in this sense are like the Lord of the Rings films.  There had been good performances in comic book films before, most notably from the best villains (Gene Hackman, Jack Nicholson, Michelle Pfeiffer) just like there had been good performances in fantasy films before LOTR.  But with Jackson and Nolan in charge of things, they brought a new level of professionalism to their genres, in the directing and the writing, in the creative vision that oversaw absolutely brilliant technical work across the board and especially in the acting.

We’ve kept the same supporting cast, of course, and we continue to get strong performances from Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and especially from Gary Oldman.  But this time we’ve also added three actors who are not only excellent actors (one of whom, Anne Hathaway, would win the Oscar this same year) and glorious eye-candy (my things for Hathaway and Cotillard are probably eclipsed by Veronica’s thing for Gordon-Levitt) but fascinating characters that both harken back to their comic roots and also make them separate and new creations.  Hathaway’s Selina Kyle seems to come straight from Year One but is also a much more serious and dangerous character and one who deserves that final shot in the film.  Cotillard’s character is fantastically set-up and we can believe every thing that she does and her determination and performance in seeing things through leads to that final sad moment of Batman, Catwoman and Gordon staring at her, wondering what has brought them to that moment.  Gordon-Levitt seems to borrow some from Tim Drake and the way he deduced Batman’s identity and lead to him being a fantastic new Robin in the late 80’s and his final moments in the film provide the hope that Gotham has a future knight looking out for it.

I have written a lot about this film so far and haven’t really said anything about the plot and I think that’s okay.  This is the longest film of the trilogy and the way the story builds and then concludes is what makes it a trilogy.  I wrote in my review of The Dark Knight that these three films aren’t just three moments in Batman’s history, like pulling out three issues of Detective Comics.  They are the three pivotal moments in the story of Batman: his beginning, the moment where he becomes a true outlaw and goes into hiding and the point where he is forced to return and then die for his city.

I can’t imagine that any trilogy of super-hero films could ever come close to what Nolan does.  In fact, it would be hard to imagine even a single super-hero film coming close.  That’s because Batman is a character uniquely suited to such a story.  He is a hero who can be humanized.  We don’t need supernatural elements.  We just need a man determined to bring justice to those who deserve it for as long as he can and when he is done, to get a hero’s reward.