Batman - The Dark Knight Rises
by Paul Zuckerman
The Dark Knight Rises, Christopher Nolan’s third and reportedly final Batman movie, is actually the eleventh time that Batman has appeared on the silver screen. (I’m not including the awful Catwoman movie; we will take a break here for a moment for anyone who wants to check out imdb.com to figure out what the other 10 were.) OK, everyone back now?
In his nearly 75-year career, Batman has been depicted as dark night and clown, lunatic and ultra-rational. The essence of Batman, though, is proof positive that one can be all that one wants — or needs-to be — he is nearly super-human in his incredible ability to excel in virtually every form of hand-to-hand combat. He has incredible tolerance for pain and he has a steel-trap like mind that rivals not only Sherlock Holmes but also Thomas Edison. He is truly a self-made man.
Unlike the last series of Batman movies, which began strongly with Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman but petered out with 1997’s Batman and Robin, this series has maintained a steady and consistent vision throughout the three films, giving Nolan’s Batman a story arc from beginning to — well, that would be telling; no spoilers here (but the advertisements show the mask, lying broken on the ground in the rain). But, with any of Nolan’s movies, little is as it seems at first, and this movie certainly has more than its share of misdirection.
First, let’s be clear that Nolan’s Batman is the Batman—as distinguished from merely Batman. The “the” is a matter of much importance for long-time Batman fans, who saw the character trashed after the demise of the 1960s TV show, in which Batman played straight man but the joke was on him; and the emergence of the Batman in the early ‘70s comics, who remained in the shadows, never emerging during the day; a truly mysterious and unknowable dark knight.
Nolan’s Batman is true to creator Bob Kane’s and de facto co-creator Bill Finger’s original conception of the character. Although comic fans saw Batman’s rehabilitation to the dark knight, it would be nearly 20 years before Burton’s Batman broke through to the world at large, putting to rest, once and for all, the camp Batman of the ‘60s.
When the Dark Knight Rises begins, Batman has been MIA for nearly eight years; made to take the fall for the death of Harvey Dent, Gotham’s charismatic crusading district attorney who became the unbalanced Two Face after he had gone mad after his face was horribly scarred. But, no one knows who Dent had become, other than Commissioner Gordon and a handful of others, and this dark secret has kept Gordon brooding, even as Gotham’s jails fill to the brim due to some apparently draconian laws that had been passed after Dent had died. Millionaire Bruce Wayne has become a recluse seen by no one since the death of the one woman he loved.
It isn’t long before events conspire to make Wayne take up the cape and cowl one more time. Along the way, he meets not one but two alluring women, Selina Kyle, the Catwoman, and Miranda Tate; reaches a turning point with faithful butler Alfred; is beaten by the unbeatable Bane; loses everything; and watches as Gotham is taken over by terrorists. Bruce Wayne, the man who is Batman, must overcome his greatest challenge if Batman is to rise again.
The Dark Knight Rises plays Batman straight; the camp is gone, but the movie is not humorless. A bevy of excellent actors bring life to Batman and his supporting cast. Christian Bale brings the right mix of brooding and action; and he has the physical presence to play eligible millionaire playboy bachelor Bruce Wayne. Gary Oldman’s Commissioner Gordon is younger, more active, and more fleshed out than the Gordons of the past. In many ways, his character is the heart of the movie. Alfred, as depicted by Michael Caine, is not just the butler but de facto Bruce Wayne’s parent, having raised him after the death of his parents. Alfred has been well-depicted on celluloid in the past, but Caine brings new depth to the loyal servant. In Caine’s well-worn face, one sees the love, frustration, worries and dreams that he harbors for Bruce. Morgan Freeman turns in his usual good performance in the role of Lucias Fox, who runs Wayne Enterprises.
Tom Hardy as Bane has a thankless role. He wears a breathing apparatus throughout the movie and his speaking voice resembles a mumbling Darth Vader. Bane is given more depth in the movie than he had in the comic. In the comic, he existed mostly to break Batman’s back (literally), but clearly lacked the colorful eccentricities associated with other villains in Batman’s classic rogues gallery. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, as the young policeman Blake, and Marion Cotillard, as Miranda, play new characters; or not. (As Ahme, in Help was fond of saying, “I can say no more”). The League of Shadows and super-villain Ra’s al Ghul also both play significant roles.
Saving best for last is Anne Hathaway’s Selina. I don’t think she is actually referred to as “Catwoman” in the film, but she certainly erases memories of any of the prior Catwomen. In that skin-tight costume, she is darn hot and gets most of the best one-liners. She even pulls Batman’s vanishing act on him. The cat-and-mouse game between cat and bat truly lights up the movie. There are depths to the good/bad Selina, and little is straightforward with her. (Batman’s relationship with Catwoman in the comics has been the same since virtually the beginning. On more than one occasion, Robin thought that Batman had intentionally let Catwoman escape, and the 1940s-1950s Batman actually marries her.)
Some have described the movie as being a conservative attack on Occupy Wall Street. Others as an Objectivist, or even fascist, world view wherein a member of the elite ruling class takes the law into his own hands to put down a people’s rebellion and restore order with the help of the establishment police force. But, I think that is an oversimplification. With Gotham under siege, anarchy has taken over, law and order needs to be restored. To Batman, law and order has always been at the heart of what he is all about, even though he is clearly a vigilante in a mask.
But, Bruce Wayne is motivated by trying to ensure that no one suffers a loss like he did — the violent death of both parents at the hands of a criminal. Unlike other masked vigilantes, the Batman seeks not revenge, but justice. Nolan (unlike Burton) recognizes and acknowledges that Batman does not — will not — kill. To Bruce Wayne, restoration of order is necessary to protect Gotham’s citizens, but no police state wants he.
The Dark Knight Rises has plot points that remain unanswered, and may be unanswerable, but that seems almost beside the point. As the final leg of Nolan’s Batman’s journey in this trilogy, it stands tall and brings the storyline to a satisfying conclusion. Although he takes significant liberties with the storyline, Nolan has better captured the true essence of the Batman than did any of his predecessor directors and I heartedly recommend this film.