For those of you who haven’t seen it, caveat lector. I will be discussing plot points, characters and twists, so spoilers abound.
Christopher Nolan has certainly proven himself a capable handler of the Batman mythos. Batman Begins demonstrated how gritty ultra-realism was an apt tool for portraying the Bat, if only because he’s so human and the comics also have similar atmospheres and elements. The Dark Knight set Heath Ledger’s Joker loose on the world and in doing so showed how darkly cerebral things could really get. It also established Christian Bale’s gravelly Bat-voice as the go-to way to say “I’m Batman”.
So things were set up for The Dark Knight Rises to be the culmination of all those things—a film that is equal parts emotional, physical, and cerebral; twists and revelations, some which leap from the shadows whilst others slowly creep into the light, bit by mind-blowing bit; an antagonist who is as much a deeply and disturbingly intelligent sociopath as he is a character of tragedy, complete with a grippingly villainous voice and ‘kill-you-if-you-look-at-me-wrong’ presence.
Hardship Builds Character
One of Nolan’s challenges after the second movie was to find some way to match what Heath Ledger had brought to the table with Joker. His darkness, his raw amoral insanity, the uneasiness you felt as you watched him lick his lips for the umpteenth time or listened to him recount yet another version of his scar story.
I’d say Nolan succeeded in his re-imagining of Bane. It’s interesting that although Bane’s built like a small tank, this iteration doesn’t have superhuman strength; Nolan instead chose to focus on the mental capabilities of Bane. In my impressions of Bane from film, TV, video games and comics, I’d always thought of him as a hulking brute who is more akin to someone like Fantastic Four’s Thing than anyone smart and devious like Dr Doom.
But in reality, Bane is highly intelligent, strategic and devious. It helped that Tom Hardy was dedicated to the character, packing on the required muscle and affecting a gruff filtered accent (which I personally thought was brilliant, if a bit challenging to decipher from time to time).
Anne Hathaway also contributed a great performance as Selina Kyle (a.k.a. Catwoman, though she is never referred to as such, save for a few smart visual references such as a visor mimicking the shape of cat ears). She captured the sultry yet dangerous playfulness of Catwoman well. I honestly fell in love the second she said “Oops” and later backflipped out a window.
Twists and Turns
A friend mentioned how Marion Cotillard tended to always seem evil in movies, citing her role in Inception. Although I wouldn’t necessarily go as far as that, her character did seem to have an air about her that hinted at more than what seemed. I found myself wondering if I’d ever heard the name ‘Miranda Tate’ before. Imagine my surprise when she revealed who she really was! Having recently finished Batman Arkham City for the second time (in which Talia al Ghul plays a prominent role), I found myself wondering how on earth I could’ve missed that twist. Even though I knew Ra’s al Ghul had a daughter and not a son, there was so much misdirection and focus on Bane that the character of Talia was able to slip in right under my nose. This made the turn of events all the more masterful and violently sudden. In one fell stab, Bane became a tragic character and the real evil stepped out of the Shadows.
Another pleasant revelation occurred with Joseph Gordon-Levitt. When I first heard that he was in TDKR, I wondered what his role was. The trailers were intentionally vague on this, and even during the film he seemed to be just a cop with good detective skills, and simply someone normal who was there to fulfill a role. So I really appreciated how even though Nolan has stated this would be his last Batman movie, he threw in a nod to future possibilities with the small reference to Blake’s real name near the end of the movie, and the passing of the bat-torch, as it were, from Batman to Robin.
You’re Only As Deep As Those Around You
If you notice, I have not really mentioned Batman much. The most interesting part of all this to me is that since the second movie, I found myself drawn in by the other characters. It wasn’t Batman who gripped my mind, but the darkness of the Joker (the ‘disappearing pencil’ trick will forever be a classic). There’s also the poignancy of Alfred, the menace of Bane, the tragic duality of Harvey Dent, the difficult courage of Commissioner Gordon, and so on. It strikes me that in some ways, the whole story isn’t so much about Batman as it is about these people and how they fit into his world. It’s about how we get a glimpse into the mind and mythos of Batman through these characters, their interactions and his reactions to them.
Thus, if Batman himself is only as deep as the characters surrounding him, I can honestly say that this trilogy stands as the finest films of Batman ever made, by which all superhero films can be measured, particularly those that aim to dig deeper into the depths of what makes a hero a hero.