THE DARK KNIGHT RISES: Did Christopher Nolan Get it Right?
by Vic Frederick. Even in the shadow of the superhero powerhouse film The Avengers that came out just months beforehand (April 2012), the triumphant film of June 2012 The Dark Knight Rises was indeed a success, as most would agree; “success” being defined as positive reception, profits, and lasting appeal. The “Dark Knight Trilogy,” as it has come to be called, created a universe with its own uniqueness and appeal, separate from all its predecessors. In the epic finale of this artistic and idealistic story arc, moviegoers see the conclusion of a journey; an end to a mission. A mythos that has been all but open-ended in every known depiction has for the first time been contained in a comprehensive three-part saga. This ending, which evoked tears of sadness along with cheers of praise, satisfied many followers, but could it have been better? Did Christopher Nolan capture the true essence of this legendary hero?
While Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy is considered a classic CBM achievement, some question the strength of the third chapter, The Dark Knight Rises (recently released on Blu-ray). Writer Vic Frederick has begun an exhaustive three-part look at that film, an excerpt of which follows.
Christopher Nolan’s own version of Gotham City grounded itself in a mindset that begged the question: “What if Batman was real?” This notion thus created a vigilante that used plausible military technology to battle villains that were brilliant of mind, but not “super” in ability. The overall “realistic” quality of the trilogy created a visceral poignancy at times. This quality is unfailing in these films; whether it was seeing a young boy crouched over the bodies of his murdered parents, hearing a man describe the pleasure of using a knife to kill rather than a gun, or watching an old man weeping over a grave while proclaiming “I’ve failed you.” In many ways, Nolan took Batman to an entire new level of “serious” when depicting him in his universe. The result is breathtaking, but after close analysis, could be underwhelming at times.
In with the Old…
The initial statement made by The Dark Knight Rises lies in the title itself. The preceding 2008 film The Dark Knight was a groundbreaking success that not only set a new bar for comic book villains in filmography, but was made infamous in its association with the tragic death of actor Heath Ledger (The Joker) just after the filming was completed. To emphasize this success, take note of the following facts: The Dark Knight accumulated a worldwide total of $1,004,558,444, was the highest-grossing film of 2008, and was the thirteenth-highest grossing film of all time. Also, it made $199.7 million on its worldwide opening weekend, which ranks 28th of all time (statistics from boxofficemojo.com). With so much success, one would wonder how to approach making a sequel; a conclusion nonetheless. The original film in this trilogy was titled Batman Begins, which was considered appropriate considering the fact that Nolan was reinventing the character and starting a whole new thread of films very separate from the rest. In making this initial statement of “This is where Batman started,” one would wonder why the final title didn’t portray the overt message of “This is where Batman ends.” Rather, the redundant nature of the title implies two things: the creators were anxious to keep fans of the previous film hooked, and were afraid that people would shy away from a sense of finality.
For such a unique and standalone world that was created in the previous two films, this third and final installment appears to have a strong reliance on the comic book world. Whether this is to be praised or critiqued by the viewers is their choice to make, but the fact is that The Dark Knight Rises may be the most comic-based Batman film of all time. Take note of the following references to famous Batman comics present in the film:
The Dark Knight Returns (1986)
- Batman retiring for near ten years and then returning to crime-fighting.
- Bruce Wayne using advances prosthetics to make his old and injured joints more operable.
- A seasoned police officer telling a young rookie “you are in for a show tonight” at Batman’s first reappearance.”
Year One (1987)
- Catwoman and her younger sister “Holly” living a life of poverty, learning self-defense, and using thieving to get by.
Kingdom Come (1996)
- Someone disappearing while Batman’s back is turned and him saying to himself in response “so that’s what that feels like.”
- Bane Proclaiming to Batman “I will break you.”
- Batman having his back broken by Bane.
- Bane’s systematic takeover of Gotham City in the absence of a “broken Batman.”
Son of the Demon (1987)
- Batman being caught in a grand-scale battle with the league of shadows during a simultaneous romance with Talia al Ghul.
Battle for the Cowl (2009)
- Batman’s heroic and sacrificial death during a time of “crisis.”
- The first “Robin” taking his place.
This list would not be this long for any other Batman film; although there are clear references to famous Batman story arcs present even in The Dark Knight of 2008 such as The Long Halloween (1996) and The Killing Joke (1988). Whereas the other two films set out to make their own fame and have their own new and innovative ideas, The Dark Knight Rises seems to be asking everyone else to do the work for it.
The only exception to this would be the characterization of the character Bane, on which the film had a heavy reliance. The original comic book character did indeed come from an oppressive prison and was made into a “monster” through an accident. This was described in the film as a brutal fight that gave him mortal injuries, thus he wears his mask because he is addicted to painkillers that hold back his “perpetual agony.” In the comics, however, Bane was used as a lab experiment to test a serum called “Venom” that gave him super strength, thus he wore an apparatus on his back that pumped Venom into his blood through tubes in his neck and arms. The new Bane seen in Nolan’s film brings viewers back to the familiar sense of “What if this was real?” and in doing so, makes Bane that much more terrifying, which gave the film success.
For the rest of Part 1, please click HERE.
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