EDITORIAL: Shining a Light on The Dark Knight Rises

EDITORIAL: Shining a Light on The Dark Knight Rises

With inevitable comparisons to The Dark Knight, it's easy to overlook some of the incredible features of Christopher Nolan's final Batman film. Warning: SPOILERS

2012 has been mind-blowingly massive for CBM fans. The Avengers brought some of the most sacred fanboy dreams to life, The Amazing Spider-Man offered us the smartass Spidey we’ve been longing to see with an impressive Peter Parker to boot...and now the third and final movement in the Dark Knight trilogy has beaten the curse of the threequel delivering a brutal and moving conclusion to one of the greatest trilogies, not only for CBMs, but for cinema as a whole.

It’s easy to be critical of what we are presented with on the big screen. After all for many of us these stories are the ones we’ve been reading, imagining and living since childhood. We live and breathe these tales and rightly expect anyone who interprets them to handle them with the reverence they deserve.

VicSage wrote a fantastic and thought provoking article HERE and while I’m all for being critical, I think it’s also good to celebrate the fantastic achievement that TDKR is. To further the discussion I want to celebrate all the things which TDKR did right and perhaps explore some of the reasons why this movie has sparked such passionate debate on our forums.

Bruce Wayne’s story is concluded

For over 70 years Bruce Wayne has been Batman. Week in week out. Ever reliable. Ever infallible. Ever eternal. And it’s great! He solves mysteries and escapes traps in a way that only the serial format comic books offer. But the story never ends. To give Bruce Wayne a definitive ending that would service the character and please the fans is almost impossible to imagine (and rarely attempted).

In cinematic trilogies, the first film covers the origin and the second lets loose with bigger action. However studios love to keep a franchise open for future instalments, so often the third movie has nothing else to do but rehash the same elements already covered in the first two movies with less of a payoff (Spidey 3, X-Men 3).

TDKR jumped straight into considering what an ageing Bruce Wayne might do towards the end of his career – with a body that won’t sustain him and a legacy to consider. We find Bruce has been inactive as Batman (like in Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns) and his life is bereft of purpose and drive.

It takes a madman threatening Gotham for Bruce to come alive again, willing to risk body and soul to save the city he vowed to protect. In a state of weak physical and mental health, Bruce is clearly the underdog. It gives our hero a true challenge to overcome and a solid motivation to fight. It explores the dogged determination of the character as well as his fierce love for the city. Bruce finds peace in allowing his version of Batman to give so much that he symbolically dies, allowing a new version of Batman to rise and watch over Gotham (whether it is Robin, Nightwing or Batman Beyond type).

No one was safe

Nolan said up front this would be his last Batman flick and (presumably) an end to the Nolanverse. Fan speculation was rife that Alfred would die, if not Gordon, Lucius or even Bruce himself. The inclusion of Bane hinted Batman would suffer some very real damage - most likely a broken back. By choosing to stage a conclusion, there was no obligation to keep all characters alive for the next outing.

In other words Nolan found a way to inject a very real sense of danger into the story. Seriously when was the last time you actually thought Batman may die...and stay dead? It was the equivalent of trapeze without the safety net. There was more risk in everything Bruce did as the story unfolded.

Classic story arcs

In both Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and TDKR Bruce gets old and jaded, before a serious threat revitalises him and draws him back into action. Bruce realises just how much he loves being Batman to the point he is willing to die for Gotham. I’ll bet good money WB will reboot the Batman franchise to jumpstart an attempt at the Justice League (and keep the Batman cash cow alive). That means we’ll revert back to a young Bruce Wayne underneath the cowl. In my opinion TDKR is the closest thing we’ll see to Frank Miller’s seminal classic on the silver screen for a long time to come - and it’s a worthy companion piece to Miller’s vision.

TDKR also performed major fan service by including elements of Knightfall and No Man’s Land – two of Batman’s most iconic story arcs.

Commitment to comic book lore

It niggled me endlessly that the characters quite clearly meant to be Bullock and Montoya in TDK were renamed (I assume so as not to sully Montoya’s reputation with the devious actions of Ramirez). I understand it was necessary for the machinations of the story but it still sucked.

When Nolan told us that TDKR would feature the likes of Miranda Tate and John Blake, despite their similarities to the characters we wanted them to be, it wouldn’t have surprised me if he had chosen to insert entirely new characters instead. However these red herrings led to some of the sweetest fan payoffs, seeing the reveal of the complex Bruce/Talia relationship and a damn good version of Robin, in a movie made by a man who said he would never include him. Plus we saw a Catwoman as complex and manipulative as depicted in the comics. Throw in a spectacular Scarecrow cameo and a somewhat immortal Ra’s al Ghul and it’s clear that Nolan, despite his desires to keep Batman grounded in reality, has shown a thorough respect for the source material.

Tom Hardy elevated Bane to a new level

There is no way anyone could replicate the electric insanity of Ledger’s performance... but even more fundamentally there is no villain as compelling as the Joker. Nolan instead explored the tactical brute force of Bane. While the Darth Vader voice and lack of Venom has attracted criticism, Hardy and Nolan stayed true to the core of the character whilst injecting nuance and depth. The menace Hardy achieved through eyes and voice alone is inspiring, not to mention his on screen physicality.

Although it was disappointing there was no reference to the Joker, I respect Nolan’s desire to maintain Ledger’s legacy. Plus mention of the Joker could have drawn attention away from the threat of Bane. I guess it’s similar to Marvel deciding to leave Nick Fury out of the Captain America film for risk of him overshadowing Steve Roger’s story.

This isn’t The Dark Knight #2

A lot of the comments seem to be along the lines of TDKR was really good...but not as good as TDK. And that’s fair enough! TDK set a new benchmark for CBMs. It made a mainstream audience sit up and take note that a story based on comic books could be thrilling, intellectual and moving. With so many people expecting so much from the third instalment, there was bound to be a certain level of disappointment.

But the beauty of TDKR is that Nolan did not try to recreate TDK. Instead he chose to pursue a different theme, a different type of villain and an altogether different story. Once the dust of expectation settles, I’m sure TDKR will stand up to repeated viewings to be considered a worthy conclusion to a truly epic trilogy and thoroughly enjoyable in its own right. It brings a unique view to the Batman mythos and allows TDK to live on as a respected classic. All in all I pity the director that takes charge of the inevitable reboot.

I’d love to hear what aspects you loved about TDKR. Sound off below with some of the things you think TDKR did right!

The Dark Knight Rises stars Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Tom Hardy, and Anne Hathaway, and is directed by Christopher Nolan. The film can now be seen at your local theatre
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