Film adaptations of comic books have been around nearly as long as comic books themselves. It wasn’t until Christopher Nolan got his hands on the Batman license, however, that the the public started taking them seriously as films in their own right. With The Dark Knight Rises, his story of Batman comes to an end. It’s distressing to think that Nolan won’t be making any more films of the Caped Crusader. Thankfully, he left us with a masterpiece.
The film starts by extending the final scene of The Dark Knight, with Commissioner Gordon giving his eulogy at Harvey Dent’s funeral. From there, we are transported eight years later to a time when Gotham City is at its safest, despite Batman’s disappearance. Things quickly escalate as the villain Bane, played exquisitely by Tom Hardy, begins taking steps towards his goal of plunging Gotham into chaos, forcing Batman to don the cowl once again.
My first concern going into The Dark Knight Rises was that I wasn’t going to be able to understand Bane. Initial reactions to the IMAX preview preceding Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol suggested audiences had a hard time with his dialogue. Even though Warner Bros. has come out and denied they made any changes to his audio, while watching the film, and comparing its various trailers, it does appear as though there have been some adjustments. Whatever the case, it all worked out in the end. Though there were a couple instances that seemed inaudible, as a whole the dialogue is superb.
Bane’s voice is one of many reasons Tom Hardy stands out in the film. Even with most of his face covered, he’s able to pull off a wide array of emotions with what little facial real estate he has left. While not as bulky as some of the character’s other appearances, the physical presence of Bane is very imposing, so much so that the pain he causes his victims through the film transcends the screen and leaves you feeling beaten and bruised yourself. In his first encounter with Batman, the film spares no expense in demonstrating the brutality Bane is capable of, going so far as to recreate the most famous moment of Bane’s original comic appearance.
One criticism all comic-based films receive is that they verge too far away from the source material. I’ve taken the stance that comic book adaptations are one of many continuities in the multiverse, and while they’ll no doubt be similar it is obscene to think they’ll be direct transfers. There are certain scenes and motifs of The Dark Knight Rises that appear as though they were ripped straight from the pages, but Nolan does his best to base his Batman films as much in reality as possible. For instance, there are allusions to Bane’s reliance on Venom – the comic’s addictive, strength-enhancing drug – but it isn’t fully explored. This saves the film a lot of needless backstory.
There are moments, however, where a little more elaboration could have helped. When we first meet Bane, he is hooded and being escorted onto a plane by an unknown government agency because he was with a scientist the agents were looking for, Dr. Pavel, and is said to have information on “the masked man,” Bane himself. We never find out what this agency was, what they wanted with Dr. Pavel, or why they’re so interested in learning about Bane. John Daggett, who is both a rival to Wayne Enterprises and a member of it’s board, is presented with just as little information. Batman’s later relationships with Miranda Tate and Selina Kyle both progress at light speed, neither giving any reasoning as to why. For those that are familiar with Batman’s universe, we can draw from that knowledge and fill the gaps ourselves, but the uninitiated may leave slightly confused afterwards.
While not always explored thoroughly, the cast of characters in The Dark Knight Rises have a lot of screen time as Batman himself is absent from most of the film. Of particular note are the members of Gotham’s police force. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays John Blake, a young cop who works his way up to detective by following his gut, much to the displeasure of Deputy Commissioner Peter Foley (Matthew Modine). These two, and the rest of the GCPD, are perhaps the biggest heroes of the film, working to protect and restore Gotham during Batman’s sabbaticals.
Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) is probably the least fleshed out character in the film. Being one of the most prominent characters in Batman’s ensemble, it’s likely Nolan is relying on the audience’s preexisting concept of Catwoman to serve as her backstory and motivation. While never actually referred to as Catwoman, she wears a specially designed mask and googles that, when not being used, mimic the shape of cat ears, exhibiting the character’s classic look while providing a realistic reasoning behind it. The physical feats she is able to pull off rival that of both Batman and Bane, though in a less brute force, more nimble demeanor.
There’s a subtle sense of despair throughout the film, as Batman is broken both spiritually and physically. The same could be said for Gotham, as Bane takes away everything from the city and instills in it’s people a false hope of redemption. It’s not only the Dark Knight, but also the men and women of Gotham that rise up to fight for what’s right. Bruce Wayne knows that he is the only chance Gotham has for salvation, and risks everything he has to protect that which is most important to him. The final moments of the film are an emotional brink for those of us who have ventured with Batman through all these years, and a fitting end to such a well-crafted tale.
Christopher Nolan has achieved what no others have in presenting to us not only great superhero films, but great films on their own, and a trilogy that gets better with each installment. Though we can’t look forward to another Dark Knight film from Nolan as a director, next summer we get a chance to see if he and his writer from the Dark Knight trilogy, David S. Goyer, can pass on some of their cinematic genius to another hero in need of saving with Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel. With what will no doubt be one of the greatest film franchises of all time under his belt, the world is Nolan’s oyster. Whatever his next film will be, you can bet that the oyster will be eagerly waiting.