The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises


Virtually all good things have to come to an end, and unfortunately, Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy is one of those things that has to end. It would be nice perhaps, to see it continue for much longer, but ultimately it's not in keeping with the theme of Nolan's Batman.

In keeping with the previous two films, The Dark Knight Rises (TDKR) continues with Nolan's primary theme: Batman is a symbol. He repeatedly emphasizes this. Sure, he is a borderline psychotic in that he feels little moral obligation to follow the law and dresses up in a high-tech bat suit, but the point is, Christopher Nolan expertly suspends our disbelief. He creates the illusion that Batman is an emotionally torn, morally complex character that exists as a symbolic good that struggles with the questions: "does Gotham need me and can I continue to fulfill my role as its savior?"

To a certain extent, TDKR addresses these questions and incorporates them into the main arc of the plot. Bruce Wayne is emotionally and physically tired and semi-crippled, and the film does to a degree reveal Wayne's tragedy-besotted mindset. However, TDKR is at its heart not a drama or tragedy. At its heart, TDKR is an action/superhero movie. Only lip service is paid to Wayne's psyche. The film doesn't linger on his emotional scarring from the loss of his parents and Rachel Dawes. Neither does TDKR paint a nuanced vision of the human condition in thoughtful ways. So we shouldn't make the mistake of elevating this (still very good) movie to the point of calling it a masterpiece of moral ambiguity, plot complexity, and a profound critique of human nature and action.

Nevertheless, TDKR is so good precisely because it doesn't try to be what it isn't. It doesn't make its main characters wax eloquent ad nauseam and doesn't try to be an intellectual film with action tacked on. Rather, it's an action film that makes its action sequences matter because we care about its characters. It's such a good action/superhero film because it recognizes that audiences appreciate great action but want it to have plot development and character progression. TDKR utilizes its dark, gritty atmosphere wonderfully and smoothly injects its action sequences without turning such sequences into predictable hashes of explosions. Christopher Nolan does enough to make us want to care about the Caped Crusader and provides an immensely full and satisfying ending to a lauded trilogy.         

Unfortunately, because TDKR ties in the previous two installments, introduces a new ally, new enemies, finishes Wayne's story, creates a sense of legacy, and creates a platform for another installment, it does too much. By incorporating the aforementioned elements, TDKR takes on too much material that far exceeds its runtime. The result is a film that is significantly less coherent than the two previous installments. Don't get me wrong- it's still great, but it falls short of the incredibly high (and probably unrealistic) expectations generated by the previous films. The scene transitions are abrupt and absurd leaps of logic are required by the audience to buy into the film. Joseph Gordon-Levitt's character at one point tells Christian Bale (Bruce Wayne) that he always knew that he (Wayne) was Batman because of the look in his eyes. It's an important point for Wayne's conception of his identity and an equally important point in the plot, but it seems clumsy. Such leaps of logic are normally either better masked or not part of Christopher Nolan's films.          

Fortunately, the acting in TDKR is absolutely outstanding that such moments are typically not remembered for long. In addition, the excellent camera work and art direction also ensure that abrupt scene transitions aren't disruptive to the overall plot of the film. And once again, the ever magnificent Hans Zimmer provides a soundtrack that effortlessly integrates and simultaneously elevates the tension and "cool factor" of everything from dialogue to fight scenes. On a technical level, TDKR is simply outstanding. With a hefty budget of over 250 million dollars, it's no wonder. At the same time, money isn't the only thing that makes a film an artfully crafted, technically proficient delight. Therefore, much credit should be given to Christopher Nolan for directing the creation of a film that proves that blockbuster popcorn flicks are not all mindless explosions, wise-cracking one liners.

The fact that the majority of the criticism leveled at TDKR is rather miniscule in nature given the grand scope of the film, shows how immense and popular it is. It makes us want more and wish that we had more to look forward to from Christopher Nolan. It understands what audiences want from an action film and rewards audiences for investing their time and money in watching it. TDKR is truly a stylishly executed, technically proficient, artfully crafted, and wonderfully acted superhero film. Ultimately, it sticks to a theme (Batman is a symbol) consistently and despite some hiccups along the way, TDKR ends triumphant. The last scene in which Joseph Gordon-Levitt steps on the platform in the Batcave and ascends is arguably the finest moment in the film. He assumes the mantle of Batman and it concludes the trilogy by showing the audience that Batman is truly an everlasting symbol- although Wayne is gone, his legacy lives on and endures- just as this trilogy will.

Some questions to ponder:

  • How is the theme of "Batman as symbol" demonstrated and shown in The Dark Knight Rises? How does it impact the imagery and design of the film?
  • Notice how The Dark Knight Rises incorporates more action sequences in broad daylight. Is this indicative of the changing nature of Batman as a symbol coming to light, of the "truth" coming to light? Why or why not?
  • Where in the film does the soundtrack have the strongest impact, the weakest impact? Why?
  • Do you think the inclusion of Anne Hathaway (as Catwoman, although she is never explicitly referred to as such) was a wise decision? Or do you think it only further muddled the direction of the film?
  • What is your interpretation of the ending scene of The Dark Knight Rises?

- Miki Phua