In honor of the release of the new Christopher Nolan-produced Superman movie, we’ve decided to examine all eight of Nolan’s films as a director, from Following to The Dark Knight Rises. Each day, We Minored in Film’s own Julianne Ramsey will discuss and examine one of Nolan’s movies, leading up to the June 14th release of Man of Steel.
I am going to attempt to be as spoiler-free as possible, because I think Nolan’s films are best enjoyed without prior knowledge of the paths they take. Yet there may be times in which I want to talk about a certain twist or plot development, and I will do so. What that basically boils down to is: Be warned. Spoilers may be present, but they will be minimal.
Film: The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
The third entry in a superhero franchise is difficult to pull off. Do you doubt me? Ask the filmmakers behind Spiderman 3, Superman 3, and X-Men: The Last Stand. Back yet? Yeah, I thought you’d return humbled. The reason usually involves one of escalation. There is a tendency to make the threat more impressive by simply increasing the number of villains. Usually, this just means you have several villains, none of whom are satisfactorily developed, and plot strands that seem to go nowhere. Christopher Nolan sidesteps this problem by making The Dark Knight Rises the concluding chapter in the Bruce Wayne story.
The film opens eight years after the events of The Dark Knight. Bruce Wayne lives like a shut-in, still grieving losses of the previous film and suffering from injuries that accompany living a life as Batman. It takes the interference of the morally ambiguous Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) and the unstoppable force that is Bane to rouse Bruce Wayne out of his stasis.
However, as his beloved father figure Alfred continues to point out, he’s no longer in his physical prime and may no longer be a physical match for the behemoth Bane (Tom Hardy).
What follows is a film that brings Batman to his lowest and forces him into desperate actions.
For me, the best superhero stories point out how difficult and painful it is to be a superhero. Spiderman 2 emphasized Peter Parker’s loneliness, as did the best moments of Superman II, and of course much of the X-Men saga is all about the superhero as the mistrusted outsider. Christopher Nolan’s trilogy has always kept that particular facet of the Batman/ Bruce Wayne character front and center. His actions have consequences, and he has suffered almost constantly since escaping from the League of Shadows in the first film. Some of the film’s most effective moments occur between Batman and Alfred, who share a father-son bond that is the heart of the trilogy. There is a point when Alfred points out that perhaps Bruce may have been better served by never coming back to Gotham.
After all, all that was there for him were ghosts and painful memories. The film builds upon the affection we have for the film’s central characters– Alfred, Bruce, Gordon– and uses them effectively here. Perhaps the film’s most emotionally effective moment comes when Alfred reveals to Bruce the contents of a critical letter burned during The Dark Knight’s closing moments. Bruce is devastated and cuts Alfred out of his life then and there. It’s a brutal, emotionally devastating scene featuring a lovely bit of acting from Michael Caine and Christian Bale.
Check out the scene below:
The fact that a scene like this carries as much emotional weight as it does shows how brilliantly Nolan has created the world of Gotham City and its inhabitants.
As far as Bruce Wayne character through line, we once again have Bruce Wayne underestimating Bane as a threat. Throughout the series he refuses to see the danger signs around him, something Alfred frequently attempts to illustrate. This lack of awareness costs him dearly throughout the film. Instead, Bruce throws himself headlong into the conflict with no thought or assessment at all. Bale plays Bruce almost as a man who want to die fighting for Gotham City, rather than live as a broken shell of a man.
Though perhaps if he had seen Bane’s first scene he would have been more cautious:
Thematically, this film sets up Batman and Bane as two sides of the same coin, right down to the look of their masks: Bane’s mouth is the only part of his face covered. I know many complain about an inability to understand Bane’s dialogue. For me, I had some trouble in his opening scene, but then my ears seemed to adjust, and I was fine after that.
Batman’s mask, in contrast, covers every part of his face except his mouth. This costume parallel reemphasizes both their similarities and their contrasts.
The film presents both Batman and Bane as two individuals, both involved in the League of Shadows, taking two disparate paths. There is very much the idea that Batman could have taken Bane’s path and vice-versa. Two men are put into a pit, both emerge, and their fates are determined by overcoming both the pit as an obstacle and the traumas of their pasts.
The film also gives us Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a man who is basically Bruce Wayne without billions of dollars. He works as a police officer in Gotham City, but hopes to make a bigger difference someday. Both were orphaned young and sought to make Gotham City better (and nurse their psychological wounds) through combating the criminals that seek to tear down social stability. The difference is one chose to do so within the bounds of the law, and one chose to work outside of societal norms. By the end, one comes to understand the inner workings behind both choices and the necessity of sometimes having to work outside the law.
In addition, Nolan presents the contrast between the end of The Dark Knight, in which deception is seen as preferable to the truth, and the theme of The Dark Knight Rises, in which truths are revealed and that revelation is seen as necessary for the world to grow and evolve. Many critics pointed out the Tale of Two Cities-esque war between the wealthy and the poor as a commentary for the 1% vs. the 99% conflict that dominated news channels last summer. The presence of Selina Kyle/ Catwoman as a figure seeking to revolt against the privileged Gotham citizens further drives that point home.
Check out this scene between Bruce and Selina, discussing the differences between Gotham’s privileged and its poor:
I think that argument can be made, and it is certainly a facet of the plot, but it’s a simplistic reading of the film. The film is more about the importance of showing individuals the reality of the situation and the brutal consequences of lies.
If The Dark Knight opened with several points working in its favor, The Dark Knight Rises opened with one of the biggest drawbacks a film could endure: a high-fatality shooting at a Colorado midnight screening. That event, doubtlessly, lowered the opening weekend grosses, and cast a pall over the film that dogged it through its American theatrical run. The film still went on to gross more than a billion dollars worldwide (without 3-D price hikes, thank you very much) and garnered an 87% critic approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It slightly suffered in comparison to Joss Whedon’s more profitable (and in light-robbing 3-D) The Avengers, which seemed more fun and more typically enjoyable summer fare. I like The Avengers, but for me there was no comparison between the two. One film was about large, grand ideas. One was about shallow spectacle. I prefer a film that tries to say something about the society in which we live, rather than exist as an all action, no substance fluff piece.
For many, Christopher Nolan’s concluding chapter in the Dark Knight Trilogy was a misstep, and I’ll admit it has some flaws, not the least of which is why Batman takes the time to make a flaming bat symbol when he really needs to just get to the rescuing part of his plan. However, I would also argue it does not have the plot holes that its detractors make it out to have. I’ve heard criticisms related to Bane’s ultimate agenda, that he changes his plan without warning. That is incorrect. His plan remains constant. He is simply lying to the general public. The ultimate goal is always to watch Gotham tear itself apart before it is finally wipes off the map.
The other criticism thrown at the film involves how Batman gets back into Gotham City once he has been sent to a far away desert. I understand one could call this a plot hole, because the film doesn’t explain it, but for me a plot hole is more to do with an action that has no conceivable explanation. I think it is easy to assume Bruce Wayne would have contacts around the world willing to assist him, and being, you know Batman, would have several hidden points in and out of Gothan City. I would argue that including an explanation would simply make the film longer, not better. Calling it a plot hole is massive, massive nitpicking, and a complete misinterpretation of the term “plot hole.” In addition, it seems to be done by most to indicate they’re above being caught up in a film’s hype, rather than a true examination of the film in question. Pointing out these minor issues however, even though it seems to be the sole purpose of the internet these days, doesn’t make you clever; it makes you an asshole [editor’s note: and yet we couldn’t help ourselves when it came time to nitpick Iron Man 3 last month].
I remember seeing the film on the opening night (not a midnight showing), with a mixture of eager anticipation and massive trepidation. I had loved the first two entries in the trilogy so much, I was worried this film would never be able to live up to my expectations. When it was over, I breathed a sigh of relief that the film hadn’t let me down. It had brought the trilogy full circle and the film’s ending felt fitting and in keeping with the previous two films. The acting from everyone involved was flawless, Nolan’s script and direction was superb, and Wally Pfister’s cinematography makes the film look like a work of art. With the trilogy, Nolan was allowed to make three art films with a studio budget and prove that formula could be successful time and time again. It was a remarkable accomplishment, and Nolan should always be praised for choosing to make films that assumes his audience is at least as intelligent as he is (even if sometimes, they clearly aren’t).
Check out the film’s trailer below:
With Man of Steel set to open and a new film, Interstellar, in the works, it’s hard to say what films Nolan will make during a career that I am certain will be filled with both critical and financial success. All I can assume is they will be smart, thrilling, and probably starring Michael Caine.
Next up in The Great Christopher Nolan Film Re-Watch is…Interstellar, which doesn’t come out until November of 2014. So, yeah, hope you come back. But, before that, check the site again soon for our thoughts on Man of Steel, which if early reviews can be trusted may turn out to be far more of a Zack Snyder film than a Christopher Nolan one.