The Dark Knight Has Risen *Spoilers*

The Nolans are cinematic wizards. I only say it because it’s true.

Their Batman trilogy has far exceeded any other films featuring the caped crusader. (“Why do you blaspheme?” Tim Burton devotees cry). The main reason is the emotional heart put back into the story. Batman Begins does not start with a man in a cape jumping from rooftops…instead, we see the murder of a young Bruce Wayne’s parents, and the declining state of Gotham. We watch his transformation from an angry young man to wandering soul to imprisonment in a series of well-crafted flashbacks, and then understand his choice of cape and cowl. Once we have been fully won over to the hows  and whys  of the Batman, one of the characters sarcastically pokes fun at Bruce’s dramatization. “Well, well. You took my advice about theatricality a bit… literally.”

Each film resounds in it’s own fashion. Themes of Fear and Courage, Pain and Love, Betrayal and Trust are not simply spoken of; they are meshed into every turn of the plot, and woven into every interaction between characters. In Christopher Nolan’s own words, Batman Begins focuses on “Fear”, while The Dark Knight deals with “Chaos”. The third and final film brings these old focuses back, and brings harmony and completion to the series.

The acting is phenomenal. Christian Bale brings the Dark Knight to life with great talent. Michael Cain’s Alfred Pennyworth is what holds much of the movie together with his strong fatherly presence, and Morgan Freeman’s character makes the Batman’s acquiring of unrealistic gadgets entirely believable. Gary Oldman plays Jim Gordon, the future police commissioner of Gotham city, who becomes a great ally to the Batman. The selection of DC Villains is also superb, with Cillian Murphy playing a genuinely creepy weirdo, and Liam Neeson playing a mentor with an agenda.  Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker is nearly as disturbing as the clown from It, and Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman and Marion Cotillard join the cast in TDKR. Tom Hardy’s Bane brings us beyond the normal Villain/Movie Viewer relationship into one of understanding.

These villains show that this Batman series has forsaken lame, albeit classic bad guys, such as Killer Croc and the Penguin. Also, the translation of the mystical into realistic was done fantastically. Ras Al Ghul (meaning “Demon’s Head” in Aramaic) was originally ageless, thanks to the bubbling Lazarus Pits. But cinematic Ras Al Ghul was made more human, and given an actual death. His comic-book self was given several nods, however, both in movies one and three. Near the end of Batman Begins, Bruce is taken by surprise by his old mentor in a crowded room. When Bruce questions this mentor’s presence, he replies, “But is Ra’s al Ghul immortal? Are his methods supernatural?” This is also addressed in the newest installment, The Dark Knight Rises.

I also note that the plot of Batman Begins can be found in an episode of Batman: The Animated Series  in which the Scarecrow gases Gotham State University with Fear Gas.  In Batman Begins,  Ra’s al Ghul intends to use a Wayne Enterprises invention (a Microwave Emitter) to release a psychosis-inducing hallucinogen into the atmosphere, causing Gotham to be torn apart by its own population.


After Batman Begins came The Dark Knight. This movie focuses on what every Batman series has focused on–Bruce’s struggles against the villains that beleaguer Gotham. However, Heath Ledger’s portrayal is unique. He makes a truly horrifying Joker, a deranged man thoroughly equipped to disarm Gotham’s peace. The Joker’s stirring of Gotham’s criminals results in the fall of the city’s so-called White Knight, Harvey Dent (a “two-faced” politician–heh heh), and the death of Rachel Dawes, Bruce Wayne’s first love. Batman manages to foil the Joker’s schemes, but not without compromising his own ethics in the process. Driven by grief over his injuries, Dent, tipped over the edge into his insane alter-ego, Two Face, jeopardizes the legal victories he had previously won. Batman and Commissioner Gordon conspire to keep his madness a secret, with Batman taking the blame for his crimes instead.

Despite this film’s boldness with a controversial ending, and contrary to most of the population’s favor, this is my least favorite installment in the series…which isn’t to say I dislike it, but rather that  I find the Joker so very disturbing that his criminal antics go beyond entertainment into a dark spiral of movie watching. The movie accomplishes what it sought out to do, however, in showing that none of Batman’s actions go without consequence. This is perhaps the most powerful theme in the films.

With Dent’s sins forgotten, the fall of Batman’s good name will be addressed eight years later, when the start of The Dark Knight Rises shows us a Bruce Wayne overshadowed by guilt and shame.

In The Dark Knight Rises, Harvey Dent’s death is still being mourned. Dent is remembered as a hero, and has been honored with a holiday in his name–Harvey Dent Day. Batman is not remembered as kindly; having taken the fall for Dent, the Batman has vanished from Gotham’s streets.  The only man aware of the truth of things is Jim Gordon, whose police career may be over soon.

Eight years have passed since Batman’s name was tarnished. Bruce is now a shell of himself. He roams the East Wing of his mansion in true Disney‘s Beast fashion, hiding in shadows. Only when a Beauty (Catwoman) breaks into this sanctuary and makes off with a family heirloom does he come out of his depression. Alfred informs Bruce of past hopes he once held; that Bruce would find peace, and leave the cape and cowl behind.

When terrorist attacks led by the League of Shadows resurface, however, Bruce knows his time as Batman has not come to an end. Alfred gives a heartfelt ultimatum; he will not bury another member of the Wayne family. The attacks increase, however, and Bruce dons the cowl of Batman once more, leading to an abrupt departure of Alfred.

This movie brings the villains of the Nolan trilogy full circle. The leader of the terrorist attacks is Bane, a man so foul Ra’s al Ghul himself had excommunicated him from the League of Shadows, and indeed, he is perhaps the most intriguing villain in the trilogy. His character is laid out openly, and then challenged, leaving the viewers to see each new layer in turn. Bane not only challenges Batman physically, but mentally, and the result is disastrous. Since Ra’s death, Bane has come to Gotham to complete Ra’s failed mission. But not every villain shows themselves in the light. Batman will team up with Catwoman to fight against the terrorists, and seek out the part of himself that he had lost.

I absolutely love these movies. They ask questions that can be applied to any of us, and leave us with sentiments worth remembering. From Rachel Dawes’ line in Batman Begins “It’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me”, to the idea that “A hero can be anyone. Even a man doing something as simple and reassuring as putting a coat over a little boys shoulder to let him know the world hadn’t ended,” these films speak with wisdom.

The Nolans have created the Classic superhero films of our time.

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© 2012 Amanda Newman All Rights Reserved

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