It all ends (seriously)
As Christopher Nolan concludes his Dark Knight trilogy, Edmund Lee examines the sombre legacy of the British auteur.
In the midst of superhero movies’ ongoing quest for world domination, it may be a long shot that The Dark Knight Rises will match the box office haul of this summer’s The Avengers, currently the third highest grossing movie of all time. But Christopher Nolan’s feverishly-anticipated follow-up to 2008’s The Dark Knight (that year’s bestselling film) – and the final part of arguably one of the greatest movie trilogies ever made – will almost certainly be remembered long after its more frivolously conceived counterparts.
As if it’s not a triumph in itself to have rid the DC Comics superhero of his much bemoaned bat-nipples, the British director, by helming the seventh, eighth and ninth live-action films featuring Bob Kane’s beloved character, has made the point to the increasingly marginalised legion of non-fanboys that comic book movies should – indeed! – be taken seriously. Sidestepping the gothic playfulness of Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992) while staying as far away as super-humanly possible from the campness and ineptness of Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever (1995) and Batman & Robin (1997), Nolan’s sombre reboot of the Dark Knight mythology is, irrespective of its bombastic glory, an entangled web of human stories with both tragic grandeur and a distorted vision of social conscience.
Set eight years after the latest events in the origin story Batman Begins (2005) and The Dark Knight, Rises finds Bruce Wayne/Batman (Christian Bale) an emotionally damaged outcast after assuming responsibilities for the crimes committed by district attorney Harvey Dent. Despite this selfless attempt to bring a false sense of peace to Gotham City, the disillusioned billionaire-turned-Caped Crusader is subsequently forced back into the Bat-suit with the emergence of the mysterious burglar Selina Kyle/Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) and the masked psycho terrorist Bane (Tom Hardy), the latter of which is known to most comic-book geeks as – spoiler alert – the physically superior villain who breaks Batman’s back; the trilogy’s dramatic focus is so laser-shape that Batman isn’t even offered the distraction of a Robin.
In case any proof is still required to justify Nolan’s exemplary gift in infusing logic into chaos and general outlandishness, look no further than his reinvention of both Catwoman and Bane: two characters carrying near-unsalvageable reputation from their respective recent outings. Catwoman was portrayed by Halle Berry in a liberally revised standalone movie in 2004 to catastrophic receptions, while Bane was brought to regrettably foolish life by the late American professional wrestler Robert Swenson as Poison Ivy’s pet muscleman in Batman & Robin. In contrast, Nolan’s casting of Hardy as Bane reflects as much on the actor’s visceral expression of menace (the actor has seen crazier days in 2008’s Bronson) as Nolan’s instincts as an emerging auteur.
The insular world of Nolan’s body of works is at once maintained by the seriality of his casting (Hardy, Marion Cotillard and Joseph Gordon-Levitt all return from 2010’s Inception) and his seeming insistence on telling original stories free of genre or pop culture references – surely an exception to the self-referential universe of fanboy blockbusters. Again scripted by The Dark Knight’s co-writers, Christopher Nolan and his brother Jonathan, Rises will test the duo’s mettle for the truly spectacular: expect an action epic in which thousands of extras – as opposed to computer-animated figures – brawl on Wall Street, while a crowded football stadium goes boom, as do New York’s East River bridges.
Despite his producer role for the upcoming Superman reboot, Man of Steel, Nolan has repeatedly stated that this is his last take on Batman, while distancing himself from the Justice League movie that will unite Batman with Superman, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern. Given his resistance to the 3D format thus far, the director’s decision may well be a silently welcomed one among studio bosses. Regardless, only time can tell if the movie fans’ devotion to Nolan’s bold revision of the superhero movies will pay off at the Oscars – with this final chapter possibly earning accumulated honours à la The Return of the King.
The Dark Knight Rises opens on July 19. Read our review here.