28 July 2012

Further First Impressions: The Dark Knight Rises, Part 3: Bruce, Gotham, and Heath

Well folks, here we are again - for a film with this much clout and significance around it, we needed a third post. For our initial thoughts check this out, for our response to Bane, click here.

Batman Began: Setting a Context for the Nolanverse

This film is also very un-Batman like, perhaps most notably, because it is finite. This goes along with the Nolanverse vision, though, because the entire trilogy was meant not to be serial but tell a complete story of Bruce Wayne's life and times until the Batman is no longer necessary. That's always been his goal, ever since Batman Begins (2005). As he reaches this point in The Dark Knight Rises (2012), it's clear that his transformation into an inspiring symbol is complete. This of course contrasts with the ending of The Dark Knight (2008), where Harvey Dent's death is used for exactly the same purposes - except the fact that it's based on a lie makes it corrupted and unsustainable.

That's one thing I've always liked - how well these last two films were titled. The Dark Knight essentially represents the fall of Batman, our Knight in Armor who protects us as we fear him, though this could also refer to Harvey's status as Gotham's White Knight, who falls to become a false martyr, darkening Gotham's future. The Dark Knight Rises instead represents the final truth: the destruction of Harvey Two-Face's legacy and the rise of Batman's - a hero of self-sacrifice more true to the spirit of redemption in Gotham.

The reverberations of The Dark Knight haunt the entire sum of The Dark Knight Rises, which in part may attest to why some have viewed the latter as the inferior film. Batman's actions at the end of Batman Begins, however, also haunt The Dark Knight Rises, and this film seeks to wrap up a lot of those films lose ends, at least thematically (upon my last check the Narrows is still going nuts, and Bats never did get a handle on Scarecrow by Trilogy's end). The ending of The Dark Knight Rises is about as close to perfection as Nolan could hope to achieve with this specific iteration of Bruce Wayne.

Bruce Wayne deserves a happy ending.

He really does. There hasn't really been a moment of his life that hasn't been steeped in pain. Even when fighting the evil underbelly it was rare that Batman enjoyed himself. That's an important distinction in recognizing the significance of Nolan's finale - Batman never wanted to be Batman, he felt a duty to become Batman. I don't think the presence of the auto-pilot is a problem, Fox clearly set it up for Bruce to work out, and it's not surprising that he did. It's also very important that after one of the most trying strains on Alfred and Bruce's relationship that Bruce give Alfred just about the greatest gift he could - his own contentment. If, again, you remember back to Batman Begins, even as a Princeton douche, Bruce was moody and without peace. That's what both Alfred and Bruce desire - for the end of Batman and his tired soul to rest. The Dark Knight Rises executes this perfectly. And yeah, he should end up with Selina Kyle, she's just as insane as he is, and in this movie also has a restless soul that needs to find and settle with a companion.

Needless to say, there is a gaping, interesting, obvious hole in this film - a massive and tragic what-if question that looms over the entire thing. What if Heath Ledger's Joker could have had a presence here? Would he be relegated to a small but charming cameo such as Cillian Murphy's Scarecrow? Perhaps something like this? I'd like to think he'd either revel in Bane's chaos or be overcome with jealousy for not having been able to do it himself. I'm picturing the Long Halloween treatment, where he's overcome with anger and jealousy over the Holiday Killer who's getting more fame than he is. Nolan's Joker was always a bit more humble and even-tempered, though and it would have been excellent to see him tested against Bane just as Batman was - because the Joker too tended to have a confident plan and fought on his own ground. Bane upsets even the cockneyed order of the Joker.

Gotham City: The Windy Apple

The character of Gotham City has always been nearly as important and influential as Batman himself in his truest tales. This is certainly evident in both Burton and Schumacher's efforts. The evolution, then, of Gotham throughout the Nolan Bat-films is interesting. I stole this from somewhere and forgot where, if someone can call me on it, I'll be glad: We only get to see the murkiest slums in Batman Begins, the narrows, the docks, and Hobo Alley. The Dark Knight introduces us to the shining blues and twilight of midtown and the innards of a few specific locations.

The Dark Knight Rises, however, truly showcases every lick of the city, from the Stadium of the Gotham Rogues, to the Financial and Court Districts, and all the mean streets in between (it appears that Bane allowed for trash pick-up during his occupation, he's so kind). Really, though, this time Gotham is inescapably New York. I mean, landmarks like Central Park, Saks Fifth Avenue, and the Empire State Building couldn't be more prominent. There's numerous 9/11 connotations, from the President's solemn vow that the city will press on after experiencing prior hardships, the tattered American Flags draped on the building, and even a constant blanket of snow that encapsulates the city not unlike the cloud of ash that floated for months after that September day.

With all this, Batman has become a symbol embedded with the city. There may not be a better moment in this film as when the Army of Cops are shuddering in fear until the Batplane appears and provides the ultimate inspiration. It's the sense that things can't go wrong if Batman is here. I'm also glad, by the way, that Nolan found a cool way to upgrade Bruce's ride in each film - from the Tumbler to the Batpod to the Batplane.

Real World Tragedies

As far as I know no one is really talking about the tragedies that have surrounded the past two films in this series. The Dark Knight is forever tied to Heath Ledger, not only because his performance was astounding (and single-handedly moved him from a laughable chick-flick actor to a fanboy idol), but because of his untimely death in the months preceding it. Needless to say, it sparked an incredible interest in the film that was much more significant considering it was the last time Heath would be on film (except of course for Terry Gilliam's excellent Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus [2009], which remains feeling incomplete without its center star, even though Gilliam worked some creative new actors into the mix).

Likewise The Dark Knight Rises will forever be tied to the tragedy in Aurora, Colorado the night of its midnight premiere. Are these films just too intense for some minds to handle? No, that's stupid. They're just movies. Frankly, they're not even all that great movies, either, just a few notches higher than the typical Hollywood output, and they have enough cultural influence that stupid, tonally misplaced shit like this ends up happening.

It's strange that these films are forever connected to two massive tragedies. I wonder what Nolan must be feeling. I wouldn't make another Batman movie any time soon, if my name was Chris or Zack or even Martin. That said, this is certainly the most epic film of the summer (narrowly beating out Battleship [2012]), and I think its cultural significance is just beginning.

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