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Batman holds an important place in my heart. Even now I have hundreds of Batman comics piled in boxes. The Batman mythos. Lost father and mother to a senseless crime. Iconic dark and light, and issues of sin and retribution. Good and Bad – locked in a dual.
I never really understood other super heroes. The Flash, I run super fast? Green Lantern, I have a ring that does green things? Batman’s lack of super powers made him accessible. Much more realistic than any of the other comics running when I was a kid. So you couple a brilliant book with the greatest living Director and what do you get? Movie gold. I can’t believe he even agreed to do the movies to be honest. I’m betting the only thing that got him in the seat was the chance to prove his chops initially. It single handedly allowed him to go off and do Inception that is for sure. So from that standpoint it worked I guess. Regardless, it was a boon to the entire Batman universe that is for sure.
Batman Begins was a turning point in cinema. End of sentence. It was an example of a brilliant noir bildungsroman. The young Bruce’s demons are introduced and his search for sense in a mad world. Right now I couldn’t relate to this any more than I do right now seeing as though I am typing this several hours after a madman walked into a midnight showing for the Dark Knight Rises and shot over 70 people. Apparently the world (or maybe just Colorado?) is more like Gotham (Arkham?) than we would really like to admit. But I digress, in Batman Begins the Nolan Batman world is constructed out back story, searches for deeper meaning for truth in the face of tragedy, and a really great villain that sees himself above the moral law. In Begins we see Bruce chasing for answers and finally latching onto the mythos of the bat as his larger ideal. I love Nolan’s use of the villain to create the hero technique. Taking Ra’s Al Ghul’s motivation of Bruce and making that the ying and yang of the structure of the legend was brilliant. I thought so anyway.
Where does one begin talking about one of the most iconic movies of our generation? Seriously, this was one of the darkest movies ever. And yet, determined. I personally think The Dark Knight is an accurate portrayal of the world without God. A world desperately in need of a savior. A land determined to destroy itself chasing after hedonism and Epicurean pursuits. The Joker lighting the enormous pile of cash. The people of Gotham just certain they should blow each other up in a philosopher’s experiment extraordinaire. The moral dilemmas and questions that Nolan conjured up for the city of Gotham to play out were just brilliant in every way. And we see a broken Batman determined that going away is the best way to calm the city down. A city in the hands of madmen is better than a city at war Bruce reckons.
And this one, this one goes to eleven. I think where this movie succeeds just so monumentally is the just epic scale of every shot, of the dialogue and of mental scope of this vast vista that is Rises. Chris Nolan and his brother Jonathan have written just an epically enormous conclusion piece to their trilogy. Batman Begins is cleverly crafted an tricky. But not necessarily big per se. Dark Knight is big. Sure. Grand. But dark and barren of hope. It is big in the sort of big that a black hole consuming all life around it is big. But The Dark Knight Rises is big in that enormous vista that vantage that gives life and hope and hopefulness. At least I thought so anyway. Batman 1 was a set piece. Batman 2 was a battle. And Batman 3 was world wide war.
The much hyped football stadium explosions and the bridge detonations harken to 9/11 like nothing before. This is not a super hero’s world – this is our world – and we are desperately in need of a super hero to save us. The world could do nothing to help. The lifelines were cut and the world is watching as the countdown to Armageddon is ushered in. The people cower in their homes. Roaming street mobs keep the police in hiding and their uniforms away. And Batman is broken. Gone. Relegated to the rubbish heap. Beaten by Bane and the city is now his playground.
If you are a fan of the comic books then you are probably aware of the Knightfall series. Bane escapes Arkham and then sits in the shadows content to watch. Then he marshals every terrible person Arkham has to offer and throws them at Batman as a sacrifice to himself, intent and 10 rounds of insanity to break the bat down. And break him he does. Joker reminds him of his failings with Robin. Scarecrow lights his brain with hallucinogens and disorients him to the point where the Batman doesn’t know the difference between his fears and reality. And then enter Bane. Bane and Batman have this just epic showdown and Bruce ends up with a broken back and a one way trip to Madagascar to recover for several years. And Gotham is Batman-less. Eventually a backup is found, but he uses guns and violence Bruce would have never stooped to. And Gotham ends up in a worse place then they were in.
Similarly Dark Knight Rises speaks to many of the Comic Books leitmotifs. We have a broken super hero worried that he’s failed – worse that he is possibly the cause of the chaos. But we also have a city in desperate need of his return. I was happy to see that iconic image of the breaking of the batman right there in full 70mm grandeur. I was happy to see the ode to my childhood played out with all of the brilliant Nolan skill and insightfulness.
And we have all of it in Grand IMAX 70mm enormity. Over an hour of The Dark Knight Rises was shot in 70mm – and just like The Dark Knight – every time the IMAX screen popped full screen I felt my stomach lurch. That and the adrenaline kick in. I can’t even tell you how epic it is to see a Nolan film shot in full 70mm on an almost 100 foot high screen. Just gorgeous. But even better than the images (which were to die for, don’t get me wrong…) was the amazing Hans Zimmer score on the enormous IMAX bass system. That and the whoooop whoooop whooop of the bat – Batman’s new batmobile on crack. It was like someone was thumping me on the chest. Just dropped you right there on the streets of Gotham to watch the story unfold in first person.
Dark Knight Rises is good. It stands on its own. Its a heavy weight of a movie. But where it really soars is in its ability to tie all three movies into a single cohesive unit. This is now one massive 9 hour long saga now, not 3 very different snapshots into the Batman universe. Who knew that Ra’s Al Ghul was right – that he was immortal? Who knew that the Joker would thread so nicely in with Bane? How in the world did Sandman find himself atop a pile of desks as Gotham city’s one and only judge and executioner? “Death? Or exile?” I hear him asking Commissioner Gordon – “I would be crazy to choose exile and to go out on that ice!” – “Fine! Then death by exile!” Brilliance. Who knew that Catwoman would be played so closely to the books and so well? That Bruce and Selena’s relationship would be rich with nuance, grace and complexity? And who knew that Arthur would tie it all together and lay out a family generational saga that was so much bigger than Bruce ever could have imagined?
This movie was epic and grand but it was also the tying up of all the loose threads throughout the series that made it a winner. In the theater where I was everyone applauded at the end because it was just so satisfying. Just such a compelling ending. Nolan pulled off the proverbial triple gainer, and even I – a Nolan Fanboy – didn’t think it was possible.
The resounding message throughout Nolan’s dark libretto is that we are all evil. We are capable of such terrible travesties like the Aurora shooting at the midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises where a man claiming to be the Joker killed 12 and injured 50 or more individuals. This is truth. We are evil – so very lost and in need of a savior. At one point, Batman speaking of Ra’s Al Ghul said that he was trying to kill countless thousands of innocent Gothamites. “I wouldn’t exactly call them innocent Batman…” was the retort. And we aren’t. We were born guilty and without a savior we will die guilty. Thus the movie strikes home for me in a very very real way.
The Dark Knight Rises is a great movie. It’s well plotted and it is taught and set to pop. And pop it does. I recently rewatched Batman Begins again and I’m really glad I did because the tie ins to that movie are so much tighter than to two. The bookends of this trilogy really turn out to be the ones that carry all the structural weight of the trilogy. So if you want a tip as to how best enjoy three, then watch Batman 1 again. It will definitely be a worthwhile investment.
Nolan’s trilogy, the entire Batman corpus delivers. En masse. And with great splendor. Mr. Nolan, if you are reading this, the one thing I would say to you is ‘Thanks. Thanks for making vistas of emotion and impossibility alive and real on such an enormous scale. Thank you for painting a picture of our depravity and need. And thank you for your entire body of work. For The Prestige, Memento, Following, and the entire Batman saga. Your work has not gone unappreciated.’