With the impending release of The Dark Knight Rises, Bat-mania is at a fever pitch. This reviewer has tickets to the entire trilogy in IMAX on opening night and another to see it again less than 24 hours later. Twenty-four hours from now I will be in that IMAX theater, halfway through the final chapter of Christopher Nolan’s epic trilogy, which has quite literally changed the way that comic book movies are perceived, both by Hollywood and audiences. With theaters offering the chance to view the entire trilogy on the big screen and offering round-the-clock showings, the film is in huge demand, and its box office may even dwarf that of The Avengers, a feat that seemed less than possible a few short months ago. But before Christian Bale returns one last time as Batman, join me on a journey through the first two films that have changed things… forever. Truly, there is no going back. Also stick around for a look into the upcoming finale!
After the incomprehensibly bad Batman & Robin landed in 1997, Batman couldn’t have been a bigger joke. Plans for a fifth film were scrapped, and the studio went back to the drawing board. A new Batman wouldn’t make his way onto the screen for another eight years thanks in large part to the Schumacher debacle. When Christopher Nolan was signed on to direct, it signaled a change. Even back to Burton’s wonderful Batman in 1989, the films prior were never really about their characters; they were about massive set pieces, big-name stars and out-and-out garishness. Gotham City never felt like much of a city in any of the prior films, particularly the later films with their absolutely ridiculous set designs. Yet this was the centerpiece- this was the entire point. The characters just filled the world incidentally, and for four films about the caped crusader, not once did any of the films really and truly get to the heart of exactly why Batman was Batman, nor did they even pay much attention to him (compare the blandness of Batmen past with the outlandishness of his villains).
The film centers on Bruce Wayne’s journey to becoming the caped crusader. Leading an all-star cast is Christian Bale as Wayne/Batman, who is throughout the entire film is perfectly able to encapsulate both Wayne’s faux-playboy persona and the dark, brooding, highly intelligent crime fighter that is Batman. His relationship with his parents forms the centerpiece of this characterization of both; unlike in Burton’s ’89 film, which turns the murder of Thomas and Martha into a vendetta to be settled, it is the system that created their murderer that is the real criminal here. Wayne chooses to become Batman because his parents’ deaths were caused by the poverty and crime that run rampant in Gotham, and he decides to do something about it. He is guided every step of the way by the ever-paternal Alfred (Michael Caine), whose steadfast support and dedication to Wayne help to center himand give him perspective. Another aspect of the older films that wasn’t really emphasized, Nolan makes a point that without Alfred, there would be no Batman, and their relationship makes a very key component in all of the films.
Much to his credit, Nolan has never forgotten that these films are, ultimately, about Batman. About what drives him as a character, about how much he has given and how much he sacrifices for Gotham City. Even in The Dark Knight, which is ostensibly about Harvey Dent, the film inevitably comes back around to the man himself. Batman’s decision to sacrifice himself to protect Dent’s image- and to protect the hope that his fight against organized crime has instilled in Gotham’s citizens- is truly the lynchpin in that film (not to mention it looks to play a fairly hefty role in The Dark Knight Rises as well). Despite numerous villains, side plots, and other distractions, strip away everything and the films are still about one thing: Batman/Bruce Wayne.
Batman Begins is a fantastic first entry in the trilogy that is, sadly, somewhat flawed. The film wastes the incredible Cillian Murphy as Jonathan Crane/Scarecrow, turning him into little more than filler to wait for the inevitable return of Ra’s Al Ghul (the brilliant Liam Neeson). While the twist involving Al Ghul is excellent, the film sadly lacks for any real villain for the better part of its runtime. Murphy, talented as he is, just isn’t given anything to do as Crane/Scarecrow but to be a lackey (albeit a very theatrical one). The film’s fight scenes also leave a great deal to be desired. Granted, Nolan was going for a very “from the shadows” style with the fights, but they’re too quickly cut to really make them believable. This is most embarrassing in the fight at the docks, where Batman drops into a group of thugs and proceeds to take them out.
That said, the film is still an excellent four out of five stars. Ignoring the microwave emitter’s rather gaping logical issues (like how specifically the device only vaporizes water in the water mains and not all water, everywhere) and the rather drab Rutger Hauer subplot at Wayne Enterprises (didn’t you get the memo?), the film delivers on all levels and is thoroughly satisfying from beginning to end. Some may complain that the film takes an hour to get Bale in the Batsuit, but this is actually the film’s strongest point; by learning exactly who Bruce Wayne is and what motivates him, one has no questions about exactly why he’s putting on the suit in the first place. Other highpoints worthy of mention are Tom Wilkinson as crime kingpin Carmine Falcone, who is absolutely fantastic in the role. Also, though he has very little screentime, Linus Roache must be mentioned for his amazing performance as Thomas Wayne.
The Dark Knight is the typical sequel, particularly in the superhero film genre: better than the first film by a wide margin. Yet the film is so much more than just a sequel, it is quite honestly nothing short of a masterpiece. From the brilliant storytelling, to the incredible casting, and the fact that for over two hours, the film never stops increasing the pace. At the end of Begins, Gordon begs the question, “What about escalation?” The Dark Knight answers this question in resounding fashion. The Joker continues to escalate his threats against the city; Batman continues to escalate the lengths he will go to in order to stop him. Nolan continues to escalate the tension in the film. It is the type of film that grabs the viewer and then pulls them in, holding them tightly.
Heath Ledger’s iconic turn as the anarchistic Joker is always, it seems, the focal point of discussion about this film, and those discussions are good to a point; Ledger was amazing in the role, and his posthumous Oscar wasn’t necessarily undeserved. Yet the real point and purpose of The Dark Knight was never the Joker; it is rather in the fall of Harvey Dent, here portrayed excellently by Aaron Eckhart. Dent’s tragic fall is the emotional backbone of the film, and it is Harvey Dent- not Batman, not the Joker- who is at the center of everyone’s plans. The city places all of its hopes in Dent’s war against organized crime. The Joker realizes that if he can corrupt Dent, the city would destroy itself, and Batman sees Dent as a hero with a face. Someone who can be the hero he can never be. As the film ends, Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) remarks, “The Joker won.” And his assessment is correct, as Dent’s fall has all but sealed the city’s fate.
Yet Dent’s fall does not destroy Gotham, it instead makes it stronger. The Dark Knight Rises hinges on a Gotham City that has moved on without Batman, taking a tougher stand against crime in the wake of Dent’s tragic demise and using it as a symbol to turn the city against crime (part of the film’s viral marketing actually posted the s0-named Dent Act which can be read here). From Begins it was always exactly what Batman set out to do- to heal the city, to stop the creation of new Joe Chills. To prevent the tragedy that befell him from ever happening to anyone, ever again.
Little is known about what will or will not happen in Rises. What is known is that Batman disappeared after the events of The Dark Knight. A new threat emerges in the form of Bane (Tom Hardy), a villain who looks to be a match for Batman both physically and mentally. He also seems fully aware of Batman’s identity. From the trailers, it seems that a now out-of-practice Wayne attempts to take on Bane, only to be soundly defeated and kidnapped. Beaten and broken, Wayne must train himself and find a way to rise up, to re-don the cape and cowl and fight to save the city once more. The Dark Knight ends with Gordon’s speech that, “… he’s the hero that Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now.” It seems that the time has finally come for Batman to rise again.
Also joining the cast is Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle/Catwoman (though reports are that she is never referred to by the latter in the film). The trailers and promotional materials suggest that she has some connection with Bane, but turns anti-hero to help Batman stop him at some point in the film. Marion Cotillard also joins the cast as Miranda Tate, but is she really? It has long been rumored that she is really Talia Al Ghul, daughter of Ra’s. Speaking of, Liam Neeson was spotted on set at some point during filming; exactly what role will he play in Rises? Will it be solely in flashback, and if so, whose flashbacks are they?
Of course, the biggest question is, how does it all end? Those who have been able to see the film know, and most of the world will be able to find out starting tomorrow at midnight. Considering the prices that tickets are being sold for and considering that Regal is running 24 hour showings in most markets (and 72 hour showings in bigger ones!), chances for actually finding a ticket for the first showing are slim at best. While there has been the slightest whisper of a 4th film (though Nolan denies it), it is likely that this will be the end of this trilogy. Given the success of The Avengers earlier this summer, it is likely that Warner Bros. and DC will try to start getting their cards in order to move toward an eventual Justice League film. That will require a reboot, so it’ll be interesting to get another take on Batman down the road. Will it ever be able to top Nolan’s epic trilogy? Only time will tell.
EDIT: My review of The Dark Knight Rises is now online!! Check it out here!!!
By Nicholas Haskins
As for this reviewer, it’s off to IMAX tomorrow evening and then a 10 PM showing the following night. In the meantime, enjoy the trailers for The Dark Knight Rises by clicking these links: Teaser Trailer, Trailer #1, Trailer #2, Trailer #3. Also remember that there will be a teaser for next summer’s Man of Steel attached! Like my reviews? Please subscribe to them if so. You can also become a fanboy/girl and follow me on Twitter or book my face. Check back over the weekend for a full review of The Dark Knight Rises.