Christopher Nolan is a man who can hardly seem to put a foot wrong of late. His last two Batman films, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight were met with almost universal praise. The same can also be said for Inception, which was a magnificent technical feat (even if it didn’t have anything interesting to say).
The Dark Knight Rises sees a director completely free to create his own final chapter to the series, and is a rarity in the genre of superhero movies: a third film that actually works and is worthwhile (cc Spiderman 3 and X-Men 3).
The film begins eight years after the events of The Dark Knight which saw the Harvey Dent die a hero and Batman become the city’s villain. Chief Commissioner Gordon and Bruce Wayne not letting the truth get in the way of a good story, especially one which would allow Dent’s original vision of a Gotham free of organized crime come to fruition.
Eight years on, it seems the plan has worked. Gotham is largely free of crime, and The Batman’s services are no longer required. However, it’s not long before both Selina Kyle (aka Catwoman) and Bane start to question Gotham’s accepted order; the gap between the haves and have-nots. With echoes of pre-revolution France, Kyle remarks:
There’s a storm coming, Mr. Wayne. You and your friends better batten down the hatches, because when it hits, you’re all gonna wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us.
That’s not to say The Dark Knight Rises is not without its faults. It’s central plot with all its twists, turns and (another) bomb MacGuffin lacks originality and fails to ask as many difficult questions as it ought.
However, in many ways the plot is like the valley we must negotiate to see the grander ideas that appear left and right. Class, heroes, and justice are themes effortlessly intertwined alongside a whole host of ensemble characters with enough depth to carry the film by themselves.
Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy succeeds not because of one individual story or moment from any of the three films, but his commitment to crafting a world not unlike our own. A world which is both served and needs to shed its hero; a world which sees the marginalised rise up against a city’s excess; and a world which has no easy answers to its long-term problems of criminality.
It’s a lesson other filmmakers with designs on the superhero genre should take on board. Taking time to create characters and a world with real depth and a sense of history can pay off dividends regardless of whether every single element of the story works or not.
Bane, Catwoman and Joseph Gordon Levitt’s Blake work as characters because they are products of the Gotham we saw in the previous two films. They don’t feel like they’ve merely been added in to appease fans or create one short-lived set piece.
The Dark Knight Rises is an imperfect film, but one with an unflinching, almost-perfect vision of a world one can almost reach out and touch. As such, The Dark Knight Rises succeeds where so many other final chapters in a trilogy have failed. It also guarantees that Nolan’s Gotham will be remembered and considered in a way few fictional cities ever get to be.