Publetariat Dispatch: The Dark Knight Rises, Thoughts on a Trilogy

Publetariat: For People Who Publish!
In today’s Publetariat Dispatch, Alan Baxter offers his perspective on Christopher Nolan’s gritty Batman trilogy.

[Publetariat Editor’s note: this post contains strong language]

There aren’t any spoilers in this post, but there are some spoilers at the places I link to at the end, so be warned.

It’s no secret that I’m a Batman fan. In fact, that’s an  understatement – I fucking love Batman, in a totally platonic way. I’ve  often said that Batman and the Joker are the two greatest fictional characters  ever created and I stand by that. So when talk of a new Batman film  started back in 2003 or 4 or whenever it was, I was dubious. But it was  to be made by Christopher Nolan, a man whose talents I already admired.  The result was Batman Begins, the first of a proposed trilogy. I was very pleasantly surprised.

The  first thing to remember when films are made from established literary  canon, be they novels, comic books, games or anything else, is that a  film is a self-contained thing. It’s finite. Batman comics have been  going since 1939 and there’s a metric fuckton of established canon and  ongoing story with which a film can’t hope to compete. Nor should it  try. So a film will always make changes to established canon and we fans  can’t be precious about that. It’s how the film plays with that canon that matters.

In Batman Begins,  Nolan turned the notion of Ras Al Ghul a little bit on its head. He  made Ras and Henri Ducard the same character, which they absolutely  aren’t in the comic canon. He also made Ras an Irishman. But the things  he then did with those characters, with Ras’s mission as an idealistic  eco-terrorist, were bang on the money. Nolan did a brilliant job of  retelling the Batman genesis and origin, and adding in a well favoured  supervillain. Within that, he kept the darkness essential to the  Batman’s story. He kept the gothic, noir edge of the characters and  setting. He made Gotham an integral character in the film. So while he  played with some aspects of established canon to make a film-sized  story, he did it well and kept enough of what we already know intact to  make a very impressive, cohesive whole. I was very happy with the film.

But  all along it was touted as a trilogy. And this is where we go back to  the nature of film compared to an ongoing series. This film was to be  finite in three instalments. The second film, The Dark Knight,  stands tall for many reasons. Not least of these is that amazing  performance from Heath Ledger as the Joker, which is still the highpoint  of the trilogy for me. And again, Nolan took some liberties with  established canon, but stayed true to so many parts that we love that we  went with him for the ride. I did, anyway. And most importantly for me,  he totally got what the Joker is all about. The Joker is the worst  monster imaginable, because he’s the embodiment of absolute chaos. No  rhyme, no reason, no appealing to any sense or intelligence. Just pure,  insane chaos. Some men, after all, just want to watch the world burn.

So I’d been waiting patiently and slightly nervously for The Dark Knight Rises,  the third and final instalment. So often a third film is where a series  can jump the shark. It can be the step too far. But Nolan always said  this was to be a trilogy and I trusted him as a storyteller enough to  hope that he would see it through well. Again, liberties were took. The big bad this time is Bane, and he’s very different from the comic book  character. In the comics, Bane is addicted to and fuelled by Venom. But  in this film, Venom doesn’t even get a mention. Bane’s origin is also  played with, as are the origins of other key players (who I won’t  discuss for fear of spoilers). But that’s okay, because Nolan is using  Bane in his own way, like he used Ras Al Ghul in the first one. And he  does a good job of it.

Nolan also does a very good job of using  the Selina Kyle character. She’s never called Catwoman in the film, her  cat ears are just her night goggles, pushed up onto her head and so on.  But the core of the character is there. She’s a tough, sassy, very  capable cat burglar. She’s a real-world foil to the Batman’s black and  white view of crime and culpability. She’s so much more than a sexy  accoutrement and Anne Hathaway does a brilliant job with a character  that is very hard to play well.

And using these characters and settings, Nolan brings threads from both previous films together in The Dark Knight Rises  and ties them into a truly epic story, worthy of its comic book roots  and also worthy of its cinematic grandeur. He does tell a complete story  in three films and he does it bloody well.

Each of the films is  successively darker, more epic and more daring than the last and by far  the best thing about them is that Nolan has made an absolutely  self-contained trilogy. It’s not the same as the comic books, because  the comics are still going on, and will continue to do so. Nolan has  taken the characters and spirit of those stories and turned them into  one complete and very clever tale. We see the full life of the Batman,  from genesis, through origin, through rise and fall and rise again,  right out to final closure. And it’s very satisfying.

Sure, the films have flaws. With The Dark Knight Rises there  are illogicalities, there are strange timing issues, there are simple  nonsensical things (like the one I mentioned the other day – how the  hell does Bane eat? And he’s a big boy, so he must eat a lot.) There’s  actually not nearly enough Batman in the third and final Batman film.  There are often certain events in the movies which are entirely too  convenient and plot-driven. But, these things are relatively few and far  between and largely eclipsed by all the good stuff.

There are those who have suggested that this final instalment is a pro-fascist movie  (although I disagree with most of that post and the author obviously  doesn’t have any real understanding of the ideology of Ras Al Ghul). I  mean, sure, all superhero stories are fundamentally fascist – the super  power steps in with violence, operating outside the law, to battle the  greater threat on behalf of the people. But that’s a whole other  discussion and not one limited to Nolan’s interpretation of Batman.

There  are those who have asked what the hell happened to the Joker after the  second film. Although Ledger died and couldn’t reprise his role, it’s  strange that there was never any mention. Though one possible answer lies here.

(Remember – spoilers at the above links!)

There  are several other concerns raised in various reviews and posts I’ve  read, some valid, some not so much. Regardless, Nolan has created in his  Batman trilogy something rarely seen from Hollywood these days – an  intelligent, complex, complete and satisfying story along with the  incredible special effects and cinematic epicness we’ve come to expect.  Effects are so often utilised at the expense of story, but not with  these films. The Dark Knight Rises is possibly the best of the  three when it comes to simply amazing set pieces of action and downright  brilliant photography. But it’s the combined power of the three films  together that really stands out as Nolan’s crowning achievement here.

Personally I can’t wait till The Dark Knight Rises  is released on DVD so I can put aside a day to sit and watch all three  films back to back in a beauteous Bat-filled marathon of cinematic  awesomeness.


This is a reprint from Alan Baxter‘s The Word.


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