This essay is dedicated to my dad.
The Dark Knight Series are three Batman movies co-written and directed by Christopher Nolan:
- Batman Begins (2005)
- The Dark Knight (2008)
- The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
For anyone who has lived under a rock for the past 83 years, Batman is DC Comics’ most famous character, created in 1939 by Bob Kane and Bill Finger, and is the secret identity of wealthy businessman Bruce Wayne.
Points of interest (at least to me) related to the Nolan Batman films:
- The Dark Knight nickname was first applied to Batman in Batman #1 (1940), written by Bill Finger.
- I’ve always loved Bat-Gadgets (in 1989’s Batman, isn’t Jack Nicholson’s line, “Where does he get those wonderful toys?!” just perfect?), and the Nolan Bats seamlessly reintroduce a lot of them as the three films play out. That worked for me: it was like going into an antique store and finding a dessert plate in my Grandmother’s china pattern, then a teapot exactly like the one my Baba used every day, then spotting a jaunty fedora just like my Grandpa Alfred’s, then . . . (you get the idea). When various Bat-Gadgets show up in the three films, it feels familiar yet exciting. Nostalgia done right.
- Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, and Cillian Murphy (who I’ll watch in anything) are in all three movies. Nestor Carbonell (in my family, he is known as Guyliner) plays Gotham City’s mayor in The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises.
- Nolan’s inspiration for the The Dark Knight film was a combination of Joker’s comic book debut in 1940, the 1988 graphic novel The Killing Joke, and the 1996 series The Long Halloween.
- Eric Roberts (who I’ll watch in [almost] anything) is great as crime boss Salvatore Maroni in The Dark Knight.
- Almost all cast and crew worked on all three movies; composers Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard worked together on the first two films and Zimmer created the soundtrack for The Dark Knight Rises.
- The ever-insipid Katie Holmes plays Rachel Dawes in Batman Begins, but thankfully she was replaced by Maggie Gyllenhaal in The Dark Knight. Un-thankfully, Nolan doesn’t really give Gyllenhaal much to work with, character-wise.
- Liam Neeson is in both Batman Begins and in The Dark Knight Rises.
- Heath Ledger received an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Joker in The Dark Knight. It was awarded posthumously, because sadly Ledger died from a toxic combination of prescription drugs on 22 January 2008, six months before the film’s release.
- Tom Hardy (who I’ll watch in anything) is in The Dark Knight Rises, portraying Bane. Bane uses a mask to inhale an analgesic gas, which, in director Nolan’s words, “keeps his pain just below the threshold so he can function”; as someone with chronic pain from a variety of disabilities, that sounds pretty good to me!
- The draft of Nolan’s script for The Dark Knight Rises was in part inspired by Charles Dickens’ 1859 novel A Tale of Two Cities. You can find reference to the novel twice in the film: when Bane unobtrusively “fingers” a knitted paracord ~ a nod to Dickens’ crazy-knitting character Madame Defarge ~ and more obviously when Commissioner Gordon eulogizes Bruce Wayne, quoting directly from A Tale of Two Cities.
- Batman Begins was written by Nolan and David S. Goyer with the intent was to create a darker realistic tone than campy Batman TV series and films of the 1960s, 1980s, and 1990s. I grew up with all those earlier Batmans: my father, born in 1933, had grown up with Batman comics and loved them. He loved the old Batman TV series – Robin’s constant ridiculous Captain Obvious-type exclamations “Holy [insert word or phrase], Batman!” were a family tradition and are still fun for me. It’s easy to silently (or not-so-silently) shout out Robin-esque Holy [whatever comes to mind], Batman! exclamations quite often as you watch the films reveal exciting or shocking plot points, so I’m gonna put some of mine in this essay. Anyway, my dad enjoyed the pre-Nolan Batman films. His favorite Joker was Cesar Romero, who was in the first full length Batman movie, 1966’s Batman, based on the contemporaneous Adam West Batman television series, but my dad thoroughly enjoyed Jack Nicholson’s campy Joker portrayal in director Tim Burton’s Batman (1989). When Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins came along in 2008, my dad declared he had a new favorite Joker.
- I don’t know when Wayne Industries became Wayne Enterprises, so I’ll use the latter in this essay.
All the Nolan Bats have compelling multi-layered complex storytelling, audience-pleasing special effects, and are driven by the psychology of the characters, and (pleasing Batman aficionados worldwide) incorporate a lot of traditional Batman/Wayne Enterprises lore, vehicles, technology, and gadgetry. Nolan found a great balance between the lore/fantasy elements of Batman comics and a filming tone that makes even the most far-fetched scenes or gadgetry seem believable. Nolan co-wrote and directed all three of the Dark Knight Series films; he had directed the psychological thriller Memento (2000), and you can feel that distinct touch all three films. It’s most striking in Batman Begins, because it was the first in his reboot of the Batman film franchise.
Batman Begins retells Bruce Wayne’s story from the death of his parents, through his journey to become Batman, and Batman’s fight to stop Ra’s al Ghul and the Scarecrow from destroying Gotham City. The film is a classic origin story, giving vital Batman/Wayne story elements, including the importance of bats and Bruce’s desires to protect Gotham City and fight criminals, and a lot of character(s) development. From establishing that elements of Batman’s personality come from Bruce’s childhood to setting the stage for the villainy of Joker, Nolan lays out a fairly straight-line progression, but he does it in a way that keeps the film fresh and exciting. Not an easy feat, because – Holy Rehash, Batman! – we already “know the story.” For example, origin story scenes include Bruce and Rachel playing as children, and Bruce falling into an old dry well; he’s terrified by bats as they swarm about him before flying away. We also see Bruce’s father tell him that being wealthy allows him to help the less fortunate in Gotham City, and he shows Bruce the monorail, built by Wayne Enterprises, as an example of using one’s wealth and power for good. We see Bruce, when he is only eight years old, inadvertently set into motion events that lead to him watching in frozen horror as his parents are robbed and killed by petty criminal Joe Chill. We see those kinds of familiar Batman elements, but the film doesn’t bore us when telling any of them.
Bruce grows up basically alone, cared for by Alfred (the Wayne’s butler), and haunted by both horrific incidents of the well and his parents’ murders. As a young man, he runs off to the East for seven years, where he undergoes “adventures” like being in jail. Yes, jail as “adventure” kinda works in this story. On the advice of fellow prisoner Henri Ducard, seeking out the almost mythical location of the League of Shadows, a dangerous but honorable crime-fighting organization led by Ra’s al Ghul. Ra’s al Ghul teaches Bruce the skills he will eventually use as Batman: he learns to control his emotions and becomes an expert League of Shadows ninja-style fighter. Bruce’s training and devotion to the League of Shadows ends abruptly when he learns that the League plans to destroy the now-corrupt Gotham City. That, and the fact that he doesn’t believe, as the League demands, that killing is necessary, causes Bruce to reject the League. Determined to stop the destruction of Gotham, he burns down the League’s secret location as he makes his escape. Bruce saves his unconscious friend, Ducard, but Ra’s al Ghul is killed by falling debris.
Bruce goes home to crime-riddled Gotham City even more determined to protect it and fight crime. Adding to the complications of the plot and Bruce’s life, he finds he’s losing ownership of Wayne Enterprises. As Bruce gets reintroduced to his father’s company, Wayne Enterprises’ archivist Lucius Fox gives him prototype defense technologies, including a protective bodysuit and an armored vehicle called the Tumbler. Fox thus initiates Bruce’s double identity: publicly he is a shallow playboy, while privately with Fox’s and Alfred’s help he starts building a secure secret base in the caves beneath Wayne Manor, from which Bruce can become his crime fighting alter-ego, Batman, an identity inspired by his now-conquered childhood fear. Sergeant James Gordon (Gary Oldham) is one of Gotham’s few honest cops, and he becomes Bruce’s confident. They work together to defeat crime boss Carmine Falcone and other bad guys.
Speaking of other bad guys, enter Dr. Jonathan Crane, a corrupt psychologist who smuggles drugs into Gotham and wants to take over control of the city’s criminal elements. To protect his identity, Crane wears a scarecrow mask when he’s engaged in criminal activity. Scarecrow sprays Falcone with a fear-inducing hallucinogen and has him transferred to Arkham Asylum, clearing his own path to being Gotham’s crime overlord. Bruce’s childhood friend Rachel is now a Gotham Assistant District Attorney; she accuses Crane of corruption, not knowing that Crane plans to put his hallucinogen into Gotham’s water supply. Batman captures Scarecrow and sprays him with his own hallucinogen, and, under the effects of the hallucinogen, Crane reveals he works for (the supposedly dead) Ra’s al Ghul. Batman gives a vial of antidote to Gordon for mass production to save the city from Scarecrow’s plan.
Ducard reappears at Bruce’s birthday party and reveals himself to be the true Ra’s al Ghul. Holy Gasp, Batman! I honestly did not see that coming when I first saw the film. Ra’s al Ghul plans to vaporize Gotham’s water supply, using a powerful microwave emitter he has stolen from Wayne Enterprises. The vaporizer will make Scarecrow’s drug airborne, causing mass hysteria; thus the defunct League of Shadows’ plan to destroy Gotham will be fulfilled. Ra’s al Ghul sets Wayne Manor on fire, leaves Bruce to die (Alfred rescues him), and loads the microwave emitter onto Gotham’s monorail system: symmetry and revenge matter in this film. Setting Wayne Manor on fire is Ra’s al Ghul’s revenge for the destruction of the League of Shadows secret location, and using the monorail, built by Bruce’s father and meant for good, for evil. The emitter is set to release the drug at the city’s central water source. Batman rescues Rachel from a drugged hysterical mob, and confronts Ra’s al Ghul on the monorail, while Gordon uses the Tumbler’s cannons to destroy a section of the track. Batman refuses to kill Ra’s al Ghul but chooses not to save him: when the train crashes, Ra’s al Ghul is killed.
The rest of the film wraps up satisfactorily. Rachel reveals to Bruce that she loves him, but she knows he is Batman: she tells him that when Gotham no longer needs Batman, they can be together. Batman is a public hero, Bruce again controls Wayne Enterprises and puts Fox in charge, and Sergeant Gordon is promoted to Lieutenant. He shows Batman the newly created Bat-Signal, with which he will call Batman when Gotham needs help. Gordon also tells him about a criminal who leaves Joker playing cards at his crime scenes, foreshadowing the second Nolan Bat, The Dark Knight. Batman promises to investigate and then disappears into the night. Holy Impatience, Batman! We were left immediately wanting the next Nolan Bat.
It – The Dark Knight – is recognized as one of best and most influential films of all time. It received critical acclaim for its screenplay, visual style, musical score, stunts, themes, performances (particularly Ledger’s, whose every moment on camera is incredible), cinematography, action sequences, and direction. Before its release, Warner Bros. created a viral marketing campaign, with promotional websites and trailers highlighting images of Ledger as Joker. Echoing the death of James Dean’s impact before the release of two of his three lead-role films, Rebel Without A Cause (1955) and Giant (1956), Ledger’s untimely death created even more intense interest in The Dark Knight. With over $1 billion in revenue worldwide, it was the fourth-highest-grossing film at the time, and highest-grossing film of 2008; it also set the record for highest-grossing domestic opening with $158 million, a record it held for three years. At the 81st Academy Awards, the film received eight nominations; it won the award for Best Sound Editing, and, as mentioned, Ledger was posthumously awarded Best Supporting Actor. In 2020, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”. It was the second superhero film to be awarded that honor, the first being 1978’s Superman.
The Dark Knight is layered, the characters and their action-driven storylines are complex, and ultimately the film takes some dark turns. A lot happens quickly that sets the stage for the rest of the film. Bruce Wayne/Batman, Lieutenant James Gordon, and new District Attorney Harvey Dent join forces to dismantle organized crime in Gotham City. Bruce is impressed with DA Dent’s idealism. It’s clear that Bruce hopes that with Dent as Gotham’s “white knight” protector, he can give up being Batman and lead a normal life with Rachel – but, Holy Awkward, Batman! Rachel and Dent are dating!
Unbeknownst to Wayne, Gordon, and Dent, they are also up against an anarchistic mastermind known as Joker., whose (as-yet-unknown) goal is to destroy Batman’s positive influence and force the city into chaos. Within pretty much every plot point and almost every scene in this film, Batman’s League of Shadows training and Fox’s Bat-Gadgets play a part, as does Joker’s chess-like maneuvering and planning. The way the film builds upon both Wayne/Batman’s and Joker’s actions and reactions ~ and those of the other characters ~ is truly beautiful to watch.
As the movie begins, Joker is shown to us, the audience, as far more of a threat than the other characters in the film think he is. Right off the bat (pun intended), a gang of clown-mask-wearing criminals rob one of the many mob-controlled Gotham City banks; the robbers are manipulated by Joker into killing each other until only he remains, escaping with the mob’s money. Mob bosses Maroni (I do love Eric Roberts, and he is so perfect here), Gambol, and the Chechen hold a meeting, which mob accountant Lau joins by videoconference. Lau is a well-known global accountant based in Hong Kong. He tells them he has hidden the rest of their ill-gotten gains in Hong Kong “for safekeeping” after the bank robbery. Suddenly Joker enters the meeting, warning the mob bosses that Batman is unhindered in his pursuit of stopping their criminal enterprises. Joker offers to kill Batman in exchange for half their money. The arrogant mob bosses don’t take him seriously and reject his offer. After Joker kills Gambol and takes over his gang, the remaining mob bosses reluctantly accept Joker’s offer.
In some fun Bat-Gadgetry-driven scenes, Batman goes to Hong Kong, captures Lau, and brings him back to Gotham to testify against the mob bosses. Lau’s testimony allows Dent to arrest over 500 mob criminals, and the mob bosses are arrested and put in jail while their trials progress. Lau is kept in a precinct holding cell for his own protection from the jailed mobsters. Meanwhile, Joker is intent manipulating everything to make Batman look like public enemy number one. He goes on air, demanding Batman reveal his identity and threatening to carry out a string of murders until Batman reveals himself. To prove he’s not joking – Holy Pun Intended, Batman! – Joker kills Police Commissioner Loeb and Judge Surrillo, who is hearing the mob cases. Joker targets Gotham City’s mayor, but Gordon sacrifices himself, thus foiling the assassination. Rachel is revealed as Joker’s next target. To save Rachel, and believing that it is in Gotham City’s best interest to stop the Joker’s assassinations and that DA Dent is the “white knight” that can save the city, Bruce plans to reveal his Batman identity at a press conference held by Dent. But – Holy Flabbergast, Batman! – at the press conference, Dent suddenly announces that he is Batman!
Things move fast. Dent is arrested, Joker attacks the police convoy to capture Dent, and Batman and Gordon (who faked his death) rescue Dent. They apprehend Joker, not knowing his minions have kidnapped Rachel and re-kidnapped Dent. In the police interrogation room, Joker reveals the two are being held in separate locations, both rigged with explosives. Having barricaded the door with a chair so Gordon can’t intervene, Batman loses his cool. He viciously beats up on Joker – all the while, Joker just laughs at him, taunts him, and then happily reveals the two locations. We know, even if Batman and Gordon don’t, that everything is happening according to Joker’s intricate plans.
Leaving Joker at the precinct, Gordon goes to rescue Dent and Batman races off to save Rachel. But, Holy Horror, Batman! He realizes too late that the Joker sent him to Dent’s location instead of Rachel’s. Batman drags Dent out of the building just as both buildings explode, killing Rachel and disfiguring half of Dent’s face. Joker escapes the precinct with Lau via a gross and ruthless well-laid plan, and then he kills Lau and the Chechen. Joker now holds Gotham City’s fate in his hands, but we know he isn’t done being an Agent of Chaos just yet.
Coleman Reese, an accountant at Wayne Enterprises, figures out that Bruce is Batman and wants to go public with the information, which would interfere with Joker’s plans. On air, he threatens to blow up a hospital unless Reese is killed within 60 minutes. Disguised as a female nurse, Joker visits Dent in the hospital targeted for destruction. Joker convinces the angry disillusioned Dent to seek revenge for Rachel’s death. Gotta pause in the story telling here to say again that every moment Ledger is onscreen is incredible. He’s so perfect in the role, and the whole nurse disguise-hospital-destroying stuff are just great: more well-done Joker segments.
Back to our story: Dent leaves the hospital to seek his Joker-manipulated revenge; Joker blows up the hospital. Dent, now known as Two-Face, goes on a killing spree targeting the people Joker convinced him are responsible for Rachel’s death. Joker, intent on controlling Gotham and destroying its humanity, rigs two multi-story ferries with explosives. One ferry contains civilians and the other contains the over 500 mob prisoners. Joker, on air in the ferries’ sound systems, threatens to blow up both ferries by midnight – but then he offers them a deal: he will let one ferry live if its passengers blow up the other ferry by the midnight deadline. Agent of Chaos, indeed. Destroyer of hope, too. On both ferries, the civilians and criminals debate whether or not to blow up the other ferry. Holy Timepiece, Batman! The clock is ticking.
Meanwhile Batman exploits Wayne Enterprises by using the sonar capabilities of all the phones in the city to locate Joker; Fox is appalled. I mean, this is art imitating life regarding the potential evils of state surveillance, right? Fox says no one person should have that much power, and he resigns. Then – Holy Thank Goodness, Batman! – he un-resigns because Bruce tells him that Fox alone has control over the technology. Fox agrees to use the data this one time to locate Joker. It’s an interesting short scene, but the fine line between the good vs evil predicament of “the end justifies the means” is made perfectly clear.
Fox monitors the data and relays Joker’s location to Batman. Batman and SWAT have an epic nighttime battle in a high rise building where Joker has manipulated SWAT’s perspective of who are the bad guys and who are the good guys: people in clown masks “holding” guns are actually innocent hostages with guns taped to their hands and people in doctors’ coats, seen by SWAT as innocent civilians, are Joker’s real criminal minions. Batman figures all that out in time, and manages to prevent SWAT from killing any innocent people.
Batman and Joker fight, with Joker taunting Batman even more. Batman captures Joker just as midnight strikes; it becomes clear to Joker that both civilians and criminals on the two ferries have refused to kill each other, proving that Gotham still has good people in it. Before SWAT arrives to take the Joker to Arkham Asylum, he gloats to Batman that it doesn’t matter what the people on the ferries decided because Gotham’s citizens will lose all hope once the formerly respected “white knight” Dent is publicly exposed as the murderous Two-Face.
Batman and Gordon realize Joker is right; they need to find Two-Face, stop him, and hide his true identity. Meanwhile, Two-Face coerced a Gotham police officer to trick Gordon’s wife into taking herself and their two children to the ruins of the building where Rachel died. There, Gordon and Batman confront Two-Face, who ultimately threatens to kill Gordon’s son. With Two-Face holding the boy, Batman tackles Two-Face, knocking all three of them off the building – Holy Scary Moment, Batman! Two-Face falls to his death, but Batman manages to hold onto both the building and the boy, and Gordon hauls them up to safety.
To ruin the Joker’s plan forever, Batman persuades Gordon to hold Batman responsible for Two-Face’s killing spree, thus preserving Dent’s “white knight” image. Batman tells Gordon that Dent is the hero Gotham needs right now. The film ends with Dent hailed as a fallen hero, the police launching a manhunt for Batman, and Gordon (unhappily) destroying the Bat-Signal.
It would be a looooooong four years before we would get The Dark Knight Rises, the final installment of the Nolan Bats. Nolan was hesitant about making the third Batman film, but after creating a story with his brother Jonathan and David S. Goyer that he felt would end the series satisfactorily, he made The Dark Knight Rises. Gotta say right away, the all-star cast is fun to watch and the story is as complex, layered, and character(s) driven as the previous two Nolan Bats.
Set eight years after the events of The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises has a new bad guy, Bane (played by the ever-delicious Tom Hardy). Bane is a mysterious and physically imposing villain, who was excommunicated from the League of Shadows. Bane identifies himself as a “liberator of pain” – Holy Insanity, Batman! – and is intent on fulfilling Ra’s al Ghul’s plan to destroy Gotham City. Bane hatches an evil nuclear-destruction plan of his own, one that forces Bruce to resume his Batman identity.
For those of us who aren’t familiar with all-things Batman-comics-related, Nolan drew inspiration from the 1986 four-issue comic series The Dark Knight Returns, Bane’s comic book debut in the 1993 Knightfall storyline, and the 1999 storyline called No Man’s Land that ran through almost all of DC Comic’s Batman titles that year.
The story begins eight years after the death of District Attorney Harvey Dent. Batman has disappeared. Bruce Wayne is a recluse and Wayne Enterprises is losing money. The Dent Act, which gave expanded powers to the police, has rid the city of organized crime. Gordon is now the Police Commissioner, and, as promised in The Dark Knight, he’s unhappily kept Two-Face’s real identity a secret. He still can’t bear that Batman is blamed for Two-Face’s crimes. Gordon writes a speech that reveals the truth about Dent/Two-Face, but decides against reading it to the public.
Bane has abducted nuclear physicist Dr. Leonid Pavel, and – Holy Grossness, Batman! – has set up a secret base in the city sewers. John Daggett (Ben Mendelsohn, who I’ll watch in anything), is a billionaire rival of Bruce Wayne’s. Daggett hires Bane to steal Bruce’s fingerprints as part of a plan to take control of Wayne Enterprises. They hire cat burglar Selina Kyle (played by Anne Hathaway, who is surprisingly not as annoying as usual) to steal Bruce’s prints from Wayne Manor. Daggett double-crosses her, so she alerts the police. Gordon and the police pursue Bane and Daggett’s henchmen down into the sewers. Gordon is captured but escapes; he’s found by rookie Gotham City police officer John Blake (played the always enjoyable Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Blake, himself an orphan, figures out Bruce’s secret Batman identity, and ultimately convinces him to return as Batman.
Bane attacks the Gotham Stock Exchange by using the stolen fingerprints to perform a series of transactions that bankrupts Bruce, who knows he will have to once again don his Batman identity and stop Bane. Alfred, Bruce’s faithful butler ~ who has always, except once, told Bruce the unvarnished truth ~ fears that Bruce isn’t physically strong enough to defeat Bane. Desperate to save Bruce, Alfred confesses the one thing he’s hidden from Bruce: that, after Rachel died, Alfred burnt a letter she had written to Bruce in which she revealed she was going to marry Harvey Dent. Then Alfred resigns, in the hope that Bruce will not become Batman again. A devastated Bruce begins a relationship Wayne Enterprises’ new CEO Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard).
Things move fast. Bane, enriched by the stolen stock transactions, kills Daggett and expands his evil empire. Selena leads Batman into Bane’s trap. Bane reveals to Batman that he intends to fulfill Ra’s al Ghu’s mission to destroy Gotham. Batman fights Bane, but the more powerful Bane defeats him, dealing a crippling blow to Bruce’s back. Bane then takes Bruce abroad to an underground prison, reputed to be impossible to escape from – Holy Disaster, Batman! But other inmates tell Bruce about the only person to escape: Ra’s al Ghul’s child, who was born and raised in the prison. We, and Bruce, have a glimmer of escape-hope.
Meanwhile, as part of his plan to take control of Gotham City, Bane traps Gotham’s police in the sewers and destroys the bridges surrounding the city. He kills the mayor and forces Dr. Pavel to convert a Wayne Enterprises fusion reactor core into a neutron bomb (and then kills Pavel). Outside Blackgate Penitentiary, Bane, who has gotten his hands on Gordon’s speech about Two-Face’s real identity, reads the speech to Gotham, thus revealing that Harvey Dent was Two-Face. Bane then releases the prisoners of Blackgate, and establishes martial law. He also establishes kangaroo courts presided over by none other than Dr. Jonathan Crane, aka Scarecrow. The trials result in the exiling and/or killing of most of Gotham’s wealthy and powerful citizens.
Five months later, Bruce finally escapes from the prison and returns to Gotham, to once more take up the identity of Batman. He frees the police from the sewers and in the streets of Gotham, a battle ensues with Bane’s army. A daytime battle. That’s an odd note to me. Batman on the streets of Gotham in the daytime just doesn’t seem quite right, even if it is whilst fighting alongside the Gotham police against an evil maniacal totalitarian bad guy. I mean, I “get” that perhaps for Nolan to achieve a satisfying finale to his Dark Knight Series, he felt we “needed” to see Batman literally “come out of the shadows” and in full daylight take a stand against tyranny side by side with the Gotham police. Still, the daytime-ness just strikes me as odd.
Ultimately Batman overpowers Bane, but then he is mortally wounded – not by Bane, though. It is Miranda Tate who stabs Batman, revealing that she is Talia al Ghul, Ra’s al Ghul’s child! Holy Femme Fatale, Batman! She also activates the neutron bomb’s detonator, but Gordon blocks its signal. Talia goes off to manually arm the bomb, as Bane prepares to kill the wounded Batman. Selena arrives in the nick of time, and she is the one who actually kills Bane – and saves our Caped Crusader hero! Holy Unexpected Ultimate Female Badassery In A Batman Movie, Batman!
Good thing Selena’s the one to kill Bane, of course, because (remember?) Batman doesn’t kill!
Batman and Selena go after Talia, hoping to retrieve the bomb itself and get it back to Wayne Enterprises’ reactor chamber, to neutralize the bomb. Talia’s truck crashes, but she manages to remotely flood and destroy the reactor chamber before she dies. With no way to stop the detonation, Batman uses the Bat to haul the bomb out over the bay, far enough for it to safely explode. The damaged autopilot means Batman will go down with his ship – I mean, his Bat.
In Nolan Bats fashion, the film then wraps up neatly and satisfactorily. Batman, presumed dead, is finally honored as a hero. The Wayne Estate is left to (our dear) Alfred, and Wayne Manor becomes an orphanage (the good kind, not the Charles Dickens kind). Gordon finds the Bat-Signal has been somehow repaired – Holy Mysteriousness, Batman! and Lucius Fox figures out that, before the bomb exploded, Bruce managed to fix the malfunctioning auto-pilot on the Bat. Then – Holy Wonders & Romance, Batman! – Alfred sees Bruce alive and with Selena!
To satisfy true Batman fans everywhere, including my dad in Heaven, Officer Blake’s legal first name is revealed to be Robin! Do we not all deserve a Holy Gasp, Batman! in that moment? Robin decides to resign from the police force; he receives a package from Bruce Wayne that leads him to the Batcave! I mean, Holy Setup For Life, Robin!
Yes, for me, The Dark Knight Rises ends the Nolan Bats satisfactorily. It fulfills the promise of Batman Begins and follows up on The Dark Knight’s “leave ’em wanting more” ending. It pits Batman against a villain whose physical strength and evil scheming are equally formidable. It weaves in characters with which we are familiar, either from the two other Nolan Bats or Batman lore in general. It is characters-driven. Bruce/Batman’s physical and spiritual/inner journey both continue to do battle in various ways in this film, most obviously through the conflicts with Bane and Talia, and also through Bruce’s internal struggles. Less “in your face” but equally important to Bruce/Batman’s growth as a man/superhero are the other characters and how they relate to Bruce/Batman: characters like (dead but still deadly) Ra’s al Guhl, (dead but still haunting) Harvey Dent and Rachel Dawes, and Talia, Selena, Gordon, and Robin Blake all play important roles in the Bruce/Batman life story. Ultimately we feel like we’ve gone through everything that happens right alongside Bruce/Batman. It’s a lot of good stuff in a film trilogy full of good stuff.
Film history is often affected by things beyond a film or the film industry, and unfortunately both gun violence and politics both forever affect the history of The Dark Knight Rises.
The Dark Knight Rises premiered on 16 July 2012, a Monday. Four nights later, on 20 July, during a midnight showing of the film in Aurora, Colorado, a gunman opened fire inside the theater, killing 12 people and injuring 58 others. Police apprehended the perpetrator (initial reports saying he identified himself as “the Joker” have been thoroughly debunked). Warner Bros. cancelled some worldwide premieres, and suspended some of the film’s marketing. Several The Dark Knight Rises actors released condolence statements to the victims’ families, and Bale personally visited survivors and attended the memorial in Aurora. Christopher Nolan released the following public statement: I would not presume to know anything about the victims of the shooting but that they were there last night to watch a movie. I believe movies are one of the great American art forms and the shared experience of watching a story unfold on screen is an important and joyful pastime. The movie theatre is my home, and the idea that someone would violate that innocent and hopeful place in such an unbearably savage way is devastating to me. Nothing any of us can say could ever adequately express our feelings for the innocent victims of this appalling crime, but our thoughts are with them and their families.
After the shooting, Warner Bros. released a statement saying that they were delaying the release of estimates for the opening day total “out of respect for the victims and their families,” and that “Box office numbers will be released on Monday” (23 July 2012); a lot of other distributors followed suit and held back opening day estimates. When the numbers were released, The Dark Knight Rises had earned a worldwide opening day total of $1.081 billion. The Dark Knight Rises received positive reviews for performances, action sequences, screenplay, direction, musical score, and emotional depth. The consensus at Rotten Tomatoes is that it is “ambitious, thoughtful, and potent”. It became the seventh-highest-grossing film of all time at the time of its release, and the third-highest-grossing film of 2012. It is also recognized as one of the greatest superhero films of all time, and it was named one of the top 10 films of 2012 by the American Film Institute. It’s still considered one of one of the best films of the 2010s.
In spite of its overall popularity, not everyone likes The Dark Knight Rises, and there has continued to be debate about its overall “messaging”, with many seeing it as a rather fascist film. Can’t really write this essay without mentioning that part of film history, can I? In 2008, David Sirota, a progressive political commentator, compared The Dark Knight Rises and the game Call of Duty to conservative pop culture rhetoric of the 1980s, saying that both perpetuated a clearly conservative agenda: “Just as so many 1980s pop culture products reflected the spirit of the Reagan Revolution’s conservative backlash, we are now seeing two blockbuster, genre-shaping products not-so-subtly reflect the Tea Party’s rhetorical backlash to the powerful Occupy Wall Street zeitgeist.”
In July 2020, Nolan denied that the film criticizes the Occupy Wall Street movement, saying that none of his Batman films are intentionally political: “I’ve had as many conversations with people who have seen the film the other way round. We throw a lot of things against the wall to see if it sticks. We put a lot of interesting questions in the air, but that’s simply a backdrop for the story. What we’re really trying to do is show the cracks of society, show the conflicts that somebody would try to wedge open. We’re going to get wildly different interpretations of what the film is supporting and not supporting, but it’s not doing any of those things. It’s just telling a story. If you’re saying, ‘Have you made a film that’s supposed to be criticizing the Occupy Wall Street movement?’ – well, obviously, that’s not true.”
In the end, people take what they want from The Dark Knight Rises, as they do with any film. A film, any film, is political if you, the viewer, see it as political. That’s how Art with a capital A works: the viewer of any work of Art doesn’t really have a clue what mattered to the artist during creation of the piece – the viewer “sees” that which matters to the viewer. There are things in The Dark Knight Rises that I can “see” as referencing political and social issues in America and/or the world, but I “see” elements of my worldview in almost every movie I watch, every song I hear, and every piece of artwork I see.
Non-industry issues aside, I love all the Nolan Bats. They are well thought out and well-made films that are satisfying on many levels for Batman lovers. They are my favorite of all Batman movies ever made. Of the three, The Dark Knight is my favorite Batman film – for more reasons than I can list here, but I’ll give you my top two. First, the perfection that is Heath Ledger’s portrayal of Joker. ’Nuff said. Second, the wonderfully complicated simplicity of the Batman/Joker characters in The Dark Knight, both individually and as a pair. This second reason requires some explanation.
Every time I watch The Dark Knight, I think, ‘it should be subtitled Agent of Chaos’. I know that we’re supposed to identify Joker as the official agent of chaos – he literally tells us that’s who he is. But Batman is also an agent of chaos in this film. In many ways, hasn’t he always been? From Bruce Wayne’s childhood on, Bruce/Batman’s choices have unintended consequences. Joker’ choices have intended consequences. They really are quite a pair.
As a Gemini, I love seeing the pair elements of these two characters so play out perfectly in The Dark Knight; the two characters are in many ways “as one”. As a pair, they represent the eternal internal struggle of human nature battling out “being good” or “being bad.” And we all love a little bad, right?! Heath Ledger’s Joker gives us exactly what we crave; he has chosen bad to the bone, so to speak, and there’s not even the possibility of redemption. Zip, zilch, nada: The Dark Knight’s Joker doesn’t allow redemption; he may be forever locked up in a prison for the criminally insane, but even that can’t change the Agent of Chaos that he is.
We also love /need goodness and order to triumph over evil and chaos, right?! So we love The Dark Knight’s Batman because of his desire to “do good” and his own human internal struggle against “doing bad things” even if only directed against bad people: that’s a battle Batman almost loses in the Joker-Batman jail scene. Batman, despite his human frailty, ultimately chooses goodness – and not just regular old everyday goodness. I mean, he doesn’t just “defeat the bad guy” – he defeats something “bad” in himself, something that’s in all of us: the possibility of choosing to be bad. Batman’s self-awareness and reflection on the choices he’s made takes him to the Christ-like extreme of goodness: self-sacrifice for the sake of others. In The Dark Knight, Batman sacrifices himself on the public altar for the sake of Gotham City and its people. It’s the knowing that hurts, right? We know he knows that the public will see him as “bad”. Like Christ, he allows himself to be sacrificed publicly; he sets an example for all of us.
Batman’s our ultimate superhero because he gives us hope that, despite our human frailty, we, too, can turn away from doing bad things. Ultimately, the Nolan Bats give us the Batman we need right now – and “right now” is quite simply “forever.”