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‘The Dark Knight Rises’ brings Batman Saga to a Stunning End

Published: Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Updated: Thursday, July 19, 2012 18:07

Dark Knight Rises

Warner Bros. Pictures


Three is the hardest number. Francis Coppola tripped on it (“The Godfather Part III”). So did George Lucas (“Return of the Jedi”) and David Fincher (“Alien 3”) and Sam Raimi (“Spider-Man 3”) and the Wachowski brothers (“The Matrix Revolutions”). Peter Jackson pulled it off with “The Lord of the Rings,” but all of those movies came from the same book and were shot back-to-back.

One of the most striking things about “The Dark Knight Rises,” the third (and, without question, last) entry in director Christopher Nolan’s trilogy of Batman movies, is how bold and confident and precise it is — as if the filmmaker had always known how the story that started in 2005’s “Batman Begins” and continued in 2008’s “The Dark Knight” would turn out.

The truth is, Nolan was making it up as he went along.

“I’ve always thought of this trilogy as Bruce Wayne’s story, and every story has a beginning, a middle and an end,” he says. “The ending is the most important part to me: That’s the first thing I had for ‘The Dark Knight Rises.’ The trick is to know it on a subliminal level — have the idea of it — but not write it down and make it concrete until you’re ready.

“I’ve had the great luxury of working on these movies for nine years and letting things grow naturally, knowing the feeling of what I was going for but allowing the narrative to come into focus over time. You have to live your way through stories in order to discover what they are. I wasn’t already planning for this movie when we were making “Batman Begins,” because I’m superstitious. But I was always hopeful I’d get to tell the whole thing.”

Set eight years after “The Dark Knight,” the new film, which opens Friday, catches up with millionaire Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) as his fortune is dwindling, his body is battered (he has a permanent limp and walks with a cane) and his alter-ego of Batman is still at large and wanted for the murder of Harvey Dent (played in the previous movie by Aaron Eckhart).

The crime rate in Gotham City has plummeted under the watch of Commissioner Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman), who continues to feed the lie that Dent died a hero, using him as a martyr to help keep the peace. Then the terrorist Bane (Tom Hardy), a masked thug with a penchant for brutal violence, emerges from the city’s sewers. He brings an army with him.

“The Dark Knight Rises” borrows elements from two classic Batman comic-book storylines — “Knightfall,” in which Bane snaps the hero’s back, and “The Dark Knight,” Frank Miller’s seminal graphic novel about an aging Batman forced out of retirement by a crime wave. But the film’s screenplay, which Nolan wrote with his brother (and frequent collaborator) Jonathan, charts its own narrative path, throwing in a curvaceous cat-burglar (Anne Hathaway), an idealistic police officer (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and a philanthropist (Marion Cotillard) who helps Wayne with his struggling finances.

When the $250 million production began shooting, the large number of new characters concerned fans, who speculated that Nolan might have fallen prey to the “more is more” approach that had mired the 1990s Batman film franchise in campy excess.

“The third movie in every trilogy is supposed to go into the toilet,” says Michael Caine, who reprises his role in “The Dark Knight Rises” as Wayne’s faithful butler Alfred. “But when I read the script for this one, I knew it would be special — and I’m not just saying that because I’m in the movie! Christopher (Nolan) is an incredible caster of actors, he’s an incredible director and he’s also an incredible writer. He’s all three of those things, and that’s something I’ve never encountered before in this business.”

Unlike most makers of big-budget blockbusters, Nolan writes his own scripts (“Inception,” “Memento,” “The Prestige” — the only exception was 2002’s “Insomnia,” which was a remake of a Norwegian thriller). His canvasses are enormous, but he can work his personal obsessions into them. When Nolan’s planned biopic of the wealthy recluse Howard Hughes was derailed by Martin Scorsese’s “The Aviator,” he simply incorporated aspects of Hughes’ life into “The Dark Knight Rises,” turning Wayne into an eccentric hermit who rarely leaves his mansion and has started to go a little batty.

“I always loved the relatability of Bruce Wayne,” Nolan says. “He is not a superhero in the usual sense. He wasn’t bitten by a radioactive spider and he wasn’t born on Krypton. He’s just a guy who’s done a lot of pushups. His only real superpower is his extraordinary wealth. He’s someone who suffered enormous trauma as a child — his parents gunned down in front of him — and what he’s carried with him all his life is an extraordinary level of rage, sadness and all kinds of angst. All these negative elements in his soul are pushing him in a certain direction, and he’s desperately trying to turn that into something good. That’s why his best adversaries are the ones who represent some other, darker direction he could have chosen.”

Geoff Boucher, a pop culture writer for The Los Angeles Times and founder of HeroComplex.com, says the heroes and villains in Nolan’s trilogy are often two sides of the same coin.

“Gotham City is an affliction: It changes people,” Boucher says. “These characters, in a way, are all the same person: Bruce Wayne, Jim Gordon, Ra’s al Ghul (Liam Neeson’s villain from “Batman Begins”), the Joker, Harvey Dent. They just made specific choices that led them down their various paths. You could argue that the title of ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ refers to (four different characters) in the movie. That’s just Nolan being a lot smarter than the rest of us. He likes the complexity and ambiguity of things like ‘Blade Runner’, which he cites as his favorite movie. He believes films should be like a fever dream you debate with your friends for years. ‘Inception’ and ‘The Dark Knight’ were unlike any summer movies we had ever seen. They were cerebral and complex and throwbacks to another time: They reminded me of ‘A Clockwork Orange’ in a way. ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ does, too.”

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