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12 Movie Moments of 2012: The Dark Knight Returns (The Dark Knight Rises)

As well as counting down the top twelve films, I’m also going to count down my top twelve movie related “moments” of 2012. The term “moment” is elastic, so expect some crazy nonsense here. And, as usual, I accept that my taste is completely absurd, so I fully expect you to disagree. With that in mind, this is #6

Ireland got an IMAX screen this year. Well, it had an IMAX screen before, but it shut down before The Dark Knight kick-started the whole “watching cool movies in IMAX” thing. Evidently, watching Liam Neeson talk about Everest wasn’t nearly as exciting as watching Batman flip over an articulated lorry. Christopher Nolan shot a large percentage of The Dark Knight on IMAX, but he shot even more of The Dark Knight Rises using the special cameras.

As such, I was delighted that Cineworld and The Irish Times organised a special screening of The Dark Knight Rises in early December, even though the cinema had only reopened after Nolan’s epic was available on blu ray. It’s an oft-cited criticism that the third part of Nolan’s Batman trilogy featured surprisingly little Batman. I’d disagree, and instead suggest that the film made excellent use of its large cast – and when Batman appeared on screen he carried the weight that he deserved.

The sequence in which Bruce leads the Gotham Police Department on a merry chase while pursuing Bane and his terrorists is the perfect example, a fantastically constructed action sequence that tells us pretty much everything we need to know about the cast at that moment in time.darkknightrises15a

Nolan’s Batman films are fascinating because they all build on each other. In the wake of the release of The Dark Knight Rises, a few disappointed movie-goers rushed to point out plot holes. Some of them are quite obvious – I don’t think that you can calculate nuclear failure that precisely – but some of which ignored the logic Nolan had already established in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.

How did Bruce Wayne get back to Gotham in the eight days he had? Well, Batman Begins established that Bruce managed to get around pretty easily without any money identification. Why did he waste so much time painting a giant bat on the bridge? Because he realises how important an incorruptible symbol is – without the symbol Foley (and probably quite a few others) would never have rallied to save Gotham.

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Nolan’s action sequences follow a similar structure. What makes the storming of not!Trump Tower at the climax of The Dark Knight such a fantastic cinematic experience was the fact that we watched Bruce putting the training from Batman Begins into practise. That superb scene involving the take-down of the S.W.A.T. team is a perfect example of  “theatricality and deception” – Bruce looks like he’s making a foolish attempt to physically over-power the team that out-numbers him, but he’s really just tying all of them together so he can drop one and take care of them all.

The superb chase sequence in The Dark Knight Rises does an excellent job reiterating what we already know about each of the characters in the film (save Lucius Fox) and also allowing Bruce to demonstrate that he has enough willpower to physically return to his peak. After Bane attacks the stock exchange, he leads the cops on a merry chase around Gotham. This provides a handy moment for Batman to announce his return to Gotham.

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While there’s very little here that we haven’t seen during the car chases in Batman Begins or The Dark Knight, Nolan does an excellent job of illustrating how all this must be the type of thing that comes to Batman in his sleep. What would be an action centrepiece of another film becomes something resembling a triumphant return to form for the Dark Knight. He sweeps one escaping biker off his motorcycle without missing a beat. He succeeds in trapping another by merely allowing his bike to list in front of it.

It’s all stunningly well handled, and Nolan and Wally Pfister give us a sense of just what the return of Batman means to Gotham City. The chase is spectacularly executed, but its pieced together with a variety of other sequences that effectively suggest everything we need to know about the players involved. Foley is after “the son of a bitch who killed Harvey Dent”, and becomes more preoccupied on catching Batman than the armed robbers. John Blake begins to feel those structures becoming shackles as he watches Bane ride his bike between the squadrons of police cars now singularly focused on apprehending the Caped Crusader rather than the armed hostage takers.

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We see Daggett boasting in his penthouse, and it becomes clear that the white collar criminal has absolutely no idea of the people he is dealing with. It’s also telling that the return of Batman doesn’t phase him too much. He’s surprised but not worried. The Dark Knight Rises is surprisingly critical of its central character, and acknowledges that Batman tends to work particularly well against one form of crime, but Batman was absolutely useless against the corruption embodied by Daggett.

“This city needs Bruce Wayne, your resources,” Alfred appeals to his employer, and Daggett is precisely the kind of problem that Bruce is more ideally positioned to tackle, one that Batman can’t pummel into submission. Indeed, you get a sense that The Dark Knight Rises is expressing some of that criticism during the chase. Afterwards, Alfred correctly observes that Bruce’s showboating blinded the police to the threat posed by Bane, and that his ego and paranoia are making the job of policing Gotham more difficult for the police force.

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It’s very clear that Bruce is blinded, as noble as his intentions might be. “The police weren’t getting it done,” he insists to Alfred. “Perhaps they might have, if you hadn’t made a sideshow of yourself,” Alfred responds. “You led a bloated police force on a merry chase with a load of fancy new toys from Fox.” It’s a moment in the film where Bruce doesn’t appear especially heroic, and positioning it after the superb chase sequence is something of a master stroke.

Nolan’s approach to Batman has always been fascinatingly nuanced. The character isn’t necessarily a hero, and the films don’t unquestioningly accept him as such. Bruce is a psychologically damaged individual, and – even when he does impressive things – it’s important not to lose sight of that. Bruce is directly responsible for what happens to Gotham here, and The Dark Knight Rises doesn’t shirk that responsibility. His murder of Ra’s Al Ghul provoked Talia.

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Here, we see that his unwillingness to share information with the police doesn’t help. Bane escapes because Batman steals the spotlight. Bruce seems to figure out that Bane and his disciples were tinkering with the trade records, but he refuses to share that information with the police.  He reasons the technology could be converted into “a weapon” – prompting Alfred to observe that there’s very little Bruce’s paranoia can’t turn into a weapon.

There are other reasons the chase sequence works so well. Part of it is that’s great to see Batman in action, with Pfister’s cinematography and Hans Zimmer’s pounding score. It also sees Nolan fully embrace the comic book nature of the character, giving him something that – regardless of whether the film describes it as such – is effectively a bat-plane. Again, this speaks to the broader strengths of The Dark Knight Rises, as Nolan manages to offer a movie that is surprisingly thoughtful without being pretentious or embarrassed of its roots.

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There’s also those lovely reaction shots that demonstrate how various characters react to the arrival of Batman. As mentioned above, it allows Nolan to establish the return of the Dark Knight as a crucially important moment for Gotham as a whole. Anne Hathaway’s playful “well… what do you know…” and Gary Oldman’s sly smile as they watch the news are efficient character beats that both hint that Batman’s return means more than simply an attempt to foil a stock exchange robbery.

Nolan remains one of the best directors working today, and probably the best working with the sort of budget afforded The Dark Knight Rises. The superb reintroduction of Batman is just proof of that.

Check out our other movie moments of 2012:

12. We Built This City (Rock of Ages)

11. September (Intouchables)

10. Joseph Gordon-Levitt (The Dark Knight Rises, Premium Rush, Looper)

09. Throwing the toys together (The Avengers)

08. Running (Shame)

07. “You’d love my boyfriend, he’s a total chick flick nut.” (ParaNorman)

06. The Dark Knight Returns (The Dark Knight Rises)

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5 Responses

  1. This scene might be my favorite in The Dark Knight Rises. I love how it doesn’t happen until about 30 minutes. By that time I’m aching for batman to show up. It just makes his entrance that much more exciting.

    • Yep. I remember watching it in the cinema. And, all fo a sudden, Batman was back. Another callback to Batman Begins, where Batman didn’t appear for a good hour or so.

  2. The sad thing is that Chris Nolan sort of wrote himself into a corner regarding “reality.” By setting these films in a more realistic world as opposed to the fantasy Gotham of the previous incarnations, the audience expects every element to have a real-world logic. If something happens in the film such as Bruce making it back to Gotham after escaping the underground prison, people see it as a plot hole because it wouldn’t happen in real life. However, it works within the logic of the universe Nolan has created in the course of the trilogy.

    • I can understand that, but I’ve always seen Nolan’s reality as sort of flexible – more like verisimiltude than an attempt to produce “a slice of life.” I think he’s admitted that the Donner movies were his inspiration, and you can definitely see that. Just updated for the twenty-first century. (Indeed, Donner’s consciously fifties vibe coupled with seventies set design seems decidedly stylised now, but it’s practically grounded compared to Burton’s Batman or even Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man.)

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