After seeing the finale of the modern interpretation of Batman come alive to the screen (the largest IMAX screen in the world, that is), I’m struck by how successful this trilogy has become. Several filmmakers, great filmmakers in their own rights, have attempted to bring Batman to motion picture. Why has Christopher and Jonathan Nolan’s interpretation of the comic character held millions of us captive?
What pieces do these films utilize that allow the viewer to walk away with such a memorable experience?
Obviously there is the element of cinematic entertainment. No one walks away from a film with positive reviews if they didn’t thoroughly enjoy themselves. If entertainment requires the possibilities of what we couldn’t possibly dream supported by the suspension of disbelief, there is a lot of work for a filmmaker to keep a modern audience engaged.
But of course, there is the issue of substance. Artists may see the importance of cinema with substance, but does the viewer who has no connection to media production see the importance of telling good stories?
The modern re-sketching of Batman has created an opportunity for a cinematic character to come out of the screen and into the very heart of today. To the detriment of some unfortunate reviews, The Dark Knight Rises pushed this element father than most films at the present time.
Naturally pitched as rivals in the box office, the financial figures for Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises have been under the watchful eye of investors and cinephiles. Where one takes the audience onto a flashy, quick, witty tale of distraction and fun, the other plunges headlong into the very weights that droop the shoulders of most audiences who flock to see the latest in distractive technology.
The Dark Knight Rises hardly allows the viewer to leave the theatre with a criticism of unbelievably or clichés. This is a film grounded in realism, as have been the previous two films.
While the typical superhero battles other-worldy evils, the protagonists of The Dark Knight Rises fight very familiar villains of our own world.
Imagery of failing banks, terrorist attacks and the fear of the collapse of Western civilization all play important pieces in the modern retelling of Batman. There is talk of an overturning of tables, an image made very powerful by the raucous, post-reckoning court room presided over by The Scarecrow (who we recognize from Batman Begins), which evokes images of revolutions in this world’s history.
The wealthy, elite mastermind behind the upset of Gotham’s infrastructure suddenly finds himself under the weighty hand of Bane. That single gesture signals the collapse of the power of the virtual and ushers in the new reality.
“You’ll wonder how you could have lived so large and left so little for the rest of us,” is whispered into Bruce Wayne’s ear by Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway, fantastic!). These are not words of a seductive, cat-like burglar, these are the words of millions of oppressed across the globe, made powerful by the chants of the prisoners from the deep pit where Batman finds himself banished.
Even the character of Batman is no longer a one-dimensional comic book superhero. There is an unprecedented amount of vulnerability in Christian Bale’s portrayal of the once unbeatable caped crusader.
Not only is the man physically deteriorating, but also his resolve is weak, highlighted by the moment of utter frustration as he faces the most physically terrifying villain of the series. After being crippled and cast into a pit, there is a need for Batman to start from the beginning, even encountering a vision of his former mentor Ra’s Al Ghul.
While delivering visual spectacle, the coordination of dozens of moving pieces and a talented cast, The Dark Knight Rises blurs the lines between fiction and reality. As culture drives cinema, cinema informs culture.
When our own fears and triumphs play before us in epic scale embodied by masters of craft, cinema becomes more than entertainment and truly utilizes the power of story. When Bruce Wayne sheds the safety rope, risking everything, and makes the jump, it is us making that leap across our insurmountable task. The stakes become ours.
And that is truly good cinema.