Director Christopher Nolan has packed his bags and he’s ready to leave Gotham behind, and this week has been one where a lot of us in the entertainment press wonder what could be, what should be, how and whether his stories can continue without him and, of course, quite a lot of “thanks for the memories.”
It seemed, with a little bit of distance from the film, to be as good a time as any to think about where The Dark Knight Rises—a skillful but imperfect film on Nolan’s part—hit its highest highs, and what the moments were that made us stand up and cheer.
The ending could, honestly, account for more than one of the “best moments” if we weren’t considering it on its own strength.
Bruce and Selina’s “happy ending” was great for them, but better for Alfred. As the heart of the series and the most human element in a grand, sweeping Shakespeare play of a final film, Alfred needed a happy ending more than anybody else. His Good Will Hunting-inspired “all I wanted was to see you get out of here” monologue was the perfect opportunity to give him one, but it was more than that. Not a cheap play in the script, that felt organic and honest Alfred’s character.
Was the “Robin” reveal a little bit hokey? Sure, but it brought a smile to our faces. And what came after—John Blake discovering the batcave, with visual callbacks to Bruce Wayne’s discovery of the same—was a great moment, both from a character standpoint (“I still believe in Batman,” he said, before he ever knew what really happened with Harvey Dent), but from a thematic one as well. Batman is truly more than a man.
Batman is a symbol, and can be embodied by someone who isn’t Bruce Wayne. That’s an intrinsic part of the character’s mythology, but in the ongoing style of comic book storytelling, you can never do it. Flirt with it, sure. You can have Azrael take over for a while and drop the ball so that we all know what makes Bruce Wayne special, or we can have Dick Grayson take over for a while, just to say good-bye to the old DC Universe for us. The idea of Bruce Wayne being replaced, though? Is it even possible in the comics?
Of course not. Just ask Wally West.
In a film full of neatly-choreographed, action movie-style fight scenes that usually revolved around big groups of people fighting in an operatic way that was more visually interesting than realistic, Nolan allowed the audience a major concession in the form of the first battle between Bane and Batman. Not only did he manage to hang onto the iconic moment from Batman #497—one that looked silly and “comic book-y” enough on paper as to cast doubt on whether it could ever really be done—but the fight leading up to it was brutal and bone-crunching, and the way Batman was getting his butt handed to him was so humiliating that it made the whole thing even more painful to watch.
That said it wasn’t just the Lex Luthor fight from All-Star Superman; the hero wasn’t passively being tossed around like a ragdoll, losing the fight for apparent lack of trying that makes you wonder what the action-choreography guys were thinking. Instead, Batman fights back, and scores a few good licks, but is just too far out of his League (see what I did there?) to be competitive with someone on Bane’s level at that point in the story.
And, again, we got that moment. For the comic book fans, that’s key.
The Talia reveal
The movie’s biggest twist was, of course, one that people have been predicting for about a year now. That said, the moment when it’s revealed that Marion Cotillard is Talia al Ghul is one for the record books because, by that point in the story, it seemed like Nolan was cruising toward his ending.
The revelation that Bane’s entire backstory was being transplanted onto Talia is a bit off-putting, and it left my mind reeling as I tried to process all of the information and make sure that it jived with what we knew in the movie. It probably could have been left out and the movie may have been better for it.
Still, everything else that we got from having Talia in the story was pretty cool. You get a final betrayal that puts an exclamation point on the film’s until-then rather standard and bland “ticking clock story, and on hindsight you get to appreciate all kinds of things in a different way. Miranda Tate, after all, was the one who organized that fundraiser at Wayne Manor, meaning that she’s the one who put Catwoman in the building in the first place and set Bane’s master plan into motion, starting by stripping Bruce Wayne of his control of the fusion reactor that would ultimately force him to allow her to find it.
It also continues a thread, began with Selina earlier in the movie, that Batman is betrayed by any woman he allows to get close to him. That Bruce Wayne willingly sails off into the sunset with Selina, then, may be a further indicator that he’s confident the Batman story is through and that Bruce Wayne has no such poor luck in love.
Selina steals the car
This was blown in a number of the ads, but it really fleshed out Selina’s character, her relationship with Bruce, and lent some much-needed levity to a movie that sometimes suffered under the weight of its own bleakness and seriousness. In a game of cat-and-bat between the pair, Bruce follows Selina, who thinks she’s gotten away with his mother’s pearls, to a party and quietly demands them back. She allows it, but takes his valet ticket, making off with his sportscar instead and leaving him red-faced and befuddled, waiting for Alfred to come pick him up.
Bonus points for the great “…So that’s what that feels like” moment, imported from the comics, that happened when Selina got away with the necklace in the first place.
The Gordon reveal
Early in the film, Jim Gordon briefly considers telling the public the truth about Harvey Dent, and then resigning in disgrace on the spot. He even has a speech written for the occasion. When he decides not to do it, the speech goes back in his jacket pocket…and turns up again later in the hands of Bane, who briefly held Gordon captive.
When it becomes evident to Bane that Gordon is more of a threat than he gave the old man credit for, the villain goes on television to read the note to the city, making way for a crushing and pitch-perfect scene between Gary Oldman’s Gordon and Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s John Blake. Blake, who has been hero-worshipping Gordon in the absence of a father figure in his life, can’t get over the fact that Gordon has crossed a line that he never would have—and it’s this moment, more than anything else, that sets up Blake as a potential successor to Bruce Wayne’s Batman.
No, really. He begins the gradual loss of his faith in the system at that moment, and for the first time he considers that he may be able to do this better than Gordon and Batman. It’s a monumental shift in his perceptions, filtered through an emotional scene between two friends whose relationship may have been irreparably damaged, but who don’t have the time to stop and sort it out, because they’re on the run.