The Dark Knight Rises is an epic about redemption, consequences and emotional headwinds
IN the closing moments of 2008’s The Dark Knight, Batman has neutralised the threats facing the people of Gotham City but at a great personal cost. In the public’s mind, he has become a villain to be hunted rather than a hero sworn to protect them.
That moment left audiences breathless, closing one film with the promise of another — a third film to finish the tale. Now, with the release of The Dark Knight Rises, writer/director Christopher Nolan’s epic conclusion to the Dark Knight trilogy, that promise is fulfilled.
When he started on his journey with Batman, Nolan didn’t anticipate that he’d now be finishing up his third film. But, he says: “Stories have a beginning, a middle and an end, and a trilogy of films naturally lends itself to telling a complete story.”
The Dark Knight was acclaimed by critics and audiences alike for transcending the possibilities of what a “comic book movie” could be — massive in scope, but anchored by the complicated emotions at the core of its haunted anti-hero. The film marked Nolan’s second chapter in Batman’s tale, the first being 2005’s Batman Begins.
Even before production began on his last film, Inception, Nolan enlisted his collaborators David S. Goyer and the director’s brother, Jonathan, to begin conceptualising and writing the screenplay for The Dark Knight Rises.
With The Dark Knight Rises, as in the previous films, Nolan and his award-winning team of collaborators have created a world as dark and complex as it is realistic, populated by characters that are undeniably human.
“For me, the attraction of the character of Bruce Wayne was always that he doesn’t have any superpowers other than his extraordinary wealth,” the director explains.
By all accounts, The Dark Knight Rises is the definition of epic — shooting on location across three continents, with a daring aerial stunt sequence, a massive crowd scene involving explosions and over 10,000 extras, and a full complement of gadgets and vehicles — but for Nolan, the massive scale is almost secondary to the emotional headwinds the characters are facing.
The story picks up eight years after the events depicted in The Dark Knight, after Wayne has saved Gotham but lost both the woman he loved and his identity as a force for good. Now, he’s isolated, having locked himself away from the public eye.
“He’s frozen in time, really,” Nolan explains “He’s given up being Batman because he’s not needed at this point. It was very important to us for the ending of the last film to have an effect on Gotham, and it has. Superficially, Gotham is in a much better place.”
While Nolan says it’s difficult to reduce the story to a word or a concept. “The jumping off point of the film is about the consequences of actions,” he notes. “It’s about redemption. It’s about a lot of different things.”
RETURN OF THE CAPED CRUSADER
In Los Angeles, cast members Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Marion Cotillard and Joseph Gordon-Levitt have come together months after wrapping production. “We’ve done our work. The pressure’s on Chris now,” says Bale, who has grown his hair down to his shoulders with the ghost of a beard on his chin — a completely different look from Wayne’s finely groomed profile.
In his fourth collaboration with Nolan (including the 2006 mystery The Prestige in addition to the Batman films), Bale trusted the director to create a worthy finale for the character he has embodied for nearly a decade. “Chris has always got a great combination of cerebral choices with the story and where he wants to take it,” Bale says. “Then he goes into the heart of each character, finding what’s underneath, which is the subtext throughout.”
As the film picks up eight years after The Dark Knight, Bale found his way back to Wayne by focusing on his internal journey from then until now, “What he’s been doing in that time; what he’s had to reflect upon,” he muses. “How long does somebody let this painful episode in his past continue to direct his life?”
Though Wayne remains surrounded by his trusted inner circle of Alfred, Lucius Fox and Commissioner Gordon (played again by legendary actors Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Gary Oldman, respectively), he is living with the consequences of choices he has made on his own. “Throughout the saga, Alfred has warned him what could go wrong,” Bale says. “So, this is crunch time for how much longer he can let it dominate his life. But can he give it up? Or has he become addicted to it?”
Bale’s dedication also required the actor to climb back into Batman’s cape and cowl, which he laughingly describes as “a bittersweet thing”.
“There are certain moments when you’re dying inside it, but you don’t want to admit it because you’re Batman on the outside,” he says. “The second you start complaining about the suit, you just recognise what a great iconic character you get to play and what an honour that is.”
REUNITING THE CAST
Hardy — who dons body armour and a bulky breathing mask as the menacing villain Bane — recalls precisely that moment. It happened in the midst of a massive crowd scene on Wall Street in Manhattan, during a fight sequence between their two characters. “It was the first time I ever heard Christian say he was tired,” Hardy remembers. “I was watching him for however many months getting beaten up and wet and cold, and he never said anything. Inside, I was dying, but I was thinking, ‘This can’t bother me because he’s not bothered’. But on Wall Street, he just turned and said, ‘You know what? I’m exhausted’. I said, ‘Me too’.”
“We stopped the fight and started hugging each other,” Bale adds. Everyone at the table laughs, all recalling with humour and affection their experience making the film.
Like Bale, Cotillard, Hardy and Gordon-Levitt had previously worked with Nolan, on his Oscar-winning film Inception. “Chris likes to find people that he really trusts, so there is a continuity to his films,” Bale says.
“There was a feeling on set, among everybody, the cast and crew alike, of ‘Wow, we’re really doing something special here’,” says Gordon-Levitt. “That makes it fun because it’s not just a job. You put a lot of care into the work every day. And that doesn’t happen on every movie set.”
The young actor plays John Blake, a Gotham City police officer who proves his mettle to Commissioner Gordon and becomes one of his most trusted allies. He also shares a connection to Wayne in that he, like Wayne, is an orphan. “He looks up to him because of that,” Gordon-Levitt says.
Cotillard too was a Batman fan to the point that seeing him in the flesh — as embodied by Bale — had a visceral effect on her. “I couldn’t even say hello because I was so impressed,” she recalls. “I’ve always loved Batman, and I thought that Chris totally reinvented this character, so I was proud to be in this movie. I couldn’t believe I was in this amazing world.”
Cotillard plays Miranda Tate, who, like Bruce Wayne, is a wealthy philanthropist in Gotham who is passionate about environmental causes. “They don’t know each other initially, but they meet and kind of understand each other right away,” she says. “They both have a lot of money and are trying to use it in a good way, but there’s also tension between them.”
HERE COMES CATWOMAN
In The Dark Knight Rises, there is also a wild card in the form of an enigmatic cat burglar named Selina Kyle.
Anne Hathaway describes Kyle as “intensely private and very mysterious”, the actress says in a separate interview. “She has her own code of ethics, which sometimes involves doing things that other people might consider questionable. I’m sure if you were to talk to her, she would be able to explain them to you. But she’s very private. She doesn’t give a lot away. That’s kind of all I can say about her.”
For her part, Hathaway relished sinking her claws into such a legendary figure. “It’s Catwoman,” she says, “one of the most famous, if not the most famous, comic book characters for a woman. But, also, it’s Catwoman in this franchise. I’m such a huge fan of Chris Nolan and the first two films, so the idea of being a part of it was really exciting. Just the fact that the opportunity was available when I was an appropriate age to play it seemed like the luckiest thing that could ever happen.”
On the film as a whole, Hathaway is equally enthusiastic. “I think that it will be surprising but very, very satisfying. I say, ‘In Nolan we trust.’”
COMPLETING THE TRILOGY
As with The Dark Knight, production spanned the world to capture the kinds of real environment that define the look and feel Nolan hoped to create with the film. In addition to location shooting in the American cities of Pittsburgh, New York and Los Angeles, the filmmakers took cast and crew to the familiar stomping grounds of Cardington Studios, a massive airplane hangar where he also shot portions of The Dark Knight and Inception.
Early in the production, they touched down in a remote expanse near Jodhpur, India. “The locals thought we were nuts,” Bale says with a laugh. “We were out in 120-degree heat. I thought it was a great induction by fire into the
“It was nice to mix it up and go to different places,” Bale adds. “It makes it an adventure.”
Special effects supervisor Chris Corbould has delivered miracles for Nolan on his past films but feels he was truly put to the test with The Dark Knight Rises, particularly the new flying vehicle dreamed up by Nolan and production designer
“When Chris came to me with the script, I knew after Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, it was going to be a rough ride and he didn’t prove me wrong,” says Corbould in his famously wry delivery.
All the action is captured by Oscar winner Wally Pfister’s cinematography, a good portion of it using Imax cameras. “We were looking for an operatic quality, for a large canvas feel,” says Nolan.
ADVENTURE ON IMAX
The Dark Knight marked the first time that a major feature film was partially shot with Imax cameras, and Nolan has not gone back since.
On The Dark Knight Rises, Nolan estimates over an hour of footage was shot with Imax cameras. “All the major action in the film is on Imax,” he says. “We’re going to have 100 of those screens around the world and I’m going to encourage as many fans as possible to really try and experience it that way because they’ll be seeing something completely unique that no one has ever done before. It’s going to be a very out-of-the-world experience. It won’t be to everybody’s tastes. But for people who are up for the ride, it’s going to be incredible.”
The Dark Knight Rises opened yesterday in cinemas nationwide.