This year, the latest chapter of an enduring legend bids us farewell. Christopher Nolan, whose unexpected helming of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight helped boost him as a filmmaking force, brought his vivid interpretation of the Caped Crusader to a stunning conclusion. Though occasionally problematic in many of the same ways at its predecessors, The Dark Knight Rises achieves new levels of excitement and emotional satisfaction as it brings its legend full circle.
This film crowns Nolan’s trilogy with its themes of endurance and raw physicality. In Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has conquered seemingly impossible tests of his emotional and intellectual prowess. Never, in this world, has he been challenged to the absolute limit of his physical strength, and League Of Shadows renegade Bane (Tom Hardy) is more than game to provide such a contest. Incorporating and expanding an iconic rock-bottom moment in the Batman canon, The Dark Knight Rises hurls Batman into hell for the express purpose of seeing whether he can find his way out.
Whereas the Joker (Heath Ledger) simply sought to destroy the world in random outbursts, Bane represents a calculated assault on institutionalized, civilized, precariously organized Western society with the help of an army of the disenfranchised. Carrying on the work of his late mentor, the terrorist supervillain Ra’s al Gul (Liam Neeson), Bane strikes at the heart of both Bruce Wayne and Batman, meaning to topple the resources and family legacy of the former, and destroying all those the latter has sworn to protect from harm.
At the beginning of the story, Batman has vanished from view as Bruce Wayne spends his life in depressed exile, bearing the sins of the corrupted Harvey Dent and the loss of his life’s love Rachel Dawes. When Bane’s assault on Gotham City goes public, Batman must come from his ashes to prevent yet another metropolitan Armageddon, much to his cost. Little does Wayne know that his messianic suffering for Gotham has only begun.
Warning voices attempt to check him. Moved by deep fears of losing the diminished Wayne for good, devoted family servant Alfred (Michael Caine) entreats him to stay in hiding. Selina Kyle (Anne Hathway), a local celebrity sneak thief tacitly recognized as the famed Catwoman, takes a number of pointed moments to advise Wayne to duck and cover against the approaching societal collapse. Striking an uneasy alliance with her, Wayne sets out in his dual personae to mine as much as he can about Bane and his master plan.
In addition to his difficult return to herohood, Wayne must also navigate a Bane-engineered financial collapse which will tie his logistical hands. By now, an alarming number of people seem to be guessing correctly at Batman’s identity, and protecting his resources involves some deft boardroom dealings with philanthropist Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) and cover police work alongside Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) and Officer John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt).
The era of Blu-Ray has begun to change home video presentation. The accepted ground rules of DVD – the basic loadout of feature film, audio commentary, scene selection, deleted scenes trailers – is the subject of much experimentation, as filmmakers seeks clever ways to pack the new high-definition format with quirky and collectible extras. The most notable missing element of this release is the lack of a director’s commentary track. However, Nolan covers his bases with a series of bite-size featurettes about the making of the film. Covering such subjects as special effects, location shooting, stunts, casting, and the pitfalls of adaptation in meticulous detail, this collection, entitled “Ending The Knight,” is a definitive guide to the film’s production which would render a feature-length commentary redundant. One gets the impression that he is the kind of director who wants us to watch this movie without distractions, and look up the behind-the-scenes details if and when so inclined later.
Nolan has a reputation as an extremely cerebral, intellectual filmmaker, but the Batman films have increasingly demonstrated his capacity for action staging on a large scale. The Dark Knight Rises, curiously incorporating most of the cast of Inception, brings comic mythology to breathing, kicking, scraping, back-snapping life. The key point, revisited over and over again in the behind-the-scenes features, is that Nolan only resorts to computer generated visual effects when necessary. Gigantic as its proportions may be, Nolan has approached this film with a strong bias toward practical effects, and full-scale sets. Key visual moments such as the central Batman/Bane encounter and a Wall Street brawl with a crowd of thousands have been put together with impressive authenticity. This film may never again have the same starch as during its theatrical run, but Blu-Ray is a suitably vivid home presentation medium for the long sequences Nolan shot in 70mm IMAX.
There is a feature on the main movie disc called “Second Screen” which allows a mobile device to sync wirelessly with the feature film, providing an interactive selection of production photos, storyboard snippets and miscellaneous trivia about each scene. This is a neat idea, but ultimately too distracting to be as satisfying as a separate slideshow of photos would be.
“Ending The Knight” contains all the fascinating facts that fans of this film are likely to want. In a nod to home video tradition, the now-famous trailers and print ads are also on display for viewing. The final touch is a surprisingly heartwarming ode to the greater film and television legacy of Batman. Simply entitled “The Batmobile,” this short feature details the history of Batman’s all-important car to his fight against crime. From Bruce Wayne’s upscale towncars of the early theatrical serials to the tank-like “Tumbler” of Nolan’s vision, a series of interviews and reflections leads us through several generations of Batman’s conveyance of choice. Figures such as Adam West, Tim Burton, Joel Schumacher, and Christopher Nolan outline the successive design approaches to each Batmobile, concluding with a parallel display of each model that truly inspires a warm sense of nostalgia.
The Dark Knight Roses is a strong film, and many people will doubtless want to own it this holiday season regardless of how many bells and whistles it sports in home video form. Christopher Nolan and his camp have put together a lean, impressive presentation that demonstrates the talent, care and precision with which they brought the story to life, as well as what it meant to them to achieve it.