Batman: Epic Finale Served Cold

A Dark Knight movie with not enough Dark Knight, a superhero movie of gravity but not enough levity, a season of light in the shadow of darkness

Sonali Ghosh Sen Kolkata 

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness….” 

Charles Dickens- A Tale of Two Cities 

The Batman franchise with Christopher Nolan at the helm has always been concerned about the duality of superheroes- the impregnable mask or the man behind the mask, the demons that surround them or the demons within, the citizen of the city or the saviour of the city. 

With intelligent storytelling and a multi-layered plot, Nolan attempts to tackle all of these and finish what he created with Batman Begins and brought to cult status, with The Dark Knight. 

The Dark Knight Rises is as much a story of Gotham as it is of Bruce Wayne. Nolan’s Gotham is a large, modern city that reflects a variety of architecture styles and periods, as well as different socioeconomic strata, sharply demarcated as a megalopolis of excess and a city on the cusp of doom. Even in times of peace, the city seems at war - with its conscience, as Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) grapples with the truth of Harvey Dent, with its have and have-nots as the sleek Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) and her stolen pearls so amply demonstrate and between its heroes and villains with Batman, once a hero and now a villain entombed in mourning at the Wayne Mansion. 

Nolan is a master of the Jigsaw plot, where the right piece fits in at the right time and he juggles with finesse a spectacular aerial escape of Bane (a mask wearing Tom Hardy) with the funereal confines of the mansion of Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) and the dark alleys of Gotham that Catwoman inhabits. This along with the sewers of Gotham and the charity balls of a comely environmentalist Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) gives you a feeling of being stuck in an unending urban maze, but in the architectural grid of the plot, the pieces fit in only when the city comes under attack in the second half of the movie. 

The villain remains a cardboard cutout not brought to flesh and blood life like the Joker in the earlier movie--yes, the specter of heath Ledger does haunt the movie 

A spectacular sequence of a siege of the Gotham Stock exchange and the annihilation of a football stadium brings the city sharply into focus and into the uncomfortable reality of evening news. This could happen to us, is a feeling that suddenly sucker punches you and is the apt cue for Bruce Wayne's alter ego Batman to swing into action. However, a weak, disillusioned, heartbroken superhero is no match for the Darth Vader like Bane and he is quickly dispatched to the bowels of the earth, a hell- hole where you have to claw your way back to freedom. While he does that, we have to watch Gotham City go through a French revolution like storming of the Bastille, Kangaroo courts, and complete anarchy. Bane takes over Gotham in the guise of protecting it but actually, as every comic book super villain wishes, wants the ultimate destruction of the city. A microcosm of the nation that when destroyed will finally end the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity, that the status quo demands. 

In the Dark Knight Rises the macro, the destruction of Gotham, is ably balanced with the micro, the continuing identity crisis of Batman. Whether to sacrifice self for the city or melt into the crowd with common man fantasies- a wife, a child, sipping coffee in a Florentine cafe as his butler Alfred (so ably played by Michael Caine) envisages? The theme of abandonment which has been omnipresent throughout the three films gets expressed in the role of Officer Blake (Joseph Gordon- Levitt), an orphan who recognizes in Batman, a fellow survivor and who believes in him even when his city does not. 

The Nolan framing remains the same, not quite comic book, not truly a graphic novel, but hanging between reality and fantasy, from static two dimensional frames to opening up panoramic vistas when the latest bat gadget- the batwing takes to the air. The aural design by Hans Zimmer echoes the cityscape and the narrative arc of the movie so well, as only the audio auteur of the Batman trilogy can. 

The script, however, even with clever storytelling seems clunky, and sags mid-plot. Tom Hardy as Bane has more screen space than even our hero yet the villain remains a cardboard cutout not brought to flesh and blood life like the Joker in the earlier movie (yes, the specter of Heath Ledger does haunt the movie). 

Nolan keeps his grip on the franchise, giving us a satisfying ending, but the duality of the movie- a Dark Knight movie with not enough of the Dark Knight, a superhero movie of gravity but not enough levity, and a season of light but in the winter’s shadow of darkness – make it an epic finale that somehow leaves you cold.

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: AUGUST 2012