Pink Fire Pointer The Batman Rises : A Nolan Chronicle

The Batman Rises : A Nolan Chronicle

Batman Begins (2005) 4.2/5

The Dark Knight (2008) 4.6/5

Growing up in India during the late 80s & 90s, the exposure to American comic books like DC and Marvel were limited. These were expensive. The popular exposure however, came through the cartoons and the animations on the national television. It ever so captured our imaginations. The darkest and the most intriguing however, were the Batman series. Square-jawed and dark caped, a utility unlike Superman's, the Batman was fearsome and quite real. As real as could be to an 8 year old with some imagination.

Fast forward to Batman Begins (2005). It's my great regret that I missed it on the big screen. The same year however I had the fortune of coming across Memento. Once I had learnt later that it was Nolan who has done the reboot of Batman I took out a DVD. I re-entered that dark and pulsing world of Batman again.


[your rating of the film]

The first words of a conscious Wayne (Bale, Christian) is, "Nightmare". The basis and the motive of Wayne to don a cape, a mask, an array of gadgets, fists of fury and a nocturnal habit is developed steadily, relentlessly and nowhere does it seem surreal or comic-ish. I hadn't yet seen The Prestige, Inception and ofcourse, the darker sequel, then. I was learning the craft and work of the elder Nolan and the virtuosity of plotting and scripting by the younger. A brilliant experience that has been consistently ramped with their consequent films.

Bruce Wayne is tangible, real, gritty and tortured. He is a seeker. He wants to understand the unfair fate that he encountered so young. He immerses himself into the society's darkness and it's sinister crime-scape. He begins to learn to use his worst fear - bats, to conquer a morbid one - criminals. "You're not the devil. You're practice!", says Bruce to a bully prison-mate early on in the film. When we learn later how he came to be there, we realize some of his actions in the past were of a coward. A man scared and lost.

*SPOILER* { The greatness of the plot lies in how Ra's Al-Ghul, the conspirator and nemesis, helps create Batman the legend. Later in the movie he dismisses Batman's volatile presence and threat simply saying, " Well well.. you took my advice about theatricality a bit literally." }

Ra's Al-Ghul instructs and mentors Bruce initially on Ninja philosophies and arts, to embrace his worst fear and turn it on his enemies etc. The scenes are simple, effective, and help us understand that Batman is like a tormented wealthy caucasian Bruce Lee with gadgets.

The film simply does what it sets out to do and some more. I always love beginnings of any story more than the payoff or resolutions. We understand the source of a story, the origins of the character, and the hope and imaginations of the journey ahead. This is why The Matrix was immensely more exciting than it's sequels. Nolan on the other hand is an auteur. He knows how to construct a trilogy. The Wachowskis are exciting story-tellers but they have steadily refused to dare where their stories take them. What the Wachowskis failed to seize with their Matrix sequels, Nolan accomplished immensely through his Inception.

Surely, the movie isn't perfect. Initial action sequences lack some gravitas. Later they evolve and are more fun. Was that a conscious Nolan choice, I wonder. A few more shots like the one where Batman stands high atop the Gotham on a skyscraper as the silent guardian would have satiated my 'heroic' thirst. After all, the ultimate reason we love super-heroes is because we inhabit them a while, while we can. This again seems to be a deliberate choice to ground the vigilante in reality. An artistic license, I believe, used to show the origin of Bat-signal is when Falcone is strung on the Gotham Police searchlight. Such lights usually heat the air in the near vicinity upto a 1000 degree celcius. Falcone would have been deep-fry by the time Gordon gets to him. By now we are sincerely rooting for Batman and love the emotional satisfaction of the mafia head strung on the lights, logical or not. The truly magical performance of the whole movie is Gary Oldman's Jim Gordon. Jim Gordon seems to be a real cop, honest and wise to understand his limitations but quick to seize opportunities. This character was simply a part of the scenery in all the Batman stories, adaptations etc., until now. Gary Oldman is as scintillating and refreshing as Heath Ledger will be in the upcoming one.

The research wing of Wayne enterprises has a delicious secret in the person of Lucius Fox played well by Morgan. He offers Bruce his devices for "spelunking".
A bridging vehicle (batmobile), nick-named tumbler by the film-makers, and a batpod that will gestate from it in the sequel are brilliant and original.


[your rating of the film]

"What about Escalation?", queries Lt. Jim Gordon ('escalated' from Sergeant) at the end of Batman Begins. That escalation is The Dark Knight. Escalation of action, of performances, of crimes, of sins, of insanity, ending with the notoriety of Batman's legend, and the untimely death of beloved Ledger, H. in the real world.
Firstly, there is a definite shift of the visual tone and photography. The images are sharp, throwing immense clarity into the depravity and ambiguity of the characters. As a reference, check the two stills at the top from each movie. The narrows of the Gotham in the first were suffused with a slight golden hue, as if from the sodium lamps of poorly lit street-lights. There is no mention, as much as I recall, of the Narrows in the sequel. There isn't a distinction of upper and lower Gotham. The dark and clear nights belong to the entire city. Perhaps a visual cue that the crime and madness from the Narrows in the first has seeped through Gotham entirely.

This movie could be scary and disturbing even for teens. It isn't fear per se, but the chaos and insanity that the Joker brings to the tables here. It's a very good thing. Nolan dared to venture where his plot took him. An epic noir that tests our intelligence, mores, ethos, judgment and sanity as much as it does the Batman. What is missing here again is more of Batman's 'heroic' shots that one thirsts for in such a plot. Especially a lingering shot, with opera-ic trumpets of the now famous Zimmer/Howard score, when Batman outwits Joker with his batpod stopping with a 180 degree flip against a wall. It seems to be a deliberate choice and we do not stop to think about it much, as we are occupied completely by the Joker's machinations. The makers more than compensate for it at the end of the film with a highly original and adrenaline thumping shot of Batman vroom-ing into the Gotham streets, voiced over by my favorite character of Nolan's Batman, Jim Gordon.

I always felt joker was an annoying or a ridiculous persona in either comics or the earlier films (no offense Jack). However, Chris and Heath seem to have grasped the motive of that guy and managed to forge a clown from the depths of hell. The crazy part is he entertains. Looking at Heath, is like gaping at a live dinosaur wide-eyed. You may be eaten or trampled, but you are riveted at the sight. Minimal make-up, maximum devil. Lucifer has no dibs on this guy. As Caine's Alfred says, ".. some men just wanna watch the world burn". Alfred used to be just a solemn butler and inevitably, Batman's confidante. In Nolans' scripting he is more. A father figure, a gentle counselor and a wise friend. Not the sanctimonious 'great power and responsibility' catchphrases for Caine. When much is lost by the middle of the film, Alfred gently asks Bruce to 'endure'. We ofcourse saw him equally performed well in Batman Begins.

Two-face Harvey Dent is brilliantly brought to life by Aaron Eckhart (sorry Tommy). He is extremely brave and heroic in the first act. When the Joker diabolically gives Harvey 'a little push', the pendulum swings to the other extreme. The only performance that doesn't quite measure up is Maggie's. I find nothing charming or alluring in her Rachel that captivates two heroic men and infact, becomes the motive for one to give into Joker's insanity. It is not that Katie Holmes in the first pic left a big shoe to fill in either. Katie was atleast convincing as a sweet but justice craving attorney. She is insane to refuse this role in the sequel. Freeman's Fox does the role splendid as ever. The gravitas in action and effects that seemed a bit missing in the first, is here with a bang. There are several other supporting roles making up mostly the bad guys or ones giving in to them, that are wonderfully etched in the short screen time they have.

The Nolans have arrived and have risen in Hollywood with this daring artistry. Heath Ledger follows into those rare legends comprised of James Dean, Bruce Lee, River Phoenix etc. It is much like if Nolan had passed away before making Inception and many other wonders to come yet. I bet that, if Heath hadn't accidentally overdosed, he would have been our Cobb struggling with Mal in the limbo. The potential Brando. RIP oh great one! I have so far not written about Bale's Batman but only about the character. He is Bruce and Batman and there's no Bale. As a character-star he is generous, allowing his peers to elevate their performances and histrionics. He simply sinks into the guy he plays. What Gordon (Commissioner by now) says at the end, is subtly relevant to Bale as well..
.. because he's the hero Gotham (Hollywood) deserves but not the one it needs right now
.. so we'll hunt him, because he can take it.. because he's not a hero.. he's a silent guardian, a watchful protector..
.. a Dark Knight!