Appreciating Christopher Nolan: The Dark Knight Rises

Image retrieved from IMDb

We’re getting to the point where the Nolan movies I’m talking about are more and more recent. So SPOILER WARNINGS are becoming more pertinent than ever.

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

After I write about Dunkirk, I will have written about nine different Christopher Nolan movie. As a baseball fan, I know that no one has a perfect batting average. This even includes Christopher Nolan. I say all of this because upon re-watching The Dark Knight Rises, I found that it’s not quite as great as I remember it being.

This isn’t necessarily a complete knock on the movie. It’s still incredibly watchable and enjoyable. It’s just not up to the standard that Nolan had set starting with Memento all the way to Inception.

What makes most of Nolan’s movies so great is that they get better with each subsequent viewing. You pick up on things that you didn’t before and are able to piece the overall plot together in a much more coherent way. Things that didn’t make sense the first time around begin to make perfect sense and you’re just in awe with what Nolan is able to do with his storytelling. Unfortunately, when you go back and watch The Dark Knight Rises, things that didn’t make sense the first time either continue to not make sense or, in some cases, make even less sense than they did before.

This is a case where Nolan may have gotten caught in the spectacle of the movie. It’s a lot bigger and there is more going on than there was in the first two Dark Knight films. Those both felt grounded and had a purpose that they were trying to achieve. They clearly defined their main theme (each film in the trilogy has one main theme: Batman Begins: fear; The Dark Knight: chaos; The Dark Knight Rises: pain). But this one doesn’t do that nearly as well as the first two. It gets caught up in a lot of storytelling clichés and convenient things happening. It focuses more on spectacle and moments than on anything else.

But unlike other movies, it portrays its spectacle and moments really well. The three biggest examples of this are when Batman returns, when he escapes from the prison, and the last five minutes of the movie, with the opening also being really well done. These show how Nolan is able to create something visually amazing with practical effects or by using emotion. He famously uses minimal visual effects in his movies and tries to go practical whenever possible. TDKR is the film with the biggest scale he had done up to this point. So even though the story is not up to his usual standard, Nolan took some things that he learned from making a large scaled movie and carried them over into Interstellar and Dunkirk – both of which are better than The Dark Knight Rises.

The last thing that I think is really well done in this movie is the music. Throughout the trilogy, the music by Hans Zimmer fits the tone of the movies. For other series that he’s done, such as Pirates of the Caribbean, you’ll notice the same themes coming back in each movie to make up much of the score. In this series, you hear the same main theme in each one of the movies, but it comes with variations. The Dark Knight has the eerie long notes for the Joker and The Dark Knight Rises has the chanting around Bane.

The best use of music, though, is at the end when Batman is flying the bomb over the water. There is a lone female voice along with a certain theme played during that time. It’s the same theme that gets played when Bruce’s parents die in Batman Begins. It signifies a sort of passing the torch, in a way. When Bruce’s father died, then the proverbial torch was passed onto Bruce to take control of the family company. When Batman died, he passes the torch of being Batman – or Robin – to Officer Blake. I like the way that this theme brings the trilogy to a close.

The same way that Batman passes on the torch of protecting Gotham City, Christopher Nolan passes on the torch of creating Batman movies. He gave us the second best film trilogy of all time (after The Lord of the Rings) and concluded it in a satisfying way. He was able to stay away from a billion sequels and an expanded universe the way that so many other superhero movies don’t. He transcended the genre and made movies that are great films in their own right.

He isn’t the director we deserved, but the one that we needed.

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