‘Dark Knight Rises': Christopher Nolan’s masked ambitions

April 27, 2012 | 3:52 p.m.
The set visit to the biggest movie of 2012.
61 Dark Knight Rises: Christopher Nolans masked ambitions

Tom Hardy plays Bane in "The Dark Knight Rises." (Ron Phillips / DC Comics / Warner Bros.)

111 Dark Knight Rises: Christopher Nolans masked ambitions

Christian Bale plays Batman in "The Dark Knight Rises." (Ron Phillips / DC Comics / Warner Bros.)

81 Dark Knight Rises: Christopher Nolans masked ambitions

Anne Hathaway plays Catwoman in "The Dark Knight Rises." (Ron Phillips / DC Comics / Warner Bros.)

41 Dark Knight Rises: Christopher Nolans masked ambitions

Director Christopher Nolan on the set of "The Dark Knight Rises." (Ron Phillips / DC Comics / Warner Bros.)

22 Dark Knight Rises: Christopher Nolans masked ambitions

The Batman films of Christopher Nolan are dark but the violence has consequence has never led to a R-rating. (Warner Bros.)

12 Dark Knight Rises: Christopher Nolans masked ambitions

Christian Bale plays Bruce Wayne in "The Dark Knight Rises." (Ron Phillips / DC Comics / Warner Bros.)

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Director Christopher Nolan works on the set of "The Dark Knight Rises." (Darla Khazei / Associated Press)

51 Dark Knight Rises: Christopher Nolans masked ambitions

Christian Bale plays Batman in "The Dark Knight Rises." (Ron Phillips / DC Comics / Warner Bros.)

This post has been corrected, as detailed below.

LONDON — The University of London’s stolid Senate House echoes with secrets and hidden history — it was headquarters for Britain’s propaganda and censorship department and “1984” author George Orwell used it as a model for his Ministry of Truth — so it was a fitting workplace last July for Christopher Nolan and the masked ambitions of “The Dark Knight Rises.”

“Back in Gotham, back in Chris Nolan’s city,” actor Morgan Freeman said as he stepped past barbed wire and debris used in a just-finished scene. A moment later, he added: “The only drawback is this is the last one we get to work on with him. And a lot of us won’t really get that until later. It’s not until the curtain goes down that you think, ‘Jesus, that’s the last one.’”

“The Dark Knight Rises,” which arrives in theaters July 20, is, by all accounts, the last caped crusade for star Christian Bale and Nolan’s now-familiar ensemble of Freeman, Gary Oldman and Michael Caine. They’re joined by an infusion of “Inception” cast members — Tom Hardy, Marion Cotillard and Joseph Gordon-Levitt all appeared in Nolan’s perception-bending 2010 heist film — as well as Anne Hathaway.

31 Dark Knight Rises: Christopher Nolans masked ambitions

Christopher Nolan on the set of “The Dark Knight Rises.” (Darla Khazei / Associated Press)

The plot and the production have been treated like state secrets, which speaks to Nolan’s now-notorious practice of message management as well as his yearning for old-fashioned movie mystique in an over-information age. The 41-year-old filmmaker is defiantly old school — not only did Warner Bros. fail in a push to close out the franchise with a 3-D release (as “Harry Potter” did) but here in the digital summer of 2012 the Batman movie is the only major popcorn project that was shot on film stock.

Early on in the project, while still in Los Angeles, Nolan said this film’s introduction of a masked, hulking terrorist called Bane (Hardy) and the enigmatic Selina Kyle (Hathaway) sets the stage for an “appropriate conclusion” for Bruce Wayne’s odyssey as a vigilante sent into the shadows by the childhood sight of his parents’ bodies bleeding in the street.

“Without getting into specifics, the key thing that makes the third film a great possibility for us is that we want to finish our story,” the filmmaker said of the script he co-wrote with his brother Jonathan Nolan. “And in viewing it as the finishing of a story rather than infinitely blowing up the balloon and expanding the story … unlike the comics, these things don’t go on forever in film and viewing it as a story with an end is useful.”

“Rises” closes the grim trilogy that opened in 2005 with “Batman Begins” and delivered a pop-culture landmark in 2008 with “The Dark Knight,” the only superhero film to win an Academy Award in an acting category and the only one to reach the billion-dollar mark in worldwide box office. The Oscar remains a bittersweet achievement (the late Heath Ledger’s family accepted the award posthumously), and the box-office total is now just part of the challenge for a veteran cast and crew that must live up to its past heroics.

Special effects supervisor Chris Corbould has had plenty of stops in his career — he’s worked on a dozen James Bond films and picked up his first Oscar for the spinning successes of “Inception” — but the intensity and duration of the Gotham City work lent it the feel of an epic quest.

“I’d say it’s probably similar to the [crew] experience they had on ‘The Lord of the Rings’ trilogy,” said Courbold. “It’s a journey we’ve all been on with Chris; [‘Batman Begins’ was] his first action film and then with the second we made one of the most successful action films of all time. And with the third we hope to make the most successful action film of all time. It’s been a mission and it is a mission.”

There was a six-month shoot that included stops in Glasgow, New York , Newark, N.J., and Pittsburgh (where the NFL’s Steelers provided their stadium and some star players to film a game-day sequence for the Gotham Rogues) and the production was badgered by curious eyes and covert cameras. The Nolans have responded by clamping down even more on every aspect of the project’s public life.

“Chris likes his secrets,” Bale said, “and he keeps an air of mystery about his scripts and his plans. And I like that. He does it for a reason and it’s worked and the people who work on his projects know that this is the way we do it.”

Every tidbit of information has been dissected and debated by fans, especially in regards to the newcomers. Entire essays have been written about the big-picture possibilities of Gotham cop John Blake (Levitt) and Miranda Tate (Cotillard) and they may actually be on the right track; again and again on the set those characters were conspicuously avoided conversation topics.

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Tom Hardy plays Bane, left, and Christian Bale plays Batman in “The Dark Knight Rises.” (DC Comics / Warner Bros.)

There has been great consternation too, about the voice of Hardy in preview footage — Bane has a Caribbean-tinged accent and, with his respirator mask, many fans and bloggers have said the dialogue veered into a mechanical garble. Nolan says it’s a non-issue and, last summer at Senate House, producer Emma Thomas flashed a confident smile when asked about Hardy’s work.

“Bane is a really interesting match-up for Batman just in the physical strength and brute force he brings,” Thomas said of the dark mastermind who, in the pages of DC Comics, famously broke Batman’s back in a landmark 1990s story arc. “Tom’s preparation has been amazing and he’s transformed his body and found these great approaches to the character.”

12 Dark Knight Rises: Christopher Nolans masked ambitions

Christian Bale plays Bruce Wayne in “The Dark Knight Rises.” (DC Comics / Warner Bros.)

As far as superhero films, the fevered fascination surrounding “The Dark Knight Rises” can only be compared to the global curiosity that greeted Tim Burton’s 1989 “Batman,” which starred Michael Keaton as the hero and Jack Nicholson as the Joker. Adding to the intrigue, this summer also has “The Avengers” and “The Amazing Spider-Man” to add new fuel to the half-century rivalry between DC and Marvel, the superhero equivalent of Beatles vs. Stones.

Truly, though, for the Gotham City crowd the only rival that matters is their own past. Even Bale, an actor of austere intensity who has a low tolerance for Hollywood hype, said there’s been a special aura about this project since Day One.

“I remember when I first read the script, of course it was all top secret,” Bale said during a break in the shoot. “I went round by Chris’ house, was shut in the room with the script — not allowed to leave with it — and it hit me that this was the last one. What Chris couldn’t believe was how slow I read because I go back and re-read until I have it all in my mind. I was in there six or seven hours. It was dark when I came out. And I was smiling.”

– Geoff Boucher

[For the Record, April 28, 2012: A previous version of this post stated that Christopher Nolan accepted the Oscar for Heath Ledger's performance in "The Dark Knight." It was the Golden Globes where the filmmaker accepted the trophy. Also, the year of release for "The Dark Knight" was misstated.]


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Christian Bale says goodbye to Gotham

‘Dark Knight Rises’: Tom Hardy as Bane

Nolan on his favorite scene in ‘Dark Knight’

Michael Keaton’s dark memories of ‘Batman’

Nolan: Hollywood takes too many shortcuts

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‘DKR’ trailer offers a bleak portrait of Gotham


21 Responses to ‘Dark Knight Rises': Christopher Nolan’s masked ambitions

  1. colin says:

    heath's family accepted the oscar, not chris.

  2. Jamie says:

    Very good article, though we still have 3 months to go.

  3. AlexHeyNa says:

    The Dark Knight was 2008, buddy.

  4. G.L.Schmitz says:

    “The Oscar remains a bittersweet achievement (Nolan somberly accepted the posthumous award on behalf of the late Heath Ledger’s family)”

    Watch your link.

  5. Emmet says:

    Correction: The Dark Knight was released in 2008, not 2009 as the article states.

  6. Liam Gallagher says:

    Great article. One minor correction: The Dark Knight was released in 2008, not 2009.

  7. john says:

    Christian Bale smiling at the script… Nolan will deliver. He doesn't sacrifice story.

  8. shaun says:

    The Dark Knight came out in 2008, not 2009.

  9. Jae says:

    1) The Dark Knight came out in 2008, not 2009.

    2) Christopher Nolan did not accept the posthumous Oscar on behalf of Heath Ledger, his family did. Your "link/reference" even clearly shows that that wasn't the Academy Awards the Christopher Nolan accepted at.

  10. Phil says:

    Brilliant article Geoff! Just one correction, though – Chris Nolan accepted a Critics Choice Award on Heath Ledger's behalf, not the Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Ledger's father, mother and sister accepted the posthumous Academy Award by proxy.

  11. Newman says:

    Correction: That's a link to the Critics' Choice Award Ledger won. The Oscar was accepted on his behalf by his surviving family and the SAG Award was accepted on his behalf by Gary Oldman.

  12. @Raffa8709 says:

    Great read, its this part of the set visit? there is more?

  13. W_eleven says:

    Thank you very much Geoff Boucher for your contribution to the enthusiasm from whom we expect anxiously for the last Nolan´s interpretation of the caped crusader. Just a couple of corrections: The Dark Knight opened in July 2008 and the posthumous Oscar was accepted by Heath Ledger’s family, not by Nolan.

  14. J. E. says:

    There is an error in the article. "The Dark Knight" came out on July 18th, 2008, not 2009.

  15. John M says:

    Christopher Nolan accepted the Golden Globe for Heath Ledger; Ledger's family accepted the Oscar.

  16. Gabe says:

    The actual joke would be to have a huge Latino wrestler be the final villain for the franchise. I'm Latino and I'm glad they added their own spin to it. Tom Hardy is an incredible actor, and the way they visually created Bane for The Dark Knight Rises is a lot more menacing than the character in the comics. It's the same intelligent and brutal villain, with a more threatening appearance.

  17. David says:

    If you knew what you were talking about, you would've known that Bane's father was a white Brit. Also, Latinos can be any color: white, brown or black.

  18. Brandonm says:

    Depends on the comic you're reading and the movies you've seen. In a few animated series, Bane truly is a scrawny white boy when he isn't all juiced up with the toxins.

  19. Spencer says:

    Bane only half latino in the comics, the other half is british (Bane's father is Sir Edmond Dorrance aka King Snake). also, this is a movie adaptation, so it will differ from the comics, especially since it's a more realistic take.

  20. Divine says:

    This poster does not seem to informed. First of all, Anne Hathaway was not in Inception. You need to correct that.

    Second, the Spiderman Character and the X-men characters in film are not owned by the same companies, so the film rivalry is not exactly Marvel vs DC.

  21. Jeff says:

    Just so you know Dark Knight came out in 2008 and Ledger's family actually accepted the Oscar on his behalf. Seriously, does everyone have to say it?

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