The cast & crew talk about the production of THE DARK KNIGHT RISES
Batman is the hero Gotham deserves but not the one it needs right now.
Those words, spoken by Commissioner Gordon at the end of 2008’s “The Dark Knight,” set in motion a fateful conspiracy that labeled Batman a murderer and Harvey Dent—who died, unbeknownst to the public, as the vengeful Two-Face—a crime-fighting crusader who paid the ultimate price. Predicated on that lie, Gotham City enacted tough new laws that put criminals behind bars or drove them beyond Gotham’s borders.
Director/writer/producer Christopher Nolan says, “Our story picks up eight years later, when it seems that Batman and Commissioner Gordon have succeeded—the Dark Knight is no longer needed in Gotham. In that regard, Bruce Wayne has won the battle, but he is traumatized by what happened and doesn’t know how to move on from being the figure of Batman. ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ very much deals with the consequences of his and other characters’ actions in the previous films.”
With this film, the last in his Dark Knight trilogy, Nolan completes the story arc he commenced with 2005’s “Batman Begins.” He recalls, “We were all very excited to bring this tale full circle; that was our chief inspiration for returning to Gotham. We also felt a tremendous sense of responsibility to fulfill expectations based on the first two movies while giving the audience something they hadn’t seen before. It was a tricky balance.”
The filmmakers and cast were also intent on maintaining a balance between heart-pounding action and intimate emotion. Producer Emma Thomas affirms, “Right from the start, Chris set out to make each of these films something that could not be categorized into any one genre. ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ has all of the excitement and fun that a big summer movie ought to have. The action is huge, but the story and characters are equally, if not more, important, because it’s hard to care about all the bells and whistles if there isn’t something to engage you in an emotional way.”
Producer Charles Roven adds, “We all want to be wowed, but we also want to be invested. Regardless of the scope, Chris has never lost his focus on the story and relationships, which goes back through all of his movies.”
At the center of the story through all three films is one character. Nolan states, “Our guiding impulse in this telling of the Batman legend has always been to follow Bruce Wayne’s journey. That was something I was very keen on, as were (co-writers) David Goyer and my brother, Jonah (Nolan).”
Christian Bale, who reprises the film’s title role, details, “In ‘Batman Begins,’ you see the tragedy and the pain that motivates this angry young man, who feels useless and is searching for a path—who wants to find out who he is and what he can become. Then in ‘The Dark Knight,’ he’s discovered that path. He is useful; he is doing what he imagines is the best thing for him to be doing in his life. Now, we are eight years on and he has lost the one thing that gave him a purpose…until he is forced to deal with a new threat to the city and to himself.”
That threat comes in the form of a merciless, masked villain named Bane, who makes his presence known to the citizens of Gotham with an explosive display of power. While the Scarecrow was a madman and the Joker an anarchist, “Bane is a terrorist in both his mentality and his actions,” says actor Tom Hardy, who plays Batman’s new arch-nemesis. “He is physically intimidating and he’s also very intelligent, which makes him even more dangerous.”
Nolan relates, “In deciding on who the next villain would be, it was imperative that it was someone completely different from the Joker—that he be a brute force. The physical component of what Bruce Wayne does as Batman is of extraordinary importance, and we had not truly challenged that in the first two films. I really wanted to see Batman meet his match physically, as well as intellectually. Bane is raw strength with a fanatical devotion to duty, and that combination makes him unstoppable.”
“This is the first time it appears highly unlikely that Batman will come out on top in a physical altercation,” Bale allows. “He has been dormant for years, so he’s in a weakened condition to begin with, and Bane is not only incredibly strong but ruthless in terms of his sheer militancy and the ideology that drives him.”
Initially, however, it is not Bane who draws Bruce Wayne out of Wayne Manor; it is an intriguing encounter with a particularly skilled thief named Selina Kyle—better known in the Batman canon as Catwoman. Nolan says, “We felt very strongly that we should have Catwoman in this film, but we always look for an organic way of grounding the characters in our world. Selina is a cat burglar, a grifter, a classic movie femme fatale, really. That was my way in, and we drew the iconic figure of Catwoman from that.”
The only member of the main cast who counts this film as her first collaboration with Nolan, Anne Hathaway admits, “It’s hard to reveal anything about Selina Kyle because she is intensely private and very mysterious. She has her own code of ethics, which sometimes involves doing things that other people might consider questionable.”
Screenwriter Jonathan Nolan says, “Something about her morally ambiguous philosophy finally gives Batman someone he can relate to. In a weird way, she’s the yin to his yang. The dynamic between them is so fresh—the playful way she kind of pokes fun at him—it sparks a connection between them and takes some of the somberness away from his character.”
“The Dark Knight Rises” introduces two new allies for Bruce Wayne and, by extension, Batman. Marion Cotillard plays Miranda Tate, a wealthy philanthropist, who sits on the board of Wayne Enterprises and later becomes a trusted friend. Joseph Gordon-Levitt joins the ensemble as another original character: Gotham City police officer John Blake, who impresses Commissioner Gordon with his courage and integrity.
Gary Oldman returns to the role of Gotham City’s top cop, Commissioner Gordon, who withheld the truth of Harvey Dent’s demise at great personal cost. “He respects Batman’s sacrifice, but allowing the citizens of Gotham to be fed a lie goes against everything that Gordon believes in,” the actor says.
Bruce Wayne’s loyal butler, Alfred is portrayed once more by Michael Caine. Nolan says, “Alfred and Bruce have the strongest of emotional bonds, which has been tested in one way or another in each film, but in ‘The Dark Knight Rises,’ it’s tested as never before. As somebody who cares deeply for Bruce, Alfred questions the decisions he’s making and the direction his life is going, and that inevitably brings about conflict.”
Another person who has been entrusted with the knowledge of Batman’s true identity is Wayne Enterprises’ ingenious CEO Lucius Fox, again played by Morgan Freeman.
Jonathan Nolan remarks, “One of the great pleasures of working on this film is the opportunity to write again for Michael Caine, Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman. The common link of their three characters is that each has represented a father figure for Bruce Wayne, the closest, of course, being Alfred. But Alfred, Gordon and Lucius have all, in their own way, shown him different aspects of how to be a better man.”
Throughout the trilogy, Fox has equipped Batman with his ever-evolving resources, from his Batsuit, to the Tumbler, to the agile Bat-Pod, which enabled the Dark Knight to maneuver nimbly through the streets of Gotham City. In this film, he can finally navigate above them, via his new airborne vehicle—part helicopter, part jump jet and aptly named The Bat.
The director also raised the bar for “The Dark Knight Rises” in expanding on his use of IMAX cameras. Nearly half of the movie was shot with the large-format cameras, utilizing ultra resolution 15 perf/65-millimeter film. Nolan states, “We got great results with the IMAX cameras on the last film. I appreciate what it offers from the technical side, but I’m most interested in what it can give me as a storytelling tool. How can it help me pull the audience deeper into this world? IMAX provides the broadest possible canvas, creating the most immersive experience.”
Principal photography on “The Dark Knight Rises” took the cast and filmmakers across three continents, and from the ground up. The action begins in mid-air, where Bane initiates his violent rampage with a deadly hijacking and kidnapping. Much of the harrowing aerial sequence was actually captured in mid-flight in the skies above Scotland. Filming in the UK was also done in Wales and at Cardington, the massive airship hanger that has become something of a home base for Nolan and company, housing a number of the interiors.
The global footprint of the production also stretched as far as India, as well as to the United States. For the first time, three separate cities provided locations and backdrops for Gotham City, with scenes filmed in Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, and the city sometimes nicknamed Gotham, New York.
Nolan offers, “When you look back on the films, you can see the world we’re living in reflected, but we don’t want to be specific about it. We just come at the stories from the point of view of what concerns us. What gives us fear? What gives us hope? What would require a hero of Batman’s stature to rise up in our world?”