Believe the hype, it really is that good. The Dark Knight Rises, the concluding film in Christopher Nolan’s rebooted Batman trilogy, is about as perfect an action / adventure film as you could wish for. From the star studded cast to the thrilling action sequences; from the jack €knife plot twists to the jaw dropping special effects – every element of 2012’s biggest movie is dripping with quality.
At the same time, the film manages to be intelligent, thought €provoking and – unsurprisingly considering its title concerns a messianic resurrection – intriguingly theological. Take it from one who has often had to strain to find some buried thread of faith connection in many an artistic work – The Dark Knight Rises doesn’t subtly veer into God country; within its 164 €minute running time it references practically every element of the gospel narrative.
Don’t misunderstand me – this isn’t a comprehensive retelling of the Passion in superhero costume – yet the component parts of the cross €and €resurrection story are chopped up and reordered, to create a tale which constantly echoes and hints at the Great Story. So there’s the anticipation of a returning messiah; an exploration of the consequences of sin, and notes of sacrifice, death, resurrection, salvation and redemption – just not necessarily in that order.
The characters too, take on some aspects of those found in the Gospel accounts. Tom Hardy’s brilliantly terrifying villain, Bane, is described as ‘pure evil’ (and provides a worthy adversary for Batman; an impressive feat considering the lingering legacy of Heath Ledger); Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman is something of a Mary Magdalene figure. Joseph Gordon €Levitt, who plays Gotham Detective Blake, is the True Believer – the disciple who won’t turn his back on Batman when the rest of the city (after the events of the previous film) are calling for his head.
I’ll leave the spoilers for my column in September’s issue of Christianity magazine (out mid August). Until then, I just want to pick out one element which I found hugely resonant both with the Christian story, and with modern culture. Early on, we discover that the Catwoman character is weighed down and held back by the things that she has done wrong in her life. She is desperate for the ultimate fresh start... yet in searching for it and refusing to accept help she is only wading deeper into trouble. This subplot – the search for redemption from what is effectively ‘sin’ – is key to the satisfactory conclusion of the main story. If that isn’t a great hook for post €cinematic conversation, I don’t know what is.
Once again then, we find that a major film which is connecting with audiences all over the world, concerns itself with that same familiar story – of a hero whose journey takes him to hell and back; in which he must face the ultimate evil, in order to bring freedom to the many; in which he must stare death in the face before rising again. It is the story of sin, hope, and the massive cost involved in moving between the two.
When the ‘rise’ of the film’s title takes place; as salvation begins to appear on the horizon, we feel elated. Not because the guy in the sleek suit with the cool toys goes to war against evil, but because through his sacrifice, justice and redemption are unfurled. Such things have a primal resonance with a deep part of us; it’s why we feel a rush when we’re plunged into the finale of Batman; it’s why we see and know truth in the gospel. Watching The Dark Knight Rises reminded me just how compelling, exciting and satisfying the story of Jesus is – and should be as we retell it. And of course, it was the best night I’ve had at the cinema in a long time.
The Dark Knight Rises is now on general cinematic release. Read Martin’s fuller reflections on the film in September’s issue of Christianity magazine, out mid August.