As usual, SPOILER ALERT for everything that lies below.
As my little part of the world is currently devoid of any relevant new releases, I’m going to continue on with my look at the average Joe superheroes of The Dark Knight Rises: the members of the Gotham City Police Department. In particular I’ll be focusing on Captain Foley, John Blake and Commissioner Gordon. Most superhero movies tend to treat Law enforcement as an unhelpful hindrance to the titular hero (i.e. The Amazing Spider-Man) or, even more commonly, completely and totally impotent if not entirely absent. While there are certainly examples of the former category among the ranks of Gotham’s Finest, The Police of Gotham City play nearly as significant a role in the plot of The Dark Knight Rises as the Dark Knight himself.
I usually like to hear bad news before good and as such I will start by the not-so-inspiring aspects of law enforcement in Gotham City, which are all wrapped up in one neat little bundle in the form of Captain Foley (Matthew Modine). In such a strong net of vibrant supporting characters put forth by The Dark Knight Rises, Foley is always felt like the proverbial pebble in the film’s shoe. He is one of the only person in the cast who really feels like a stock character, and even has his character redeemed himself towards the end of the movie I still never found myself wanting to see more of him on screen. I will admit that unlike Captain Stacy’s bewildering focus on Spider Man in the midst of an all-out biological attack on his city, Foley’s obsession with catching Batman is at least somewhat validated by the fact that he sees the masked vigilante not as some nuisance who shows him up at his own job but as the man who murdered Gotham’s White Knight. With the amount of reverence the people of Gotham had bestowed upon their fallen Paragon of bravery in the face of organized crime, it is more than understandable that there was no shortage of people who wanted to bring Batman to justice for Dent’s death. However understandable his motivations were, however, Foley’s character never went very far beyond those motivations in establishing his character. We’re led to dislike him early on for his designs on Gordon’s job, but the audience is so focused on the real bad guys of the film at that point that its hard to pay much attention to any of the minor internal issues caused by Foley’s selfish ambition.
Any argument that Foley’s character lacks weight because of our lack of experience with his character before The Dark Knight Rises is entirely countered by how relatively successful the introduction of John Blake’s character was. Blake was also a completely new addition to the film, yet his character still feels like he belongs in the movie just as much as any other of the major players. It made sense to include one of the new generation of Gotham’s Police force as we get to see how the passage of time separates the views of the old guard and the new with respect to the Caped Crusader. While Blake doesn’t exactly stand out very often, his character’s grounded personality and tenacious police work make it difficult not to root for him at least a little bit. Ignoring the end of the film for now, I’d just like to point out two issues I had with Blake’s character.
1. The scene in which he chastises Gordon for deceiving the people of Gotham about the true nature of Harvey Dent feels like a rare moment of unreasonableness from Blake. After all, it’s not like the positive effects of the Dent Act were in any way based solely upon Dent’s virtuousness in the last days of his life. Even if the positive effects of the Act itself weren’t enough to justify themselves, a mental break in the wake of a highly traumatic event doesn’t completely undo everything Dent ever stood for before Rachel’s death. In any case, Blake telling Gordon that “His hands looked plenty dirty to [him]” seemed excessive and uncharacteristically judgmental for his character.
2. The reasons for why Blake specifically recognized Batman as Bruce Wayne aren’t very solid, and I feel like there was a missed opportunity here for the kind of continuity that Nolan loves so very much. According to Blake, he recognized Batman as Bruce Wayne by the look of hidden pain and anger in his eyes, yet that recognition doesn’t feel very solid in terms of absolute identification. How did Blake know that Batman and Bruce Wayne weren’t two different repressedly anguished orphans (there seem to be no shortage of those in Gotham after all). What I would’ve like to see was for Blake to be revealed as the grown up little boy from Batman Begins (who is played by none other than King Joffrey himself from Game of Thrones). While that boy would now be in his early 20’s right now and JGL is in his early 30’s, I still felt like that would have been a sensible connection to have made.
Finally, we come to the always reliable Commissioner Gordon, who remains one of the most complex and likable characters of the series. Gary Oldman has always been one of my favorite actors, especially in the rare roles in which he actually plays the good guy (See Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy if you haven’t already). There isn’t a whole lot of moral ambiguity to his character, but a character doesn’t have to be both good and bad in order to be compelling. Described by Foley as a War Hero in a time of peace, Oldman retains the sort of wariness and watchfulness that has been ingrained in him over the course of the
past two films. The archetype of “That One Character Who Is Actually Aware Of The Shit That’s About To Go Down” is nothing new, but it is refreshing to see that character be in a position of power for once. Had that not been the case and Oldman had been subject to Foley’s ignorant skepticism, the movie would have gone down a more stereotypical route resulting in Gordon become just another “I told you so” character. However, Nolan takes it in a much fresher direction and turns Gordon’s prudence and willingness to act into Bane’s means of trapping the majority of Gotham’s police force in the sewers during the onset of his hostile takeover of the city. Fortunately, Gordon remains above ground to play an incredibly vital role in the film’s climax and while the confrontation between Batman and Bane took center stage for the majority of that climax, Nolan makes it very clear that without Gordon’s actions there would have been no Gotham City left standing for Batman to “Sacrifice” himself for.
Five down, two to go for my full Dark Knight Rises review. Next up we have my segment on Batman/Bruce Wayne himself, which will be followed by my capping everything off with a look towards the future for Batman on the Big Screen.