1. It’s A Superhero Movie Yet It’s Grounded in Reality
This isn’t to say its “realistic” but the fact that Nolan has clearly made the decision to set The Dark Knight Rises in a recognisable environment, in some form of reality, is important not only to Batman but to the film’s audience and wider cultural significance.
It doesn’t take a comic book geek to know that Batman doesn’t have any special powers. Putting all motives aside (because that’s an article unto itself), Batman is essentially able to do what he does by making use of his extreme wealth in conjunction with years and years of training, despite this he is still a preposterous character. Nolan has had to do a lot of work for Batman to be taken seriously but its vital that he did.
The tone of Nolan’s trilogy is serious; the plight of Batman not just in The Dark Knight Rises but also in the previous films is serious and the audience has to feel the weight of this. The audience has to understand Batman’s burden, to feel his pain, otherwise the stakes are not felt, and there is no element of doubt. If Batman isn’t grounded, any perilous or climactic scenes lose their excitement because the audience knows there is only one victor, the whole arc of Batman being ‘broken’ by Bane doesn’t work.
Nolan had to translate this element of Batman’s character to the screen. Although this is a quality of Batman in the comic books, this isn’t something that previous directors of Batman’s big screen ventures have achieved.
While it’s significant that the character of Batman is grounded, it’s an impossible task if there isn’t something to ground him to, which is why Nolan’s Gotham is equally important.
Being a fictional city with a superhero protector its vital that Gotham is relatable not only as a city but the problems it faces. Some have compared the issues Gotham has in The Dark Knight to the occupy movement or applied more general left or right-leaning politics to its portrayal. Whilst we don’t’ live in a time where ulterior messages need to be snuck into films and Nolan doesn’t seem the type to be concerned with projecting his political standing, the idea that critics have applied modern day politics to Gotham must be rather pleasing to Nolan because immediately they’re comparing it to reality, just as he would have wanted.
Reality is what sets Nolan’s trilogy apart not only from previous Batman incarnations, but superhero films as a whole. They feel different because they don’t feel like superhero films at all. The hero is fallible and the tone more akin to films like Michael Mann’s Heat or television’s The Wire than the gothic fantasy of Tim Burton or the camp crusade of Joel Schumacher. Even though films like Spider-Man are set in real places like New York, its Gotham that feels more real.