It is undoubted that the reason the Dark Knight trilogy enamoured so many fans was because it avoided all the usual superhero tropes and offered up an original thriller that just so happened to have caped costumes. It was a superhero franchise by name, but in reality, it appeased those who find the whole Lycra thing a bit insufferable thanks to a solid backbone of thrilling storytelling.
Thus, perhaps it isn’t all that surprising that behind the final instalment of the series, The Dark Knight Rises, a classic novel was near enough transposed into the Batman universe. The 2012 film’s script was primarily penned by Christopher Nolan’s brother Jonathan. And like Francis Ford Coppola with Joseph Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness for Apocalypse Now, Jonathan was hoping to twist a timeless classic into a new cinematic shape.
“I was looking to old good books and good movies,” he explained when discussing the pressure of finding inspiration fast once the Dark Knight boomed into pretty much the biggest blockbuster of the era. “What I always felt like we needed to do in a third film was, for lack of a better term, go there. All of these films have threatened to turn Gotham inside out and to collapse it on itself. None of them have actually achieved that until this film.”
There is one classic novel that similarly takes the worst of times in a weaving tale and Jonathan was quick to identify that as a source material. “A Tale of Two Cities was, to me, one of the most harrowing portrait of a relatable, recognizable civilization that completely folded to pieces with the terrors in Paris in France in that period,” he said of the Charles Dickens classic. “It’s hard to imagine that things can go that badly wrong.”
The book comes with the synopsis: “Written by Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities is an 1859 historical novel set during the French Revolution. Today the novel is considered a classic of the historical fiction genre and is admired by readers of all ages. Dickens brings this amazing story to life by intersecting his imaginative and compelling characters with the factual events of the French Revolution.”
Adding: “The story follows French Doctor Manette who spends 18 long and dark years imprisoned in the Bastille in Paris. Following the release of his imprisonment, Doctor Manette must live and recover from his experiences with his daughter that he has never met. This is a tale of adventure, love, and sacrifice that is sure to keep readers captivated until the very last page. With over 200 million copies sold, A Tale of Two Cities remains one of the best-selling novels of all time.”
It is a vintage read and clearly, its influence is still reverberating in modern storytelling. Beyond the Dark Knight Rises-like vignette above, the book also features secret societies, covert identities, faked deaths, and an orphaned woman hellbent on justified revenge.
The film even features a quote from the classic closing stanza beginning, “I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss,” and there is a character called Phillip Striver thrown in there for good measure.