Dark Knight Rises

It’s chilling to think that the same carnival atmosphere I experienced at the midnight showing here in Ohio turned into a bloodbath in Colorado. There is some more poignancy to a light-hearted exchange between Batman and Catwoman/Selina Kyle about the ethics of eschewing guns.

You know the plot from the reviews: Batman has been in self-imposed exile for eight years, paying the price for the canonization of Harvey Dent. Bane arrives in Gotham to complete the cleansing task begun by Ra’s Al Ghul in the first movie of the triology. Batman comes out of retirement, is beaten and humiliated by Bane who engages in assorted terrorism and mock class warfare until Bruce Wayne has recovered enough for the final showdown. This movie links back satisfyingly to Batman Begins in countless ways, large and small, so that we really do see the trilogy as part of a common arc.

After being displaced to the periphery in Dark Knight by Heath Leger’s extraordinary performance as the Joker, Batman appropriately takes center stage here. He battles Bane, certainly, but more importantly the final movie takes Bruce Wayne’s ambivalence about his role as Gotham’s savior as its defining motif. There are a series of exchanges with Alfred which explore what Batman has to do, but at what cost to him. I love Michael Caine in the Alfred role, though he seemed a little too overwrought for my taste in this movie. Still, these exchanges serve as moments of contemplation punctuating the action set-pieces.

Some of the action is wonderfully choreographed, particularly the early scene of Bane’s escape from a plane, and then one of explosions around Manhattan that seal it off from the outside. The final action sequence, involving a chase with a ticking nuclear bomb, seemed oddly mundane, not quite up to the enormity that the movie had built to. And while Tom Hardy gives Bane a gravity in the first half of the movie, he disappointingly morphs into little more than a common street thug by the end.

But that should not distract from the sheer pleasure afforded the viewer by this final part of the trilogy. It is less dark than Dark Knight, less portentous. Ann Hathaway’s Catwoman gives the movie it lighter touch and moments of humor. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is wonderful as an idealistic young cop. It is hard for me to think of another movie series that has so successfully managed to maintain a story arc and a common set of themes across all the parts; it is that rare fully-formed pop classic.

We can argue about the ending. Intellectually I think it should have been more ambiguous, but after watching the previous two movies in the last two days and then the third part last night, I was ready for the ending that Nolan gave us.

4 thoughts on “Dark Knight Rises”

  1. i watched this in l.a last week. i found it generally entertaining, even if it had plot holes large enough to drive all of prometheus through sideways and then loop the loop. but i didn’t really know what to make of the representation of what can only be the occupy movements. the anger and discontent of the 99% is associated with bane and the scarecrow’s kangaroo courts, and is represented as brute violence against the very wealthy–and they’re stupid too.

    about that ending [spoiler warnings follow]:

    as you doubtless know, the internet is crawling with people who in fact found it quite ambiguous and make the inception‘ish argument that the scene in the cafe is not real but alfred’s fantasy. i don’t buy it myself. but i don’t think the ending was done well–it’s too cheap to show us alfred sobbing at the grave and then a moment later seeing bruce wayne alive and happy in a cafe; you don’t set up a series of emotionally resonant scenes and then undercut them like that so quickly.

  2. I’m sorry, Chris, but I can’t share your enthusiasm for this movie. Few things are as punishing as a Christopher Nolan film–is he the most humorless and self-important director working right now? In contrast, Terrence Malick is Mack Sennet. You don’t know what the hell is going on, but you know it’ll be long and mostly pointless…..I’d attribute the offensive/confusing elements of the film to a jumbled screenplay which invests itself too deeply into the authoritarian myth of a noble superhero who must save his people (does anyone ever go outside Gotham? in the second part of the film, they literally cannot leave. Is there a political/social world outside the city? ). The poor dupes first need the false image of Harvey Dent to be maintained so they don’t go apeshit crazy; then they need the all-knowing duo of Commissioner Gordon and Batman, when things get rough again. Really? When I lived in LA I don’t know as if I could tell you the names of the District Attorney or Police Commissioner (post Daryl Gates) nor would I be inspired to anarchy by the idea that one of them was a bad man. What view of urban and social life underlies these narratives? It seems to move from touchingly naive to stupidly offensive, without hitting any middle ground where reality might lie.

    Batman isn’t quite the cipher he was in the second movie–now he’s just a brooding pain in the ass. (SPOILER ALERT) And the twist with whatshername being Raz Itchbag’s daughter….don’t you need to be invested in a character for a twist to have some impact? I wondered why she was hanging around in so much of the movie–she made a “green” nuclear bomb or something? And it was going to power the whole world, only it….er, can become really dangerous simply when an Indian guy fiddles with it for a few minutes. (hey, Arnab–stay away from that TV remote!)

    Terrific. She’s going to fulfill Daddy’s destiny which was to blow up Gotham? Why does Bane want to create a People’s Republic for a few months, only to have it blow up? That’s a long, bizarre and inexplicable plan, even for a tragic supervillain. One thing that strikes me about Nolan’s movies is how, despite their violence, they are so bloodless—is this a stylistic characteristic or something more practical, in order to get a lucrative PG rating, despite the endless pounding of bodies and shooting, etc. I don’t necessarily want people exploding like blood bags but there is something disturbing about a film (a trilogy of films) so violent yet so antiseptic. We don’t even get the pulp pay-offs of seeing, first, Bane’s hideous disfigurement and, second, his painful death (where he might get to shoot off a few more statements in his evil professor-shakespearean mode) Perhaps the relentless pounding of the soundtrack is meant to suggest the real violence? Whenever wunderkind stages an “action” scene, the street looks like the street-cleaners have just been through. When he wants to suggest an apocalyptic breakdown, orchestrated by a quasi-revolutionary madman, he suggests it by….things being stacked on other things! I would have been grateful if even one character said to another, “Man, you stink.” When you move across thin ice, you might try lying down…..that way there’s not so much pressure on it. All of these details (to me, anyway) add up to a vision that seems rather false, despite how big and overdeveloped it is. Big money with the cultural impact that comes from being seen by millions of people, yes. Pop culture classic, I’m not so sure about.

  3. bane wants to create a people’s republic for three months and then blow it up, he says, because he wants to give people the illusion of hope and then destroy them. and for some reason it is important to him and talia al ghul that batman watch the whole process. that kind of shit you have to be on board with–it’s how comic supervillains operate. but what doesn’t make any kind of sense is how easily/quickly/completely bane is jettisoned towards the end of the film. he’s built up as this giant badass but is abruptly removed via a quick gun-blast and a catwoman quip and then it’s as though he was never in the movie.

    and batman sure gets a lot done in less than a day.

  4. I wouldn’t contest most of the complaints about plot holes; there are plenty of them. And there are underdeveloped characters. Talia has a much bigger part in the comics, and Nolan just throws her in, supposedly as a twist, though anyone with any knowledge of the comics was waiting for it. I would note, and this is not a defense, but I think it is striking, that we hold movies like Prometheous and Dark Knight to much higher standards than the average sci-fi or superhero movies when it comes to internal coherence. That is partly because of the pretensions of their directors, but also because they are painting one small part of a beloved universe. So the question of how coherently this movie fits into — and shapes — the Alien universe, or the Dark Knight universe becomes more salient. As it happens, I watched the Total Recall remake yesterday and it is a piece of trash, but one doesn’t think of criticizing it on grounds of internal coherence or plot holes (there are so many other reasons..).

    The Dark Knight trilogy works for me, and achieves the status of pop classic, because it consistently works two themes, and it works them in what I find to be a satisfying manner, which is to say that they are not just addressed, but that they develop over the arc of the movies. The themes are the same, but how we think about them changes. The first theme is our (the populace of Gotham, but also the audience) ambivalent relationship with superheroes, and their equally ambivalent relationship with us. Bruce Wayne is a depressing, bland superhero. Personally, I’m much happier when Robert Downey Jr is on the screen in the Iron Man and Avenger movies; he has charisma. But that’s not really the point. Surely that is the meaning of the ending [SPOILER]: it doesn’t matter who inhabits the mask; the mask is the symbol of the relationship between us and the hero. The question is how Wayne becomes Batman, how he battles his demons, and how Gotham falls in and out of love with him. For the vast majority of superhero movies, that is simply assumed to be unimportant. Wow, I have Spidey powers, or this neat suit, let’s go for spin. The Dark Knight trilogy is about the psychological and sociological construction of a superhero, and what it costs us and him.

    The second theme is anarchy. The Dark Knight movies have superb villans; villans that often seem to outshine Batman. And the thing that they threaten Gotham with is anarchy, or more precisely, an anomic society without social bonds. This is less developed in Batman Begins, but even there the threat of the mob is not so much to personal safety or property as to the city as a functioning community. What do we become without a sense of a community? The Joker goes a step further. He is trying to get the citizens to turn on one another. And Bane wants to cleanse the city by destroying it, but first by setting the citizens of Gotham against each other. The Joker uses the moral dilemma of choice — save Harvey Dent or Rachel; the ferry with the prisoners or the law abiding citizens. Bane uses the rhetoric of populism and liberation.

    And in each case, the role of Batman is not to save the city from the villan, but to reconfigure how the citizens feel about Gotham so they can save it themselves. Thor could save the city himself; Batman is just a rich playboy in kevlar with some toys. He matters because he can get citizens to believe in civil government — whether by action or inaction (in the second movie of the trilogy). Now, it is more policed civil government than I would like, and I preferred the civil role of Bruce’s parents in the first movie, but I don’t get to choose just where on the authoritarian scale my superhero movies lie.

    I’m not saying these themes are entirely original, or that they are as consistently carried through as one might wish. Or that there aren’t missteps. But I scratch my head for another superhero series, or just a single movie, that comes close to tackling these themes, or doing so in such an interesting way. It is the rigor, consistency and trajectory that Nolan imposes on his chosen themes across three movies that makes this something special. For me anyway.

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