‘The Dark Knight Rises’

Empty Cinema

Can you believe it? A blockbuster movie in the second week of its run, and the 8:30pm session on Saturday night was nearly empty. Surely people aren’t afraid that a crazed gunman is going to rush into a cinema in Chatswood?

It’s sort of disturbing to see how a blockbuster movie can lose its momentum at the box office so soon after release.

Anyway, as per usual, I give you my SPOILER ALERT. I can’t write about these things without tackling plot points. If spoilers bother you, please don’t read on until you’ve seen the film. 🙂

What’s Good About

It’s long, it’s deep, it’s interesting, it’s intriguing, it’s satisfying. At 164minutes, it’s pretty engrossing and never lets you feel the time. Compared to how cheesy the first one was with a smaller budget, the production is lavish and sumptuous.

The panoply of action and characters is so grand, it is reminiscent of Fritz Lang’s films. As with the previous entry with the Ledger Joker, this film attempts to bring the entire socius of Gotham City to bear. The bravery of ordinary people is an important theme in this film, and in a superhero film where the text always runs in the fascist vein, it’s good to see characters like commissioner Gordon and the new rookie cop Blake go to great lengths to organise a resistance. The democratic impulse is strong in many parts of this film, in spite of itself.

This may also be the first time we’re seeing a movie where Batman is reaching his physical demise. It was interesting how sombre the mood of the action sequences were, compared to the dynamic chaos of the previous film, but it all adds to the richness of the film.

What’s Bad About It

The films spends a good deal on developing the character of John Blake, who we are led to believe will turn into Robin at the end. Now, I’m a big fan of Joseph Gordon Levitt, but there were moments where I thought “this is going on forever. Where’s freaking Batman!?” If this was some kind of origin story for the Robin to come – which he won’t because the trilogy is complete – then this seemed like an elaborate half-story wedged into the side story of the main game.

The scope of the film is immense, but at times all the elements seem to be spinning out of the narrative control, just at the edges of Nolan’s ability to rein them in. Batman and Catwoman are able to meet in places without specifying times and locations – magically they manifest for one another, to the point where you cease to try and figure out how and why they can do this.
For a person who has great difficulty getting around in the city for meetings in a city that I know very well, it seemed like the most extraordinary talent of these comic book characters – locate one another for meets.

The fight scenes where Bain and Batman actually get down to the nitty gritty of fisticuffs aren’t very good. The speed is down, the camera angles are ordinary, the shot size selection wasn’t terribly exciting. The punch up on the rooftop where Batman comes to the rescue of Catwoman was most reminiscent of the 1960s Adam West Burt Ward TV series of Batman. Cue the riff! Cue the ‘Pow’ superimposed cards!

The actual fighting bits may be the part that got most short changed in the elaborate, labyrinthine plot.

What’s Interesting About It

Just who is evil in all of this? It’s a pretty weird tangle. Bruce Wayne represents “the 1%”. Belatedly, since the GFC kicked in properly, the franchise has finally addressed the asymmetry of the Batman against his villains. As psychopathic, manic, and motivated as Heath Ledger’s Joker was, he was no match for the money, the technology, the discipline and training of Batman. To devise a foe truly worthy of Batman, the franchise has had to strip Batman of his wealth and trappings.

This is interesting in the light of the Occupy Wall Street movement because this is the only Batman movie that tangles with the Socialist impulse of the demos – The People, as America would refer to it – and then try to construct a narrative where the 1% rich guy with the toys is still the good guy in a wider, socially expanded perspective that still makes sense. And in my opinion, I’m not sure it really gets there.

Bain’s Rhetoric of Revolution

The most spectacular sequence in the trailers was the destruction of the football ground. This is followed up by a speech made by Bain where he forwards the plot point by letting the city know he has the bomb (really? Are we doing that again?). Then, he launches into some diatribe that leads to a montage showing the wealthy turned out of their houses by the criminal mob released from the penitentiary.

What’s interesting about Bain’s revolution is how much it resembles the French Revolution which quickly descended into a festival of executions with the guillotine. Hearings are made where people are sentenced – their crimes presumed – and the choices are death or exile. When Commissioner Gordon gallantly chooses death, the film reprises the “Death by Bunji” joke.

What’s striking about this that it’s all very fearful of the revolution. Now, I am not arguing for a moment that we should have one and that if we did, that it would be peaceful; yet what stands out in this construction is that perhaps the Demos – The People – are actually the perpetrators  as well as being the victims in a city of crime.

The film is deeply fearful of *any* ‘wealth redistribution’ to the point of paranoid hostility. This is not particularly surprising coming from Hollywood where there are many wealthy people, but interesting all the same. If you think about it for a moment though, Batman’s foes necessarily arise from the people against the 1%. All the bad guys arise from the ranks of ordinary people. Many of them are bent out of shape or torn to shreds by the social system and all its injustices, only to reemerge as these villains that Batman beats up. So who benefits by this society being so unjust? Actually, it’s Batman and his paranoid psychosis, bolstered by the Military Industrial Complex that is Wayne Enterprises.

This crisis of identity is glossed over rather quickly; but then when Bruce Wayne ends up with the girl and it’s Catwoman, it’s hard not to come to the conclusion that the 1% are Kleptocrats. It’s no bloody wonder a gunman might identify with the Joker and then shoot up the people who work for the MIC. And Paul Byrnes thinks Batman is irrelevant today; go figure that one out.

The Fear Of The Green Agenda

The most vexing issue in our own polity in Australia might be how the old hard left communist elements have taken on the mantle of the environmentalists. The Green Party in Australia is in its current expression at best a Watermelon Party where they are Green on the outside but Red on the inside. This has muddied the waters considerably for attempts to mitigate carbon emissions because the old class enemy of the reds have thrown piles of money in order not to be taxed a single cent more.

It is then interesting to see that the real villain in this film is:

  • a woman
  • an environmentally concerned person
  • who wants to turn the fusion device into a bomb
  • whose sidekick is Bain who babbles on about the Revolution
  • but is hell bent on destruction as her bottom line

Marion Cotillard plays Miranda Tait who comes into the story wanting to save the world through the wondrous technology of fusion, and then turns out to be the arch nemesis who wants to blow up Gotham City. So, she’s sort of a French, sexy (tautological?), female Bob Brown who turns out to be a kind of a Osama bin Lenin.

The vested interests surrounding oil and fossil fuels is so vast we don’t even question it. Our fetish objects are created from and fueled by these interests. Our homes are heated and cooled by these interests. Our food is harvested an manufactured by these interests. And if it were all so damn evil, then we must all be damn evil for supporting it tacitly, and implicitly. Take that, Batman; for he’s going to have to punch everybody in the face and send them to prison until it’s just him in his mansion with Alfred.

Because that can’t possibly be the story, the ultimate solution to the energy issue – a fusion reactor – has to be turned into a  bomb for the sake of a good story. Yet the subtext of all this is that the great vested industrial interests of the world probably know how to deliver better cleaner energy to the world, but they won’t give it to us because it might actually liberate us from their tyranny. Which sounds like something straight out of conspiracy theories except, that’s what Batman in all his goodness would do: Keep us in penury at the risk of the planet.

Contrast that with Iron Man in ‘The Avengers’ where he just gives it to the city in the opening moments. These Christopher Nolan Batman texts are more fascist than Captain America or Iron Man. Consider that for a moment.

Crazy Is As Crazy Does

The Criminal and Criminally Insane are indistinguishable in the Batman text. Nominally, in the Batman universe, the criminals are sent to the penitentiary unless they’re criminally insane in which case they go to the Asylum Arkham. Yet the criminal contingent seem to have no self awareness that sometimes insanity is just that. This seems to be a deep-rooted 1930s vision of crime as passed down to us in comic books.

It probably helps comic book writers to make very little distinction between the bad guys but it’s actually hard to figure out the plot if you don’t understand the characters. I know I sound old fashioned and downright Aristotelean but character is plot and plot is character. If the character makes itself impenetrable then we never really can claim to have understood the plot. The previous Batman entry with Heath Ledger’s Joker skirted hard against this problem because he kept giving different stories for how he came to be disfigured, angry, mercenary and deranged.

This film offers minimal insight into Bain who spends the most time as Batman’s adversary, so the only thing we can hang our understanding on is that Bain believes in a perpetual Revolution like some latter day Trotsky. Except he was always going to blow up the city according to Miranda’s plans so we can’t really trust that he is this Trotskyist; He might just be crazy-as-a-coconut and we’re none the wiser for why half the things transpire.

Miranda’s character is so contradictory there is no explaining her character except the fascist little story of how she conquered her fear and leapt out of the Hell Hole prison. The absence of any explanation of character leaves a void where we are forced to fill in the blanks. Maybe this is what Nolan likes but it’ a little frustrating after the third film with ‘Inception’ stuck in there as well.

Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman

There have been a plethora of actresses who have played Catwoman and none of them seem to have any motivation that is linked to a world that is real Halle Berry’s turn with the routine was particularly strange while Michelle Pfeiffer has cornered the leather look. This may be the first time Catwoman is not referred to as Catwoman by name in a Batman movie, but we’re certain of who she is.

She’s much less bondage queen and arch acting in this film which is a god send. These characters need to be larger than life but Catwoman has always had a tenuous link to the fragile sense of reality in a comic book movie. It’s nice that her big speech whispered into Bruce Wayne’s ear on the dance floor is so imbued with class warfare rhetoric rather than some cryptic personal twist as to why she became a cat burglar.

It’s interesting also to note that Catwoman in this incarnation is entirely sane and rational in her desire to balance her options. In a series where the predominant discourse is “how crazy is this person?” Catwoman appearing to be more sane than Batman is a tremendous asset. That might be a first.

People In Costume

At some point, I was watching the film and Batman and Catwoman made an appearance in full garb under broad daylight, ready for whatever, and I had this moment of reflection “am I really seeing this? Am I really watching a movie where one of the wining moments is a guy and a gal appearing dressed respectively as a bat and a cat?”

It’s pretty weird how the world of entertainment has come to this moment. I know it’s my usual complaint but why is it that our most important movies are increasingly being made out of comic book fodder?

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Filed under Cinema, Film, General, Movies

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