Monday, July 30, 2012

Signal Re-Watch: Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Author's Note:  Spoiler's ahoy.  Proceed at your own risk.

So, today I teamed up with Jason, AmyD, The Admiral and Jamie and re-watched what appears to be the final installment in the Nolan-helmed Batman trilogy.

The first look at the movie was posted last week after I'd seen the movie with a different crew.

As has been the pattern with Nolan's movies since Memento (and what I tend to think is true of movies I don't just enjoy, but enjoy re-watching), once you know how it ends, it's a pleasure to re-watch the film and see how the moving pieces work together, and not just from a plotting perspective, as in a particular good espionage movie or thriller.  I've harped a lot on how Nolan has more or less used the Bat-movies as a chance to explore ideas of fear, justice, security & liberty - and it was worthwhile to take in a second viewing and watch the movie in a frame of mind more conducive to regarding what Nolan was doing and trying to say, and not just hanging on as a summer thriller unspooled and I did my best to keep up.

Of course, I don't have a score sheet that enables me to check Nolan's ideas off, and what you read here is based on nothing, really, but my own reading of the movies as a whole, so you'll have to bear with me.

On this run, of course, the pieces of John Blake's past dropped to the audience slid neatly into place as an amalgamation of Jason Todd and Tim Drake, Robins #2 and #3 - and Dick Grayson only by virtue of his Robin-ness as the first sidekick of sorts, with a destiny to wear the mask, or a mask, at least.   The why's and wherefore's of Talia's plan seems a bit more obvious, clearly plotted and character-driven from her first appearance, and the bits of the Bane/ Talia back story shown were as well cut into the film as I thought they might be.   And, if we're checking stuff off we liked, the reference to the veteran cop/ rookie cop scene from Dark Knight Returns was pretty darn good.

That's all sort of neat stuff, but the more I watch the movies, the more I see a fundamental difference in the Batman of this trilogy versus the Batman of the comics - and I think it's something that has bothered some Batman fans who've come at the movie from the approach of the comics or cartoons.  Nolan's Batman has a mission statement in Batman Begins - he wants to pull his city up from the decay that's rotted out the foundations.  He is not coming at his role as a beat cop who happens to patrol via rooftop, and he'll be on the job taking down one criminal at a time until he punches enough criminals or scares enough criminals that people stop making crime.  

If I can be blunt:  the "one at a time" plan is that of a child or someone who refuses to pay attention to the sociological bases for crime, and never heard of escalation.  And that escalation is, in smany ways, what Dark Knight was about.  Yes, Bruce's parents are still a strong motivator, but I'm not sure Nolan's Batman is Batman "so no one will ever go through what I went through".  Thomas Wayne is, instead, held up as a philanthropist who understood good work could provide not just a light of hope, but give others a point around which they could huddle together and do better things.  Bruce takes that idea and blows it up larger than a name or person who can die and the dream die with them.

Nolan's Batman is either more worldly or more realistic than that of the Batman of the comics.  What he can do is break up organized crime in a way a corrupt police force cannot, and he can give Gotham a symbol behind which it can rally.  Dark Knight Rises realizes that vision in a way that neither Batman Begins nor Dark Knight mustered for Bruce.  

At times the discussion of themes takes over the dialog to the point that it becomes a bit top heavy.  My complaint about Batman Begins - that character's echo back the thematic dialog to one another so much that the 3rd act feels like an echo chamber, comes back full circle in this film.  Some lines repeat, but distorted through Bane's voice box. Batman's "It's not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me" becomes "It doesn't matter who we are. What matters is our plan."

Bane is set up as Bruce's opposite.  Coming from nothing rather than utter privilege.  He was rejected by The League of Shadows for his extremism rather than rejecting their goals.  He's able to create a symbol for the people of Gotham overnight, but one that brings out the worst in the citizens.

I haven't read any Dickens in a long, long time (A Christmas Carol aside, which I read about two years ago) and I don't think about the French Revolution a terribly large amount, but it may be time to return to A Tale of Two Cities - another story about two phases for a single city, that explores the madness of prison and injustice of both the elite at the reigns and the surging force of the crowd ruling with cruelty and farcical rules.

And, as A Tale of Two Cities concludes with one man dying so another can live, our Bruce Wayne "dies" so that the myth of Batman can live - only now, we can suppose, John Blake will be taking on the cape and cowl - Bruce Wayne having completed his mission and established the symbol that Gotham needed.

I can see how Dark Knight Rises might make anyone with an investment in a political system nervous.  Nolan is not kind about what sort of city Gotham has been as a city of corruption nor what sort of city Gotham became in the wake of the death of Harvey Dent.  And he's no more kind about the likelihood of an unorganized mob's penchant for self-governance.  If anything, as with the security vs. liberty questions of the prior film, the film argues for a push toward the center, and that's not something any pundit has a stake in, especially in an election year.

The theme of "rising" isn't just in the trailer.  The Batman rises from the ashes, rises to become a symbol for Gotham.  Bruce Wayne must rise not just above his fear, but above the persona of Batman he's built for himself to keep the world out.  He has to rise to embrace life as well as welcoming death.  Bane, we learn, never rose.  He let a child do it for him, and there's something there when it comes to their dual identities.  Gordon rises from his shame, Alfred rises from the prison he's built himself in worrying about but indulging Bruce.

There's plenty more to write about on this film, and my word is far from the last one could say on it.  But let's not let me bore you any further.

That said, I also don't believe this will be the last I'll write on the film, especially as we head toward next year's Man of Steel.  (I finally saw the trailer on the big screen, and it looked pretty good.  Loved the pop to sonic boom, complete with contrails and cone.)  It's far too early to speculate if Nolan's story remained intact under Snyder's direction, and what we may see the movie explore, if we're assuming the DC pantheon will continue to act as arbiters of narrative acrobatics.  But I'm not disappointed at this point.


Gerry said...

Great points. We see Bruce grow up over all three films. I really like that Nolan basically tells the first and the last Batman story in this trilogy. I sincerely hope Warner doesn't try a direct sequel of any kind.

Jake Shore said...
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Jake Shore said...

Finally saw the movie. I was very impressed. Better than I expected. I agree with your assessments, so I won't rehash any of that.

The only part I thought was maybe a little weak was Bruce Wayne's descent and resurrection - it seemed a little rushed and wrapped up a little too neatly, but I suppose there is only so much time in a two hour movie.

The other thing I didn't get was why Batman is able to defeat Bane on the second try when he was so over-matched on their first go around. What changed? Because he accepts his fear? I thought they they were going to go with the Dark Knight Returns route where the older Batman doesn't try to match his opponent physically, but fights smarter and dirtier.

My other pet peeve with DKR and the last film is how both the heroes and villains have these elaborate plans with layers upon layers that depend on so much going just right but always seem to come off without a hitch. It's entertaining to watch them unfold, but at some point you have to say "Come on!"

Jake Shore said...

I love the moral clarity of Nolan's trilogy. Evil exists and must be confronted. No irony or internal conflict. I find myself respecting and sympathizing with Nolan's Batman more than the character of the comic books or previous films.

Thematically, I disagree that the movie argues for a push to the middle. All three of Nolan's films acknowledge Gotham's corruption, but make the case that ordered liberty, even a compromised order is still vastly preferable to the kind of communist revolutionary vision of Bane. Nolan's Batman believes a compromised order can be worth defending. That's a traditionally (small c) conservative message.

Further, there appears to be no ambiguity from Nolan about fascistic (League of Shadows), then anarchist (Joker) and finally collectivist (Bane) ideologies of the trilogy's villains. I mean when you put the rhetoric of the Occupy movement in Bane's mouth, you can't blame people for drawing analogies.

J.S. said...

But wasn't the whole point that Bane didn't actually believe what he was saying and that he was just using a false ideology to mask a much more nihilistic plan? (he didn't really give the trigger to a citizen, and he said that his plan was just a design to seed false hope) To the extent that he spouted ideology of the 99%, he used it as a ruse to placate people while he went about much more evil things, I think.

The League said...
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The League said...

Yes. I'm not sure what the question is addressing specifically. Whether Bane believed it or not doesn't really change what falls out. We still get the Two Cities effect of the city trampled upon by the wealthy and privileged and then the city overrun by the formerly trod upon. That Bane manipulated the already frayed city so he could carry out the vision of The League of Shadows and fulfill the goals of the al Ghul family is an important plot point and ultimately tied back to the idea of providing symbols - but doesn't change the fact that he does, in fact lead a warped cultural revolution. Perhaps I should have reiterated my comment from the previous post regarding "be careful who you listen to, for their motives might not be your own".

Jake Shore said...

To build upon your point Ryan, Bane, regardless of what he believed, could only carry out his plans in a place where corruption and injustice (Dent act where people are held without due process) are rampant; where he could get people (the poor and disaffected) to rally to his cause. So Nolan, I think, is trying to say that a condition of corruption and injustice that only serves those at the top invites revolutionaries whose ideas take society to an even worse place. So maintaining justice protects against those negative/reactionary cultural forces. Gotham must be restored, else it could be burned down.

So I do agree with Ryan's sentiment that the movie doesn't pander to either end of the political spectrum, but I would say it does advocate what John Podhoretz of the Weekly Standard described as a quiet Toryism. And within the trilogy's conflict between order and chaos, Nolan comes down unambigiously on the side of order.