Musings on the Dark Knight Rises

Last night, Jenna and I went to a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises. I wish the movie was making news this morning for other reasons than the horrific shooting that happened in Colorado at another midnight premiere. With that said, I wanted to offer some thoughts on the film. If you haven’t seen it yet and don’t want the plot to be ruined, then read this blog post after you see it.

First, I’ll admit that Batman was never my favorite comic book hero. I always was and still am an X-men guy, both the comics and movies. That said, I have loved the way that director Christopher Nolan has treated Batman in his three movies. He brought a grittiness to the character that represents some of the best Batman arcs in the comics. I also love some of the ways in which Nolan addresses social and political issues in the films. You can consider the last movie, The Dark Knight, one of the best takes in cinema on the post-9/11 world. I say that because you can draw some resemblance to the videos the Joker makes of the victims he kidnaps to the videos Bin Laden has made over the year. But more importantly, the film addresses the issues of enhanced interrogation, spying, torture, and ethics.  Batman has a major computer system that spies on millions of citizens in Gotham, using cell phones. His technology guru, Lucious Fox, played by Morgan Freeman, opposes the technology and calls it unethical, but ultimately uses it, just once, before destroying it after locating the Joker. Prior to that, there is the issue of how Batman deals with the Joker as a terrorist once he has him alone in a cell. He punches him and bangs his head off the table. There is much in that film that alludes to the Patriot Act, torture, and the way we deal with terrorists post-9/11.

This brings me to the latest and final installment in Nolan’s take on the Batman saga, The Dark Knight Rises. Going into the film, I had high expectations. The trailers only made me more excited. Yet, in the back of my mind, I knew it probably wouldn’t top The Dark Knight, let alone Heath Ledger’s performance as the maiin foe of the caped crusader.

After walking out of the theater around 3 a.m. and thinking about the movie before bed and the morning after, I felt a little let down. The third Batman movie feels like a huge action flick and little more at times. There are explosions galore, especially near conclusion when the Gotham police department and Bane’s revolutionaries face off. There are car chases, motorcycle chases, and multiple fisticuffs. At times, it felt like too much. I also took issue with the plot. Nolan tried to squeeze way too many classic Batman story arcs and too many characters into one three-hour film. I didn’t find the main villain, Bane, nearly as menacing as the Joker. In fact, I found him difficult to understand throughout most of the film, due to his mask and the effects placed on his voice, which I know, is part of Bane’s character. I’m uncertain why he does what he does , why he wants to destroy Batman and Gotham. The speeches he gives are often muddled and vague. He speaks of wanting to liberate Gotham and turn it over to the people, but why exactly, and why does he then want to blow it up with an atom bomb? The Joker’s intentions were clear. He reveled in upsetting the system,  causing chaos, and destroying any sense of structure, order, and safety.

I found some of the main themes of the film as hazy as Bane’s speeches.  I guess a viewer can draw distinctions between today’s economic/class issues and The Dark Knight Rises. Bane’s people overtake and imprison the superrich, including Bruce Wayne and his plutocrat friends; however, we never actually see the wealthy doing anything destructive to the poor at any point in the film. Still, Catwoman hisses to Bruce Wayne early on that he and his friends have taken too much for too long, leaving too little for everyone else.

Another issue I had is the way the lower and middle-classes are depicted.  Early in the film they are shown as janitors, construction workers, and shoe shiners, and they join Bane’s army.  Even though these people may be desperate and may be working for very little money, would they really follow a psychopath who’s new in town? I was also annoyed that the only ones who can save the city are Batman and his friends that are superheroes and plutocrats. The only semi-average/normal guy who helps out is a beat cop played by Joseph Gordoon Levitt. But even he becomes something more. Here is a major spoiler- he turns into Robin. By the time the credits rolled, I felt as though Nolan was saying that the only ones who have the power to save America from itself, from the great class divide and economic turmoil, are the plutocrats, the upper 1 percent, people like Bruce Wayne who have billions to invest in noble causes.

The movie does have a lot of positives. It is stunning visually, especially some of the arial shots of the city, and kudos to Nolan for shooting all of the movie on film, not using CGI. Some of the acting is just as strong. Anne Hathaway does a wonderful job as Catwoman. She is badass and sexy. Joseph Gordan Levitt is solid as cop/detective Blake. Christian Bale is good in his final performance as the caped crusader. Tom Hardy is a good actor, but Bane just isn’t as menacing or twisted as Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker.  Like a lot of other trilogies, Batman’s weakest link is its third part.  I got the sense that Nolan wanted to be done with the Gotham saga and he didn’t quite pour everything he had into the last movie. I’m sure that Heath Ledger’s death made filming the last movie that much more difficult, but we can all be thankful that we have his haunting performance  as the Joker preserved on film.

If you’ve seen the movie, I’m curious to hear what you thought of it.

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