July 21st, 2012

Batman Displeased

The Dark Knight's Stock Market Portfolio

I hadn't really planned on seeing The Dark Knight Rises yesterday. But the more I thought about the Aurora shooting, the more I wanted to go I guess out of spite for what that asshole did. I guess it's not like this is really going to stop people going to movies, and I certainly don't think there's any credence to the inevitable dim-witted argument that the movies caused this guy to act the way he did. My impulse to go see the movie can probably best be indicated by Christopher Nolan's statement regarding the shooting; "The movie theatre is my home, and the idea that someone would violate that innocent and hopeful place in such an unbearably savage way is devastating to me." I wanted to go to the movie yesterday as a sort of small spiritual retaliation, I guess. Nordling at Ain't It Cool News expressed a similar sentiment.

I thought The Dark Knight Rises was a really good movie, better than a lot of people are saying it is. Neil Gaiman said he liked The Dark Knight better partly because it was harder for him to predict, and I've seen several reviews that say the twists in The Dark Knight Rises are easy to spot well ahead of time. Well, either it's because I'm unfamiliar with a lot of the comic material or I'm just not as good at predicting things, but everything pretty much caught me by surprise. I certainly didn't think one big reveal, as a reviewer at CHUD said, made it seem like Batman was bad at his job.

The Dark Knight is a better film in my opinion for Ledger's Joker. It's not so much that Rises does anything wrong, it's just that Ledger's Joker was just such a perfect storm of a great actor flexing his muscles in a way he never had and a director and screenwriter ready to tackle these issues of chaos, and the basic meaning of social order. Batman Begins and The Dark Knight Rises are more about conflicts between different kinds of social order. Devin Faraci at Bad Ass Digest, and a few other reviewers, claim the social and political messages of Rises are lazy and don't really come to fruition but I disagree. Bane's takeover of Gotham under the purported motivation to liberate the people sounded to me like a very clear reference to communist Russia. Gotham's poor going to live in Wayne Manor reminded me of the impoverished who claimed a right to reside in the protagonists' town house in Doctor Zhivago as fundamental.

Back in Octobor 2010, I wrote in my blog;

I've no particular feeling about the news that the Riddler definitely won't be in the movie--I am hoping Catwoman will, though I doubt she will be in the capacity I think she needs to be. The movie I envision, that I think thematically needs to follow The Dark Knight, would be something like The Lightening Up Knight. Really play the cat burglar aspect up, and make the movie feel a little bit like To Catch a Thief. But also, Catwoman, as both love interest and adversary, should be a teacher for Batman, should help him appreciate life's moral complexities. Almost taking the Joker's perspective, but slightly more constructively and benevolently towards Batman. If this is to be a trilogy, as Nolan has said, this being the final film, such a story would complete the Bruce Wayne character arc introduced in the first two films.

They certainly did play up the cat burglar aspect, relying on it as the only cat reference attached to the woman--Selina Kyle's never once called "Catwoman" in the movie. She's sort of a self serving Robin Hood in Rises, stealing from the rich and giving to herself, she reminds one of a particularly motivated and capable Occupy Wall Streeter. She does create something of a bridge between Bruce Wayne's hardline crime fighting and the greyer nature of reality, though sadly she's not so much a teacher as a sounding board for Wayne to show off he already knows this stuff. Anne Hathaway is so fucking hot, gods, I wish she was both in the movie more and had a greater impact on changing minds of characters in the movie. I watched Batman Returns a couple weeks ago, and though Hathaway is to me a lot better looking than Michelle Pfeiffer (Hathaway is just so luscious, Pfeiffer's a bit bony for me), Batman Returns is a far better showcase for Catwoman. When Kyle returns to her apartment, watching her as you try to figure out what getting shoved out a window twenty storeys up has done to her and seeing it's made her a badass, unlocking her internal demons, is so exciting and is easily the best part of that movie. None of Catwoman's business in Rises comes close. Still, I'd love a movie about just Hathaway's Catwoman.

A line Batman has to her about how he won't tolerate guns or killing if the two of them work together made me feel good. Hearing Batman say, "No guns," I was very glad that line was in the movie. The Joker was the best part of The Dark Knight, partly because I think modern culture doesn't quite understand the original appeal of superheroes. People are simultaneously too cynical to believe in heroes, and too innocent to think they could ever be in real danger from criminals and evil doers. The creation of Superman and Batman and characters like them comes from seeing horrible crimes like the one perpetrated in Aurora and wishing there was someone or something strong enough and powerful enough to prevent from happening what we fear cannot be prevented. A hero to drive away the things that make us feel helpless and horrified. It's because we're out of touch with this that Nolan made The Dark Knight Rises more about social models and economic systems.

In the end, Rises is an argument in favour the American way. We go back, more meaningfully this time, to Batman Begins' villains who seek to destroy Gotham because it has become a symbol of decadence. It's pointed out to Bruce Wayne that even he sees that American/Gotham culture has become obnoxious and gluttonous, reminiscent of how people now can kind of get, based on the thoughtless foreign policies and inequitable distribution of wealth, how terrorists can feel they way they do about the U.S. The Dark Knight Rises acknowledges the point like a good argumentative essay does in order to provide a legitimate counterargument. But it's a fantasy story, so the counterargument is more spiritual than literal, that the powerful people and the regular citizens are distinguished more by their compassion and sense of cooperation than by their greed and decadence. It's something one leaves the theatre rather wanting to believe in.