The Dark Knight Rises: Initial Thoughts

Okay, so I caved.  I couldn't wait until Tuesday, so I re-arranged my Friday to make room for a matinee showing.  Short version of the review: it's amazing, a brilliant end to an excellent trilogy.  Nolan took the best of the superhero genre, and made it into a set of films that are better than any other superhero films yet produced.[1. I haven't seen the new Spiderman yet.  Just saying.] Everything that follows is going to contain spoilers, below the fold.

I want to talk about the movie in a few different contexts, and I think it's best if I break them up into separate categories.

The political implications

Yes, I am one of those people who think that Nolan's Batman movies can be read as allegory for our times.  Certainly not only as allegory, but I do think the perspective is valid.  Nolan at least used the political and cultural fears of our time to drive the characterization of his villains.

Broadly speaking, the center of Nolan's Batman narrative is: everyone agrees that the world is awful.  Gotham is a scar for the human race. It's a wretched hive of scum and villainy.  People who live there are not very nice.

The good guys are the guys who believe there's a glimmer of hope among the horror.  They believe that the system works, in theory, and good people can pull it together for the good of humankind.

The bad guys aren't the corrupt, the mobsters and criminals, though.  The bad guys are the people who think things have gone so far bad that everything should be scrapped -- that civilization needs to be wiped clean, and if there's anyone left at all, those people will have the chance -- only a chance -- to build a world that's better.

But everyone's lost faith in the system.  The Dark Knight Rises makes that clear when Gordon takes a stand for lying to the people in order to get farther along, about how the rules can become shackles.  But those transgressions are all made in the hopes of restoring the functionality of the system.

The bad guys of the new film -- Bane and Catwoman -- represent two different levels of desire for collapse.  Catwoman has a fine-tuned sense of injustice, but all she wants is redistribution of wealth, and leniency for the survival-crimes of the poor, rather than our present state -- special increased consequences for them.

Bane, on the other hand, has completely abandoned belief in the existing system.  He wants to tear it down to its very core, a complete wiping clean.

Bane's prison is a vivid metaphor for this kind of belief -- Gotham is the prison, and the glimmer of hope just serves to make it more miserable.  No one has ever gotten out.

Except one child, born in the pit, born of extraordinary parents but orphaned by violence.

That escape, that struggle, represents hope.  Gotham's orphan who crawled out of the pit is an avatar for faith in humanity's decency.

Nolan and the Batman mythos

My favorite Batman book is Neil Gaiman's "Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?"  -- in it, Neil postulates how the Batman story ends.  If you haven't read it, this section contains spoilers.

The ending Neil imagines is Batman's funeral, and all his friends and villains show up.  Each one tells a different story.  The story of how they were responsible for Batman's death.  In it, the story of Batman is portrayed as dark, warm, campy, psychologically weird, every way Batman's story has been told.

Batman never dies old.  He never retires, never fights cancer or drifts off in his sleep.  Batman only ever dies because if you're Batman, eventually, one night, something goes wrong.  And in "Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader," every time, Batman is reborn.  Because the reward for having been Batman is, you get to keep being Batman.  And every time, you get those few years of happiness, growing up with your parents.

That's why I couldn't stop myself crying when Nolan's Batman manually flew a nuclear reactor off the coast to save Gotham from its explosion.

But Nolan didn't end up going that way with it. After a heart-wrenching montage of Bruce Wayne's affairs being wrapped up, inconsistencies start popping up.  And at the end, we see Alfred, looking across the restaurant in a cafe in France, seeing Bruce Wayne. Happy.  No longer haunted.

And he ended up with Catwoman.

The answers Nolan gave at the end of his movies are all the right ones.  They're also answers that he could only give because he refused to leave his series open to continuation.  He told the Batman story he wanted to tell -- a route I hope other Superhero franchises follow, letting the brilliant artists in their fields have their own crack at the whole thing, separate from the great intertwining canon.

A note on the Colorado shootings

I don't know what to say about this, but I feel compelled to.  The story of Nolan's Batman trilogy is a story of faith in humanity rewarded. That faith requires not that everyone be good, but that the good outweigh the bad, and that we let the bad plant the seeds for good.

My deepest sympathies are with the victims and their families, by which I mean everyone in the theater.  I hope that we as a country and as a fan community are able to pull together and honor the memory of those who died, and the humanity of those who still suffer, as best we can.

I trust that humankind is better than the man with the guns last night.  I hope that's what shines through.