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.

Aurora, Colorado: shooting during Dark Knight Rises

As of this writing, the top two hashtags trending on Twitter are #aurora and #theatershooting.  The next trending phrase is "James Holmes," the name of the suspect whom the police have in custody. The broad details of the case are: there was a shooting in one of the theaters airing a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises.  The shooter came in through the emergency exit, and threw in a canister of what is believed to have been tear gas before opening fire.  He was wearing a bullet proof vest and a gas mask.  Police are searching James Holmes's apartment, because he claimed to have explosives.

Because I don't know what's going on in Colorado right now, I don't know how certain they are that James Holmes is the right guy -- so I want to stress that the police are holding him as a suspect, he hasn't been convicted of anything.

12-14 people are dead. 38-50 have been injured.

Here are my sources, for further information.

New York Times -- 12 Killed in Shooting at Colorado Theater

9news -- Suspect in custody, 12 dead in Aurora movie theater shooting, suspect named James Holmes

The new Batman movie is not an attack on Romney

(via Phil DeFrano) Rush Limbaugh has accused the creators of the new Batman movie of naming the main villain after Bain Capital, the firm that Mitt Romney ambiguously worked for around the time of his being governor of Massachusetts.  By his timeline, the secret-member-of-the-liberal-conspiracy director Christopher Nolan knew about the results of the Republican primary which ended on July 14, 2012, before he started production on the film fourteen months earlier, in May 2011.  He also knew that the major talking point around Romney criticism at the time of the film's release would be his fuzzy relationship with Bain Capital.

Let's assume he didn't know anything prior to that point -- that Chris Nolan can only see 14 months into the future.

He then decided either (a.) to radically re-write and re-cast the central villain of the new movie, so that he can use the member of the Batman rogues' gallery with the most politically resonant name, or (b.) to change the already chosen villain's name back to Bane, but not all the way to Bain, because he'd changed it at some point prior to that, or else this wouldn't be a conspiracy.

He decided not to change the basic nature of the villain, keeping with the obvious Occupy Wall Street overtones in the trailers, which are confirmed by the character's creator, probably just to keep it subtle.  Of course, that clever man Rush Limbaugh saw through the scheme.

In his coverage of Limbaugh's rant, Phil DeFranco points out that people listen to Rush Limbaugh, and after the show, they feel like they've been informed.  I'm not saying that you can't get news from a conservative commentator.  But this kind of trash is just insane, and Rush Limbaugh isn't some fringe element, he's a household name.

The Dark Knight Rises may well have political under- or overtones.  I hope it does, and I'm looking forward to writing about it.  If it does, they'll probably lean conservative -- the Batman mythos, as much as I love it, is intrinsically paternalistic and authoritarian.  I probably won't be seeing it until next Tuesday, and I'll cover it then.

But this simple word-association style commentary is the kind of thing that chokes our national dialogue.