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Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Police State Rises. Oops, I Mean the Dark Knight Rises

I was a comic book aficionado before it was cool. Or "edgy" or "fly" or "pimp"or whatever it's called right now.  And the Batman was my favorite masked hero even before that 1988 Tim Burton movie rescued the Dark Knight's reputation from the awful legacy of the '60s TV show. Even before Frank Miller's "powerful reinterpretation" a few years before that.

I'm not a fair weather fan. And as a die-hard fan, I felt adequately qualified after seeing Batman Begins in the theater to proclaim it the best screen adaptation of Bob Kane's cowled vigilante.

The sequel, The Dark Knight, was a nice effort, but really two movies wadded together, trying to accomplish too much for one feature so many superhero sequels do.

I just returned from opening night of Dark Knight Rises.

It's a crowd pleaser, and I have no doubt it will do great box office. The special effects were spectacular, of course. It was nicely plotted, in that it plucked at the emotions in the logical places, gratifying the audience with Pavlovian aplomb.

The script is based on a run in the comics which had the Batman severely injured after a battle with Bane, and a substitute (Dick Grayson/Robin/Nightwing for a while, maybe, but I had pretty much stopped following comics by that point and don't remember) dons the cape and cowl to continue the crusade against crime.

The film opens with the Batman retired and Bruce Wayne still crippled, not from a fight with Bane, but from injuries sustained battling the Joker and Two-Face eight years ago.

Hmm. He spent seven years abroad before becoming Batman. That would put him at about 27+ at the beginning of his career. Add however long he protected Gotham before retiring, then another eight years and he's over 35--pretty long-in-the-tooth for somebody who has to engage in unarmed combat with swarms of bad guys, and perform death-defying stunts on a regular basis. And if I heard Bruce's doctor right, he has no cartledge left in his knees or elbows. (I lost a little bit of cartledge in one knee and have not been up to half of the physical activities I used to engage in before that.)

When Bane comes to town, Bruce decides to come out of retirement. He straps on a knee brace, sets his cane aside and is right back in the saddle. No explanation is made of how the knee brace fits under his costume unnoticeably, or how it helps his other knee, or either elbow. Do we really need one? I guess not. So the Batman is back in action, with a new toy (a VTOL aircraft), and we are ready for him to kick some super-cundingy.

Jim Gordon, though already Gotham's police commissioner, still resembles the Year One Lieutenant Gordon--packing heat, personally leading SWAT teams and riot squads in heroic cop combat, and performing death-defying stunts of his own while disarming bombs and such. Okay... Maybe police commissioners do that in real places like Sierra Leone, El Salvador or Mongolia.

Another cop character is introduced (Officer Blake), who I kept expecting to put on the bat-armor himself...but didn't.  Yet by the end of the film it is implied that he will be putting on a costume of some sort.

As with all cinematic Batman sequels, the creative think-tank, or production committee, obviously dictated that one villain (Bane) would not be enough for this film, and so we have R'as Al Ghul's daughter Talia show up, as well as Catwoman fulfilling the obligatory amazon superninja role, in a predictable "bad girl with a heart of gold" incarnation. (But at least she started out as a cat burglar, and I'll take whatever faithfulness to the comic canon I can get.)

That same, creative think-tank, I mean... had a "raising the stakes" orgy during preproduction. Bane (who it turns out is also connected to the League of Shadows from Batman Begins) isn't content to just destroy Gotham as Al Ghul tried to do. Nope--he's gonna nuke it off the map. But not before utterly destroying Bruce Wayne financially--by movie's end Bruce will have lost Wayne Enterprises, his own fortune, Alfred...temporarily, and Wayne Manor (which includes the Batcave and all its goodies). Oh, and his secret identity. Again.

I don't completely understand this, but every film maker tasked with bringing a superhero to the screen is obsessed with exposing the identities of the masked heroes they depict. It's like a fetish or something. Not only does Bane, Catwoman, Talia Al Ghul, Commissioner Gordon and the aforementioned cop (Blake) join the ranks of those who know the Batman's "secret" identity, but the Wayne Foundation's secret research and development complex (the Bat-arsenal) is exposed for all of Gotham to see. In fact, Bane's mercenaries use (and destroy, of course) the spare Batmobiles stored there.

In his first tussle with Bane, Batman conveniently forgets how to fight. He telegraphs every punch, and can't get out of the way of equally telegraphed blows from his Sean Connery-sounding assailant. His spine is dislocated (if not broken) by the end of the struggle, to the point that vertebrae are protruding from his skin. But after some prison chiropractic techniques, a few push-ups, pull-ups and situps later he is in peak condition (at 35+ with no knee or elbow cartledge, scarring of the liver and accumulative brain concussions) to go kick Bane's mercenary butt this time. Because, you know, he's heard some motivational dialog, and he's learned how to manipulate fear and hope, and all that will give him the edge he needs. Oh yeah, maybe he'll cut back on the Western Union roundhouse punches, too.

The ending borrows from Miller's Dark Knight Returns in a couple ways...also Superman Returns and First Avenger in the hero-as-savior aspect. The writer(s?) and director go from rebooting the Batman canon to obliterating it with gleeful abandon. By the film's conclusion there is no possible way for the Batman to continue his war on crime in Gotham City according to the Bat-mythos we are familiar with. At least until the next reboot.

What annoys me most about the latest Bat-flick is what's going on under the surface. There is a message hammered into the audience, both visually and thematically, which goes beyond the law-and-order platitudes of most cop flicks.

Bane is a well-armed, shrewd, manipulative agitator who incites anarchy by taking the city captive while encouraging the populace to liberate themselves. Anarchy ensues, and Bane gives people guns! (Cringe, hiss!) Just in case you don't find armed citizens scary enough, he also breaks open a penitentiary (or was it Arkham Asylum?) and arms dangerous, hardened criminals, too.

Visually, director Nolan was careful to show that the heroic, altruistic Gotham Police were outgunned by the rabid mob. But this mattered little, as only a few shots were fired before the courageous guardians of order clashed with the freedom-crazed agents of chaos. Then the weapons disappeared and a hand-to-hand rumble ensued. Sure. I'd use fists instead of firearms when involved in a street war with thousands of combatants. Wouldn't you?

Bane, for all his revolutionary rhetoric, cares nothing for the army of gun-toting rebels he has mobilized, fully intending to destroy them along with the world order he so despises.

Irony abounds, here.

First you have a story lionizing an anonymous vigilante while simultaneously implanting establishment attitudes about "legitimate" authority (and its monopoly on coercive force). This is nothing new in Batman stories, but it's worth pointing out.

Then there's the sympathy for the "Occupy" movement woven into the plot, while qualifying it by showing the benevolent nature of super-billionaires like Wayne who are selflessly helping the proletariat, even though they suffer the scorn of classist critics like Selena Kyle/Catwoman. Kind of like how Michael Moore supports the Occupy movement and demonizes capitalism while getting fatter off the capitalist system. Or how George Soros, the international bankers and other super-billionaire insiders clandestinely support the leftist movements out to destroy the system they took advantage of to reach their lofty positions.

As mentioned, Bane is effective at stirring up revolutionary fervor among the weak-minded gun-toting masses, but he himself doesn't give a flying rat carcass about them or the cause he has seduced them with. He just wants to see the world (Gotham) burn. This betrays the Hollywood/media assumption that popular grass roots movements opposed to our national tailspin into socialist police statehood, at their core, are simply collections of brainless rednecks being manipulated by mercenary svengalis (Palin, Limbaugh and Beck, for instance, as the left-wing mind imagines it) whose only real motivation is personal gain. A compounded irony is their failure to recognize actual individuals who fit that svengali role, like Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and Michael Moore. (They would be out of jobs if race hatred or the machinations of Wall Street bankers ever came to an end.)

Bane and others pontificate on fear, and the importance of training yourself what to be scared of. Meanwhile the film makers are trying to train the audience what to be scared of: liberty (= anarchy); rule of the people, by the people and for the people (= mob rule and abolishment of due process); and a citizenry bearing arms (= uncontrolled violence on an epic scale).

Batman's "no guns" rule is overtly invoked, though Catwoman saves his life by using one such dreaded weapon. Officer Blake is horrified, at one point, that shooting two bad guys attacking him resulted in fatalities, and tosses his pistol away in remorse. Even so, he uses firearms later to save himself and others.

But the biggest irony is the propaganda victory of the shooting in Colorado. During a screening of this pro-police-state film, some whack-job with a protective mask, tear gas, and, of course, a firearm, murdered enough people to demonstrate just how dangerous it is when the state doesn't have a monopoly on coercive force. And what atrocities occur when people cling to liberty instead of sacrificing it for security and the greater good. The threat of chaos if law and order isn't enforced with an iron fist.

It is highly doubtful this crisis will be allowed to go to waste.

I would not be surprised if new "gun control" legislation, complete with provisions outlawing gas masks, was drafted before the smoke even cleared out of that Colorado theater. And more will be discovered about the shooter in days to come, too. Did he ever attend a Tea Party event? See, I told you those creeps were dangerous--better crack down on them. Did he ever voice criticism of Obama? See, I told you only racists and whack-jobs held those kind of opinions. Better outlaw "hate speech," too. Oh, wait...we're already working on that, aren't we?

(This just in: The murdering whack-job in question has been identified as James E. Holmes, someone involved in the Occupy movement, not the Tea Party as the Obama Administration and network news will want you to believe. Holy irony, Batman! If the press suddenly shuts up about his political affiliations, you'll know this is true.)

It's unrealistic to expect any film maker allowed to work in Hollywood to keep their left-wing globalist worldview from coloring their work. So, up to a point, I take it in stride and try to enjoy movies anyway. I didn't allow myself to consider the political untertones in the two Batman movies before this. I wanted to like this one. The Batman is a fantastic character and deserves fantastic adventures, whether on the big screen or the comic page. This story is fantastic when it comes to stunts, explosions, imagery and "what's at stake" plot-wise. It is not so fantastic in other ways; and offensive to me in a political context.

Batman Begins is still the best Bat-flick yet, in my opinion.


  1. You honestly aren’t going to get any better than this when it comes to pure, summer entertainment, nor with superhero flicks. That is, until the new Superman flick graces the screen. However, this is Batman’s time to shine and he does it perfectly, especially for his last time with Nolan and Bale involved. Good review Hank.

  2. Thanks, Dan. I hope you're right about Superman. I will probably try to see it while it's still in the theater. My favorite part of the last one was the crashing jetliner scene. The rest of it seemed like another raising-the-stakes orgy. But the tie-ins to the old Christopher Reeve/Marlon Brando flicks were nicely done.


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