Sunday, December 9, 2012

Movie Review - Dark Knight Rises

[Spoiler alert. I won't spoil Dark Knight Returns, exactly, but I'm assuming you've seen the two movies before this one. Because if you're a nerd, you should have seen that one by now.]

If I had never seen The Avengers, Dark Knight Rises might have been the best superhero movie I ever saw. But I did. So it's not. And actually, The Dark Knight was also pretty damned good. But still not as good as Avengers. I have to stop before I start handing out abritrary numerical scores.

The Dark Knight Rises does a splendid job of spinning the final chapter of Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy franchise. Unlike the previous batch of Batman movies, that started out with style and ended with cheesy camp, the Nolan trilogy has a definite start and a definite end. It's a tightly controlled tale that still takes nearly nine hours to tell, which makes for three very long movies.

And they're not as fun as they seem like they should be. Nolan's Batman is very much the brooding semi-psychotic obsessive that we got when Frank Miller gave him a grim-faced makeover, and that kind of character makes for serious movies, even when they are about people who wear Halloween costumes to work. But then, these are not supposed to be 'fun' movies. They're dark and serious and moving and powerful.

I could go into all the stuff about how the acting is great and the casting is great and the effects are great and the action is great, but if you've seen the other two, you already know that. And if you haven't seen the other two, you need to watch those first. So either way, I'm not going to talk about all that.

Instead I will discuss the theme of Dark Knight Rises, because there's a lot more happening than what's on the surface. Nolan obviously has some pretty interesting opinions about terrorism, the United States, and the human condition. He opens with a Bruce Wayne who has to walk with a cane and never leaves the house - years of fighting crime have ruined his body to the point that many of his joints have no cartilage left at all, and his scar tissue has scar tissue. It takes some clever inventions to make him able to walk at all, much less jump off buildings and kick people in the face.

So now I get both political and high-brow, so bear with me a minute. Let's say that Bruce Wayne is the United States. Let's say that when he is the hero, when his strength and ability to whoop the crap out of bad guys lets him save babies, he stands tall. He's psychologically whole.

But then enter the end of Dark Knight, where Batman allows himself to be labeled the villain to save the image of Harvey Dent as a hero. The city responds by outright hating Batman. They enact the Dent Act, which allows them to clean up the streets by denying due process to criminals involved in organized crime. Batman has to hang up his cowl, because he's no longer the hero. Now he's public enemy number one. And Bruce Wayne can't dig that.

To extend the parallel to the United States, compare what has happened since 2001. We are fine with embracing the Patriot Act, which allows law enforcement to decide who is bad and keep them locked up without a trial, which allows Uncle Sam to listen to our phone calls and track our Internet searches and even see what books we check out from the library. We are fine with it, because it keeps us safe. But it can't keep us happy, because while we know we're making the nation a safer place, we also know, deep down, that surrendering those freedoms is against everything that made America the greatest nation on Earth... once upon a time. But that's cool - it's called the Patriot Act. How bad can it be? You don't want to go against the Patriot Act, do you? Aren't you a patriot?

I'm definitely out on a limb here, and I accept that. I may have seen stuff in this movie that normal people missed because it wasn't there. But I don't think so, because the theme continues. In previous Batman adventures, the bad guys are bank robbers or extortionists or murderers, but Bane is none of those. Bane is a terrorist, plain and simple, with the single intent of destroying what he sees as corrupt. Even Joker had other motivations, including a psychotic desire to see the world burn, but Bane is not crazy. He hates Gotham and wants it to end. But he's not crazy. He's determined. He's a new kind of villain - the kind who bombs skyscrapers with suicide jetliners.

There's a lot more in the story. There's the rise of a heroic nation as opposed to the dispirited, unguided desire to ask for change and walk away when it doesn't happen. Nolan shows us how embracing a lie for political ends corrupts not just those in charge, but everyone affected, from the powerful to the disenfranchised. We see that you don't have to be a fighter to be heroic. The subtle but damning messages delivered by The Dark Knight Rises start with the title and end with the credits, and discussing every aspect that holds a double meaning would take a lot longer than you want to sit here reading this. Besides, by now, your 15-minute break is almost over and your boss is going to start wondering why you're not working.

The Dark Knight Rises is a magnificent movie. It's not as fun as Avengers, but it's not supposed to be. It's the crowning piece in Nolan's trilogy, the final page in his powerful three-part message. Sure, it's dark. Hell, it's in the name. But it's dark for a reason, because Christopher Nolan has a rather dark view of the United States, and while he also shows us hope for a better future, he doesn't seem particularly optimistic that we can get there without a serious, dramatic change in the way we think and live.

For that matter, neither do I.


Darrel Raines said...

Wow! Hit the nail on the head my friend.

MIK said...

Of your new, not-so-much boardgame reviewing direction I gotta say this is your best post to date.

Unknown said...

Best movie ever..Batman's every series was one of the best movies

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Matt Drake said...

Martin, two things.

One, no, it is not the best movie ever. It's not even the best superhero movie. I mean, that was my opening paragraph. You didn't even have to read the whole review for that.

Second, I usually delete spam. It pisses me off when people use my comments section to promote their own crappy websites. But in this case, your spam link leads to... this page. I am leaving the spam so people can see that you are a moron. You're welcome.