Wednesday, August 1, 2012
Chief among its failings, Rises botches the character of Bruce Wayne/Batman. I know this is supposed to be Nolan's take on Batman so some leeway ought to be given for interpretation but under Nolan's guidance, Batman has become not so much a tireless crusader for justice but more of a self-pitying schlub who thinks nothing of sulking alone in his home for almost a decade. Yes, it's true that Bruce has given up on being Batman before in the comics - and in the world of animation - but it's always been due to either advancing age or some quickly resolved crisis of conscience concerning whether the Batman does more harm than good. Here, it's a lame combo of still being morose over the death of Rachel (!) as well as serving as the city's scapegoat for the death of Harvey Dent.
That last thing, by the way, is really asinine. Supposedly, after Dent's death, a piece of legislation known as The Dent Act was passed, making it possible for organized crime to be more easily prosecuted and before long, organized crime has been run out of Gotham entirely. But...isn't organized crime accustomed to working around the law? Isn't that part of the whole "crime" thing? And the plausibility of the Dent Act aside, even without organized crime, there'd still be plenty of old-fashioned disorganized crime to keep Batman busy. Just the idea of common criminals roaming the streets without fearing The Batman ought to be enough motivation for Bruce to keep donning the cowl at night, rather than spending the better part of a decade shuffling around Wayne Manor.
Not only do Nolan and co. have Bruce give up on crimefighting but they also have him all but abandon his own company and let all the potential good that could come from its charitable work fritter away (even the old, long retired Bruce Waynes of Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns and the animated series Batman Beyond were never shown as descending into cluelessness - the character was still portrayed as being sharp as a tack). If there's any way to make Batman look bad, Rises finds it. On top of retreating from both crime fighting and from managing Wayne Enterprises, Rises shows Bruce as being all but incompetent once he does get back in the game. Batman is supposed to be not just someone who has molded themselves into peak physical shape but is also one of the world's greatest detectives and, above all, a master strategist. In contrast to that, Rises gives us a Batman who is outplayed at every turn, taken by surprise over and over. Where Batman is supposed to be someone supremely on top of things, Nolan portrays him as always being a step behind.
Then there's also the confused politics of the film to contend with. Is this a film about the haves and the have-nots, a indictment of the 1%, or is it a kneejerk slamming of the Occupy movement? If anything, it seems like the latter as once Bane puts his plot in motion to isolate Gotham, the lower classes are portrayed as grasping greedy animals, swarming on the homes of the rich as the wealthy cower in fright. It's a grotesque cariacture of the OWS movement that Fox News itself would be proud of - the jealous poor getting revenge on all the people who have worked hard for their fortunes. This lines up with Nolan's curiously contemptuous view of Gothamites as sheep, easily led by a lie (Dent's legacy), and makes Rises seem like a simple-minded conservative jab at valid real world complaints about social and economic inequity.
Bane, certainly, doesn't represent any true political viewpoint. As much as, if not even more than, The Joker, he simply wants to watch the world burn. He's just lighting a much longer wick towards that end. His speeches about being for the oppressed are nothing but lip service meant to hide his true intentions and nowhere in Rises do we see any evidence of the people taking Gotham back. If anything, what we see is the police force reasserting themselves while "the people" do essentially nothing.
On a technical level, The Dark Knight Rises certainly looks just fine. But the storyline and the characterization of Batman (a big deal in a Batman film - in fact, a deal-breaker in my book) can't be defended. This is one of those movies that annoyed me on such a fundamental level that I could go through a whole laundry list of individual moments that had me rolling my eyes but that would just be piling on. Going forward, I'll just have to pretend that the series ended with The Dark Knight.
Finally, there's the matter of how guns are handled in this film. It wouldn't be fair to chastise the film for how it reflects against tragic real world events but it is fair to note that it goes against Batman's staunch anti-gun stance. Yes, Batman himself is still anti-gun and instructs Catwoman at one point - "No guns. No killing", to which Catwoman replies "Where's the fun in that?" but what really left a sour taste in my mouth is how at a crucial climatic moment, the use of a gun (a huge gun, of course) is allowed to end a battle, capped by a flip, "cool" comment to Batman to the effect of "That thing you have against guns? I don't have that." It's a moment that glibly undermines Batman's antipathy towards guns and his historic insistence on always finding a another, better way to deal with his foes. For any long-time Bat fan, it's a moment that will stick out as being wrong.
There's plenty of that kind of thing to go around in Rises, unfortunately. Having followed the character for many years through comics, TV, animation and film, I'm all for different interpretations of Batman but if you're going to just gut the core of the character, what's the point? The line "I Believe In Harvey Dent" echoed through the last two films in Nolan's trilogy but I just hope that whoever takes on the responsibility of rebooting this franchise down the line will be able to say "I Believe in Batman" and say it with real conviction.