Held hostage by fear, and a villain’s feverish desire to outshine its Hollywood cast, this year’s Dark Knight may be finding it difficult to rise as high as his predecessors.
Blame his corrupted perspective; but not his alone, for if cinema reflects society, then we’re all equally culpable, even if, like Gothamites, we resist that responsibility.
The stage was set less than two weeks ago, Friday, July 20. Writer/director Christopher Nolan, cast, crew and fans of his Dark Knight franchise expected a typical blockbuster opening night for the final installment: The Dark Knight Rises. Unfortunately, what they did not expect also manifested: proof of a society with neither adequate safeguards against gun crime nor supports for mental illness (since for a gunman to open fire in a packed theatre must be madness — madness which no swooping Batman outfitted with high-tech tools prevented).
Fortunately the other heros among us fill in when Batman’s not around. You might look down on them as ordinary, but they are capable of extraordinary feats, evinced as they rose to assist endangered friends and strangers in the witching hour when terror and bullets ripped through a theatre, and a community.
Ironically such circumstances feed our need for heros, not to mention the Batman franchise’s longevity. After all, without imminent danger, would Batman be just another suit in the closet? What would he do — this crime and gun-hating, warrior saviour? Who would benefit from his hi-tech toys, his fortune, and his commitment to his fellow man?
We go to the movies to view super-sized heros, to make them extraordinary and capable of righting wrongs we feel powerless to affect. Consequently we embrace the idea of Batman, aka Bruce Wayne, who overcomes the early loss of his parents due to crime and vows (filled with the faith that money should do good, and a desire to return kindnesses shown him) to save his fellow citizens similarly unjustifiable pain by making Gotham City crime-free.
But, Wayne, neither as the average man nor the superhero can prevent ill. Sympathetically, we wish reality were otherwise. We understand his misshapen world, so like ours; feel connected to his life story; and welcome the spirit’s triumph over injury, knowing how vital such triumph is to a well-lived life.
We’ve known tragedy before, yet we hope to rise, and watch others do the same. Recall that 2008’s The Dark Knight was tragedy-laced, and though we’re told it created a safer Gotham City, it made deeply melancholy its former hero. We know how hard he tried to uphold his principles, and how his perceived failures tainted his perspective and Gotham’s; so finding him glum four years later, we’re compelled to reach out, to uplift him.
I even prepared advice for the fallen hero, believing even hero’s need advice, or else Wayne wouldn’t have Alfred (Michael Caine) and Lucius (Morgan Freeman). It’s simple: I’d recommend, Farther Along (Country version), written by Rev. W.A. Fletcher, born of his own brooding over apparent injustices he could not comprehend. In the future — read: heaven — he concludes, it will all become clear.
But, as Wayne learns, sometimes unfavourable facts surface and clarify matters if aided by time.
The villain Bane (Tom Hardy) furnishes the training our deflated Dark Knight needs. Physically and mentally capable of destroying the unpracticed superhero, we fear Bane can and will overwhelm a man’s spirit.
What Bane brings to the surface is similar in content to what the Joker did in 2008’s installment, but in 2012 the topics of trust, power, freedom and responsibility are overt, maybe because society having continuously endured the fallout from unscrupulous financial practices in the banking arena, among others, can relate and, moreover, must ruminate on these deeper issues.
The film seems to warn against anarchic response though Nolan publicly denies that. The plot raises the question: what might the objectionable status quo be replaced with when everyone has their own agenda and few are trustworthy? Might not the most dedicated, beautiful and mild-mannered environmentalist be secretly planning to blow the world to bits?
Then, to balance such dark questions, we’re offered fetching females who merely illuminate the weaker points of the script, primarily via contrived romantic scenes. Convincing chemistry doesn’t seem to have time or opportunity to build between the male and female characters who’re supposed to share it, although that may be a byproduct of Wayne’s emotional state; but it felt awkward, so awkward that at one point the young fellow sitting beside me sarcastically yelled out: “that’s not weird or nothing.”
By design, we were supposed to feel touched by those romantic scenes, like it was a natural culmination of events; but it felt hallow or formulaic.
In terms of romance then, what worked coherently in the previous iteration, didn’t here, but that wasn’t a deal-breaker. There were moments of strong dialogue, plus inter-character and internal tension propelling the film.
One thing nags me still, however:- If a nuclear bomb threatens a city, should Batman just save one city, or must he think about its neighbours? And could Batman be cool with killing off a food supply, or is that fodder for, ahem, Batman — Toxic Nation?
Yes, Nolan said it would be his last Dark Knight film, but that doesn’t really mean there won’t be others, does it? Lucrative enterprises are born and reborn incessantly, as if they too have a Lazarus Pit. In fact, while Rises tries to tie up its loose ends, it sprinkles enough hope on screen to engender later versions. Think about it.