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The Dark Knight Rises

Director Chris Nolan has slowly drained all the fun out of Batman over the years.  He’s made some impressive films along the way, this one included.  They are well-written, well-acted, well-directed.  They have been terribly influential on what we expect from a superhero movie.  At least partly thanks to Nolan,  we now have a dark, brooding “Spider-man,” and, coming soon, a new version of Superman (produced by Nolan, directed by Zack Snyder) that looks, well, dark.  And brooding.

These are all decent movies, but  I can’t help but feel like they ought to be opening in December, alongside the Holocaust documentaries and indie dramas about drug abuse and divorce, instead of in the summer. Aren’t summer movies supposed to make you feel good?  Aren’t comic book movies supposed to be fun?  Aren’t superhero stories supposed to be a form of vicarious adventure, as you imagine what you would do with those amazing abilities?

Let me tell you this: no one would ever wish he was Nolan’s Batman.  Bruce Wayne might be the most miserable man on earth.   At the beginning of “Dark Knight Rises,”  we meet him in a sort of Howard Hughes seclusion, stumbling through an empty wing of Wayne Manor in a bathrobe and carrying a cane.  It’s been eight years since Batman was villified at the end of “The Dark Knight,” and Wayne hasn’t left the house in almost as long.  He may not have 8 inch fingernails or be peeing in a Mason Jar, but he’s not far from it. This is our hero, folks, though all he longs for is a quick death.  When a new threat arises in Gotham, the faithful butler Alfred is so afraid to let him don the dark cape and mask again that he pleads and pleads with him not to do so, and then quits.

So Wayne suits up as Batman, and gets his ass kicked, over and over again, by Bain, the least interesting or charismatic supervillain to grace the movie theaters in a long, long time.  He is big and strong and he wears a weird mask over his face, so that he is perpetually expressionless. He hardly talks, and when he does, it’s strictly to advance the plot.   Did I say he was big and strong?  Stronger than Batman.  He breaks Batman over his knee, and then confines him in the most depressing prison on Earth.

“The Dark Knight” was plenty dark and brooding, but it worked because of the manic energy Heath Ledger brought to the Joker, and because the Joker had an idea that was terrifying because it might be true: that if you apply to enough pressure to anyone, they’ll turn into a monster.  Not only is Bane not as interesting a character as the Joker, his idea sucks, too. Bane’s evil plan is to isolate Gotham from the outside world and trap its police force in the sewers.  Without the police and governmnent to keep everyone in line, the city descends into chaos and poverty.   Apparently, police and government are the guardians of all truth, beauty and civilization, and without them, even for a few days, us “normal” people all turn into bloodthirsty beasts with no sense of justice or balance.  I don’t believe this for a second; in fact, it’s pretty offensive.

Trying to lighten things up a bit is Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman. She’s a darn good cat burglar with deadly sharp high heels and an equally sharp tongue. She’s the Han Solo of the Batman world; in it for whatever she can get out of it, pledging that all this “save the city” stuff isn’t for her… until someone needs to swoop in and save the day.

Nolan has insisted that he has no political message to deliver with this film, and I believe him.  Nonetheless (and despite what Rush Limbaugh says,) “Rises” swings the series staggeringly to the right, imagining a nightmarish uprise by the “Occupy Wall Street” crowd.  “There’s a storm coming, Mr. Wayne,” Selina Kyle tells our hero.  “You and your friends better batten down the hatches, because when it hits, you’re all gonna wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us.”  But when the storym actually hits, she changes her tune.  Wandering through a looted residence full of broken glass and burned furniture, she bemoans, “This used to be somebody’s house.  Now it’s everybody’s.”  It’s a strang reversal from the themes of “The Dark Knight.”  This time around, there’s no boatful of prisoners refusing to blow up their neighbors.  Everybody is at everybody’s throat.  The Joker must be laughing his head off in his cell at Arkham.  At least he’s having fun.

Everything about this film is somber and joyless. The action scenes are intense, but not exciting – they feel doled out into the film like the fulfillment of a contract.  I won’t say they’re dull – Nolan is too good of a filmmaker to deliver anything so banal as a dull action scene – but they’re just not any fun.  They’re completely grim, serious affairs.  One wishes the Joker would show up somewhere, possibly in drag, and just tell everyone to lighten up a bit.

And just when it looks like Nolan is going to finally put Batman to rest, send him out with a blaze of glory and a city full of teary-eyed, thankful citizens, the movie backs away from any sort of real conclusion to the trilogy.  Doors are thrust open that, in my opinion, were better left closed.  In the end, it turns out that it’s quite possible that this isn’t the last Batman movie in the current series.  But I really hope it is.  Christopher Nolan’s a talented director, but I’d like to see him turn his talents elsewhere.  “Batman” needs a reboot.  How long do you think we’ll have to wait – maybe 5 years?

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  1. This Week On DVD: December 4th, 2012 | The Knife Fight linked to this post on December 5, 2012

    […] The Dark Knight Rises Just in time for Christmas shopping… the finale of the Batman trilogy was a big letdown in my opinion, but I know many (if not most) people didn’t agree with me. Read my full review here. […]

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