Monday, July 23, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

I made a post a while back about my concerns over the movie, The Dark Knight Rises. I just got back from watching the film, so here's my take on it. So, here's the warning: Spoilers ahead. I will discuss most of the major plot points and twists, so if you have not seen it yet, do not read this post beyond the break.

I will say I liked it. I was okay with the movie; it set wrong with me, though, and below the break, I'll elaborate on why. However, I do recommend seeing it, because it really is a well directed movie. So, without further ado, let's dive in.

I write in the superhero genre. I'm familiar with a lot of the tropes that are used, and how you can play with those tropes to make a story function. With this in mind, there weren't many surprises that managed to throw me for a loop. For instance, I knew that Miranda Tate/Talia al-Ghul was behind it the minute that Bane called her aside during the court room sequence. I hadn't figured out the full extent of her relationship with Bane (because up to that point, I was still of the mind that Bane was a child who escaped the prison; the film did a good job of pointing you in that direction with misdirection, but thinking about it in retrospect, Bane couldn't possible be the one who escaped. He earned the mask in the prison and had surgery, but there's no evidence of that in any of the flashbacks. That's because the child escaping the prison was Talia/Tate, not Bane, but the movie does a good job of making you think otherwise). Learning that Bane was Talia's protector in the prison helped bring that all together.

I for one doubt strongly that Batman died at the end of the movie. There are a few people who say that Wayne appearing at the end of the film with Kyle at that restaurant in Italy was just Alfred hallucinating, I reject that attempt to make the film darker. It's clear that's not the case; after all, the necklace that Wayne took from Kyle in the beginning of the movie is still missing and it doesn't match Kyle's character at all to steal from him again, especially after all of the trust that he displays towards her and the fact that she came back to save him from Bane.

"The Bat" was fucking awesome. It was like a bat mobile that flew, continuing the long standing tradition set by Begins of introducing awesome, kick-ass vehicles.

Overall, the movie was a good movie. I did, however, have some serious problems with what it seemed to be promoting.
Take, for instance, the political and social criticisms and implications of the film. Bane and his crew are members of the "League of Shadows", and thus, are trying to carry on Ra's al-Ghul's attempt to destroy Gotham City, which failed in the first film. To this end, they devise a really interesting way do so (using an experimental fusion generator) to devise a neutron bomb that will obliterate the city. I have my problems with this, too, but I'll get to that in a minute.

When Bane is making his grand speech about the corrupt power structure, and how the wealthy lorded over the poor, it was a situation where he had more than a few points. When he raided the stock exchange and said to the banker, who informed him "it was a stock exchange and there wasn't any money to steal here", "then why are you here?" I wanted to stand up cheer. Then I remembered the film was expecting me to look at this guy as a bad guy, when he's striking back at a corrupt power structure. The film tries to have it both ways, but ultimately ends up reaffirming that society needs to have a clear hierarchy. Kyle does a good job of straddling the line, but in the end, even she joins up with Wayne and her complaints from earlier paint her as being something like how conservatives paint liberals: "You're only liberal because you're broke. If you had any money, you wouldn't talk like that."

Furthermore, the film goes out of its way to show us that anarchy is bad. I suppose that anarchy under a man determined to destroy civilization might not be a good thing, but the thing that the film - indeed, everything besides V for Vendetta - forgot is that anarchy does not mean "without order." Anarchy means "without leaders" or "without hierarchy". There's a huge difference between existing without order - like the film paints anarchy - and living without leaders or hierarchy.

Allow me to direct you to the Spanish Civil War. I've mentioned the Spanish Civil War before, but let me mention it one more time. The United States is a very conservative country; we're a very fearful country, too. You need strong leaders, you see, because without those strong, unquestionable leaders, you have mob rule and insanity. Any buff of history will tell you that's not the case, but that's alright. I can think of few Americans who are actually know jackshit about history for their own country, let alone Spain or some other country.

Because we need that strong leader, when Bane brings about the absolute anarchy, it's exactly what you'd expect it to look like. Hollywood has told us time and time again that "anarchy = bad". I'm beginning to think that in the United States, because so few people are morally adults in this nation, that may just be the case. No Anarchy for you. You're not mature enough to know how to handle it. Recognizing that anarchy is not a bad thing requires a level of critical thinking and emotional maturity and trust among your fellow people that the United States has been lacking in god knows how long.

Anyways, I digress. Bane, in true Hollywood anarchist fashion, unleashes all of the criminals from the prison who, the film tells us, were "held there without hearing" because of the Harvey Dent act, which helped bring peace to the streets of Gotham City. These criminals promptly begin to reenact the French Revolution, attacking the wealthy and the power and stealing everything that's not nailed down. Gotham descends into chaos. Not helping matters is that before this even happens, Bane has broken Batman - literally, if you've read the comics you know how their first battle ends - and taken him far, far away form Gotham. He's also trapped the police, so Gotham is without any symbols of traditional or nontraditional authority. Suddenly, without these traditional symbols of authority, everything becomes a madhouse and this one guy in the mask starts barking out orders that everyone follows, leading to the destructive anarchy that we see in the film. It takes Batman returning to make things better, thereby reestablishing the hierarchy that got them into the mess to begin with. It takes the "Old Guard" to bring things back to normal again, thereby reestablishing the system that works for them.

I say the film tries to have it's cake and eat it too on this from because of a few instances. For starters, there's Selena Kyle, who starts out like a Robin Hood. She only steals from the wealthy and the rich - and while I don't justify theft, I have no pity for some rich guy who looses a few hundred dollars that wind up in better hands, as opposed to he poor person who only lives on a few hundred dollars a month. She warns Bruce early in the film that there's a storm coming - it's there in the trailers. Then, as the storm actually hits, she realizes the "error in her ways" when she sees the photograph of a wealthy family and realizes that there had been a wealthy family who lived here. It's true, rich folk are people too, but really - it's like she says at the beginning: "they're living so large, and leaving so little for the rest of [us]." So she changes her game plan, and how she feels about it, and decides that the hierarchy and disparity are necessary since apparently, nobody makes any real attempts to fix it beyond Bane (and Talia's) "Destroy civilization" gambit. Which, really, is a bit over the top.

This whole thing showed me just how far I've drifted from my influences in my novel. I was inspired by Begins in the Blue Pimpernel, but I've managed to pull an almost 180, and it's telling: the way Bane talks and walks, he would not be out of place working with Renee and her friends. Of course, that would only last until he revealed his colors and started the killing and the whole atom bomb thing - in that aspect, this Bane reminds me a bit of Justice: a foil for the Pimpernel with similar goals, but vastly different (and far more destructive) ways of achieving his goals.

Bane makes a few speeches and there are parts of those speeches that seem to echo Ofelia's justification for creating the team. In particular his discussion of the corrupt old order and how it needs to be knocked down; while I can't be sure how much Bane believes that, I'm going to assume that it's quite a bit considering how motivated he is to destroy Gotham, which seems to embody that inequality. In fact, Bane's comic creator describes the movie Bane's behavior as "a member of Occupy Wall Street", which was my fear the whole time and seems to have indeed manifested.

Batman is a conservative's hero. Rich, white, male, wealthy, fighting crime and spending money like "good rich people" - not because he has to, because he owes society for putting his parents in a position where they could make that money, but because he wants to. Even though Wayne does go broke in the movie after Bane and his cronies do the Wall Street raid, he still gets to keep his house (Kyle lampshades this: "You don't even get to go broke like the rest of us"). Because of this fact, you can not tell a liberal or left-leaning story with Batman; the closest they got was the introduction of Anarky, who is a gray anti-villain or anti-hero of sorts, who, again, would have no problem working with Renee and her friends. I ran into that subconsciously, and that's why I had to invert the mythos when I was writing the Blue Pimpernel, utterly flipping everything that made Batman who he was. I like Batman because I feel that he's the ultimate escapist superhero, but as I've grown up, I've grown distant from the character.

The fact that Batman would be a villain in my novels - a protector of the status quo, the existing social order, and the enforcer of laws on his own terms - is something I acknowledged finally when I created the character Propaganda for the second Blue Pimpernel novel. Propaganda is one part Bruce Wayne and one part Lux Luthor, with a side order of the Joker to round things out. That I occupy an uncomfortable truce between "yeah, Bane has a few points that are really salient and really need to be looked at" and "the fact that he has those points is really a case of 'strawman has a point' because he's a sociopathic villain and very few people watching this film are going to even realize these points are salient, much less treat them with the gravity they deserve", is uncomfortable, but something I'm learning to deal with given that I'm as far left as I am (anyone to the right of Marx is a liberal/moderate, anyone to the right of Kennedy is a conservative/moderate. Anyone to the right of FOX news is a hard conservative, and anyone to the right of Bush belongs in jail. I mock conservatives who call Obama a socialist. I'm a socialist in practice but an anarcho-communist at heart, and guess what, dumbass? I resent the comparison to the second coming of Ronald fucking Reagan).

If the film had ended with Bane and his people ransacking the stock market, I think I would've been able to consider him a hero without any problem. Instead, it moves quickly from that into him being a mass murderer who wants to wipe a city off the face of the planet with an atomic bomb. It makes for a great, gripping the arm-chair movie. But the social commentary here is horrible. The trilogy merely confirms that the status quo needs to be protected at all costs, and that you need that clear authority figure in order to function as a society. Without that clear authority figure - without Big Brother or Batman - you can't function. Things go to hell.

I also did not like how they made you cheer for the police. I do not regard the police as anything more than people doing their jobs. You can get shot doing your job, and I can to. That's the general rule of dealing with people; you never know when you'll cross that one unstable person who's had all the wrong things happen that day and you happened to be the sad fool who said something that pushed them over the edge. I'll grant it's more likely to happen to police than me (which is why they have the bullet proof vest?), but being shot at does not automatically make you a hero. Hell, my house has been shot at before. If I had been in a different part of the house at the time, I wouldn't be here. I'm not a hero. Nobody cheers for me - because they shouldn't. Look a far more tragic incidence related to this film: nobody is calling the people who fled from the theater in Colorado heroes because they got shot at. The term is reserved for people who did genuinely heroic things during that tragic event. Why are police any special? Why do they have this mystique? You can get shot at - big deal. I can too. The people in the theater did. Anyone can, so I'm not understanding this whole business of "they risk their lives" so they're heroes, and therefore, are above reproach - just living risks your life. Ever drive down a freeway with the 9-to-5ers? This logic applies to the military, too, if you think about it. Just try getting the average citizen to realize this about the police and military and watch what happens as years - decades - of social conditioning come into conflict with reality. Anyone can get shot at and killed anywhere in this country. Welcome to America, where any schmuck with a credit card and ax to grind can get guns and 60000 rounds of ammunition off the internet and use them. So thank you, NRA. I know that if nothing else, my second amendment right will always be protected. Even if the others get slowly stripped away because you paranoid assholes have your tinfoil hats on too fucking tight.

It was the police charging down the anarchists at the end, and the straw anarchists/bad guys (since they're the same thing) had to lose, naturally. Batman arrived and gave the police the opportunity to redouble their efforts and they lead the charge like brave soldiers to resort order to the city. The police are unambiguously good guys here. This is not how this works in real life. This is not how this should work in fiction, either, because it sets a dangerous precedence. That you can trust police - no you can't. Sure, they're there to protect an serve. But they're people. They need oversight just like the rest of us, otherwise you end up with one of the bajillion cases of police corruption that you see throughout the entire country. Yes, Gotham was a corrupt city at the beginning. The police were corrupt - but it's been about 10 years. Did people forget the corruption that fast? The police make a heroic charge and however many years of corruption they had before are all forgiven and we cheer as they bring order back, one punch at a time.

Again, this is gripping moment in the film. You do feel like cheering during this part. It's what hides the insidious nature of it all.

Another thing that set wrong with me: the green energy initiative that broke Wayne Enterprises (Soylendra, anyone?) and more importantly, the fusion reactor I saw above. They have a fusion reactor that has a few problems. Okay, cool. Fix those problems, revolutionize the world. They're not opening it to the public because "they're [them being us, the public] not ready."

No. Not cool.

I hate that phrase. That's my single most hated phrase in any all of comic book, or science fiction, or fantasy, history. "They're not ready." We're not ready. My comment about anarchism above and how this society "isn't ready for anarchism" is an ironic echo of this line. It's a cop out. It's a cheap excuse; a flimsy hand wave to justify why Reed Richards is the single most useless superhero you'll ever find, all because the writers are lazy and don't want to explore the implications of it.

What makes this even worse? The fusion reactor is a plot point. Bane takes it and turns it into a bomb, thereby proving Wayne right. We're not ready for it.

BS. That's such BS. That single line, and the fact that it played out like it did, almost turned me off to the whole film. That is how much I hate that line. Why was this not a federal project? Where was the government in this? Fusion should be a government thing, but, alas, that would mean it was better protected than it was and so, no major plot in the film.

Despite all this, the film is still a well-directed and well-written film. The special effects are marvelous, and there are powerful moments in the film that will move you tears. This is all sugary coating, though; it hides the nasty, underlying nature of the film.

I liked it. But I didn't like it anywhere as much as I could, and I suppose I've made my peace and I'm finally making that break from the mythos. So long, Batman. It's not likely I'm going to be watching another Batman movie after this. Batman is a conservative's hero, and because of this, I'm not entirely sure I can enjoy the hero anymore. I'm tired of conservative's heroes. And I'm tired of films that take the status quo and portray it as something worth protecting - because it's not. There are days when I'm reminding that it's not fun being a liberal/left-leaning socially conscious individual. Today was one of those days for me.

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