Batman in an Age of Polarization

Exclusive: The last of Christopher Nolan’s “Batman” trilogy may always be remembered for the mass murder of fans packed into a theater in Colorado to see an opening-night showing. But “The Dark Knight Rises” has been controversial for other  reasons in a deeply polarized America, writes Lisa Pease.

By Lisa Pease

Before I review “The Dark Knight Rises,” I wanted to share what writer/director Christopher Nolan posted on the official Web site for his latest Batman movie:

“Speaking on behalf of the cast and crew of ‘The Dark Knight Rises,’ I would like to express our profound sorrow at the senseless tragedy that has befallen the entire Aurora community. I would not presume to know anything about the victims of the shooting but that they were there last night to watch a movie.

“I believe movies are one of the great American art forms and the shared experience of watching a story unfold on screen is an important and joyful pastime. The movie theatre is my home, and the idea that someone would violate that innocent and hopeful place in such an unbearably savage way is devastating to me.

“Nothing any of us can say could ever adequately express our feelings for the innocent victims of this appalling crime, but our thoughts are with them and their families.”

I’ve never considered it an act of courage to enter a movie theater before. This time, it was different. After the tragic shooting at the midnight screening in Aurora, Colorado, I felt just a tad nervous and almost guilty, because I knew I was going to survive a film that others had not.

The final film of Christopher Nolan’s trilogy about “the Batman” had already been the subject of strong emotions long before the tragic shooting. Rush Limbaugh thought it was too liberal. David Sirota thought it was anti-Occupy. Catwoman actress Anne Hathaway said in all seriousness that she thought it should win Best Picture at the Oscars, and not just because she was in it.

The movie review site “Rotten Tomatoes” had so many film fans throwing violent verbal volleys at the critics that the site took an unprecedented step and shut down all comments until the film was released.

So I really didn’t know what to expect. Halfway into the film, I still didn’t know what to expect. I’ll be honest. For me, it was a mixed bag. I loved the last 20 minutes or so the most, but it took a long time and a lot of exposition set-ups to get me there.

The film opens a couple of years or so after the previous film ended, with Bruce Wayne holed up in his mansion, ala Howard Hughes (there was even a reference to long yellow fingernails). Catwoman breaks into his “unbreakable” safe and steals something of value, arousing Wayne’s curiosity. Wayne, however, is drawn to an outspoken activist who wants him to give the world a clean energy source, which Wayne just happens to have.

But Wayne knows that one man’s energy source is another man’s weapon, and he wants to keep his invention far from any who would misuse it.

Christopher Nolan sure knows how to tell a story several stories, in fact, and at the same time. There are so many stories within stories you might feel you are watching “Inception” again, tracking bits and pieces of different realities, wondering where each thread will lead.

That’s both the beauty and, from one point of view, the problem with the film. For a film with so much action in it, it was surprisingly talky. There was so much that needed to be explained and tied up neatly from the two previous installments that it felt like I was being inundated with information. While it kept my attention — I didn’t realize until I left the theater that I’d been sitting for three hours — I also felt a bit worn out by the end of it all.

Rush Limbaugh’s anger probably started with the name of the arch villain in this story, Bane, or Bain, if you are hearing it and not seeing it. But Sirota’s is the more valid point in that Bane, who espouses some of the “99 percent vs. 1 percent” rhetoric, is portrayed as a violent terrorist hell-bent on destroying the people of Gotham because who can really be innocent in such a city. That he gains power through violence separates him from the actual Occupiers, who have vigilantly practiced nonviolence.

One of the things I’ve loved about Christopher Nolan’s past films was how fresh and original and authentic they felt. This one felt a tad derivative in spots. I saw an idea lifted from “Die Hard,” a character with a mask lifted from “Star Wars” (complete with the Scuba-like breathing gear), and more. They weren’t carbon copies, of course. But they were too similar. I’ve come to expect more from the bar Nolan has set with his previous work. This just wasn’t as good.

The film is worth seeing for a couple of reasons alone, however: Christian Bale and Anne Hathaway. I have never particularly been a Bale fan, but he brings a smoldering intensity to this role that I found compelling. That was one of my complaints with so many characters and such a large story, Bale didn’t get nearly enough screen time.

Anne Hathaway is the perfect Catwoman. Sexy and surly, creative and cocky. She’s a hell of an opponent, or partner, depending on whose side you’re on. She also had some of the funnier lines, so her appearances lightened the otherwise heavy dialog.

Gary Oldman has a lot of screen time as Commissioner Gordon, but his character didn’t have much to do, emotionally or physically, which is a shame, as Oldman is so talented.  Similarly, Michael Caine (Alfred) and Morgan Freeman (Fox) made what could almost be described as cameos, when they had been such huge parts of the earlier films.

The film is worth seeing, but it’s nowhere near Best Picture material. I had hoped to really love it, to be blown away. But my thoughts as I left the theater were mirrored by a woman behind me, who responded to her male companion’s question “What did you think?” with “Eh, it was okay.” Parts of it were really interesting. But a lot of it was just, eh, okay.

Lisa Pease is a writer who has examined issues ranging from the Kennedy assassination to voting irregularities in recent U.S. elections. She is also a movie buff.

6 comments for “Batman in an Age of Polarization

  1. July 22, 2012 at 18:31

    Let me introduce bit of reality. Batman, like all violent offering, is in th same category as PORNO, it offer the “surge” a violence addicted society seeks. A medical student trained to save people took a look at our distorted system and decided to give them a REALY “surge” Look at the picture of the student and you should see as I did he usual strand of hairs on his head standing up like Satan’s horn, then look at the to character on the film and see his horn. His motive, tell our sick society and self excusing “art” of those films. Look at TV all we had on NBC for year is a steady visit to penitentiaries and criminals. And you wonder why an aspiring Dr. like the peace people against war would react to those inciter’s. The student was probably thinking, in anger, “You want a thrill?let me give you a real one”

  2. rosemerry
    July 22, 2012 at 16:58

    How anyone can be surprised at these murders (hardly a “mass murder” like those of numerous wedding parties in Afghanistan, done by our brave soldiers) when the whole US society is militarised and trained to kill or die,beggars belief. It is considered normal to carry guns, to search children for weapons at airports, to imprison young black males on suspicion of drugs,to invade and occupy Muslim lands, to fight “drug wars” while providing the weapons as well as the demand for the product. Most people in other countries do not have the assumption that they allowed to decide rules to apply globally, while quaking in fear in their own “land of the free”.

  3. Frances in California
    July 22, 2012 at 15:05

    Spoiler alert – I’m giving something away, so if you haven’t seen the movie and plan to, read no further. I went on purpose to see “Dark Knight Rises”, having already heard the lazy media try to blame “Hollywood” for the Aurora, CO movie theater massacre. Never mind that crazy people never need an excuse to do evil deeds; there was no point in DKR that violence was not condemned – by every nuance of the characterizations, by every soul-deep struggle of Bruce Wayne, by the subtle continuity of Cotillard’s performance, even by the “Han-Solo-Saves-the-Day-at-the-Last-Minute” appearance of Selina . . . issues of repression and duplicity were dealt with. Of course I had some issues I felt were self-serving; Hello! It’s a COMIC BOOK story! The fact that Nolan got anywhere near philosophy is to be lauded, right down to the Sidney Carton speech at Wayne’s grave. Though fictitious, his deeds and death made sense; the deeds of the real Aurora gunman made no sense; the deaths of the innocents in Aurora made no sense.

  4. Frances in California
    July 22, 2012 at 14:54

    Rehmat: It matters not at all what advanced degrees are held by a sociopathic mass-murderer; how much influence did the hyper-militarized, testosterone-overdosed American contemporary culture have on this crazy man?

  5. July 22, 2012 at 09:21

    Thanks for another fantastic article. Where else could anyone get that kind of info in such a perfect method of writing? I have a presentation subsequent week, and I am at the look for such information.

  6. t h
    July 22, 2012 at 02:10

    “The film is worth seeing, but it’s nowhere near Best Picture material. I had hoped to really love it, to be blown away.”

    Are you really that oblivious to how callous that sounds in light of the shootings in CO?

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