Saturday, July 21, 2012

Batman. Bane. Catwoman. That ending! Time to talk about 'The Dark Knight Rises ... - Entertainment Weekly


“Don’t be afraid.” Those were the dying words of Thomas Wayne, said to his traumatized young son after being shot behind a theater by a thug named Joe Chill. The scene in Batman Begins resonates anew with eerie irony â€" and hopefully, a little inspiration â€" one day after the opening of  The Dark Knight Rises and the tragedy in Aurora. Despite the terror felt nationwide following the violence in Colorado, and even in spite of it, moviegoers packed into multiplexes yesterday to watch the conclusion of Christopher Nolan’s trilogy of Batman movies. And now, you have questions, opinions, quibbles, praises, and many other things to say about this heavy superhero spectacular â€" particularly the way it ended.

So let’s talk about it. Fearlessly.

And with a massive amount of detail… which is to say, SPOILER ALERT!

 Seriously: If you have not yet seen Rises, STOP READING NOW. Because we’re not holding back on anything, beginning with… 


The Dark Knight’s Golden Parachute Retirement Plan

What happened: To save Gotham City from nuclear incineration, Batman (Christian Bale) jumped into his newest high-tech military grade vehicle â€" a flying machine dubbed The Bat â€" and towed an unstoppable ticking bomb into the sky and out to sea. KABOOM! The Bat went up in ‘shrooming smoke. In the aftermath, the caped crusader was declared deceased, as was his alter-ego, Bruce Wayne, who was believed to have been killed during Bane’s (Tom Hardy) riotous war on Gotham’s wealthy and elite. But that’s what Bruce wanted Gotham to think; in truth, he bailed out of The Bat before it went BOOM! We last saw Bruce at an outdoor café in Italy, enjoying the company of Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), and quietly toasting Alfred from a nearby table, thus fulfilling his guardian’s happily-ever-after dream for him. Bruce was finally freed from the pain of the past, from the self-destructive enterprise of Batman, from the ghosts and ghouls of Gotham. Or, to paraphrase Sydney Carton from A Tale of Two Cities: It’s a far, far better thing than I do than I’ve ever done; it is a far, far better European vacation that I go to than I have ever l known.

Reaction: With Rises, we get a superhero story that ends with a superhero deciding that the life of a costumed vigilante  â€" no matter how needed or noble â€" is really no kind of life at all. Fancy that. The Dark Knight series has been rather ambivalent about its iconic protagonist; the message seems to be that Batman is a necessary evil, a flawed fix for a culture in crisis. Yes, he contains great values â€" perseverance; incorruptibility; justice. But Batman is a vigilante. Not acceptable. And Bruce Wayne is a damaged man who feels like a monster and so he acts like one. Batman may bring hope to Gotham â€" but Bruce degrades himself more and more each time he puts on the suit. Not good. And no more.

Question: Were you bugged by the fake-death chicanery?


The Cowl Is Passed

What happened: Bruce Wayne left his Batman legacy â€" suits, stuff, and subterranean HQ â€" to disillusioned ex-cop John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). The final moments of the film saw Blake swinging into The Batcave and riding a rising platform filled with cabinets containing all of Bruce’s secrets. Sly in-joke: John’s legal first name? “Robin.”

Reaction: Smart, surprising, satisfying.Very V for Vendetta, too. Nolan and his writers began setting up the idea that Batman is a transferable title in Batman Begins, when Bruce explained his theory that Batman should be a cultural symbol that transcended the man behind the mask. Rises pays it off nicely. It may be Bruce’s final act â€" but it’s also Blake’s origin story. Sneaky-neat. Can’t wait to watch the movie again to better track that arc.

Question: Does this mean that Gordon-Levitt (who was excellent) is about to get his own Batman franchise? Our sources say: No. Which means we’ll never get an answer to our other burning question: Will Blake keep Batman’s name? Or might he rechristen himself Nightwing?


What happened: The first two acts of Rises presented the film’s primary force of antagonism as an ideologically-driven revolutionary bent on bringing power to the people by forcing it on them â€" and by slaughtering the corpulent blue bloods of Gotham City. The big twist? Bane didn’t really give a crap about anyone, plebes or princes. He also wasn’t his own man. Bane was just a jacked-up puppet, acting on orders from â€" and out of love for â€" Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), a.k.a. Talia al Ghul. She’s the daughter of Ra’s al Ghul (Liam Neeson), whose League of Shadows tried to destroy Gotham City in Batman Begins, because they had deemed it corrupt and fallen. Basically, Talia wanted to finish her father’s work â€" and avenge his death.

Reaction: The whiplash turn brought the saga full circle, and rightly brought the larger-than-life lout down to poignant, pathetic human-scale size â€" but too much so. And his death â€" he was blasted by Catwoman with a projectile from the Batpod â€" felt anti-climactic. Bane deserved to be more interesting than he turned out to be.

Questions: Did you wonder during the movie if Bane was going to be revealed to be someone we knew? At one point, I had convinced myself that Bane was actually Ra’s al Ghul, reanimated and reconstructed with bionics and stuff. As for the rogue’s much talked about voice, I enjoyed the arch garble that Tom Hardy developed for the character, even when I didn’t totally understand it. I bet Bane could do a wicked funny Goldfinger impression. No, Mister Wayne, I expect you to die!


Going into Rises, fanboys and media types were skeptical that Anne Hathaway had the chops and presence to cut it as Catwoman. Let the haters eat crow. The Rachel Getting Married Oscar nominee made for a cool and credible femme fatale/anti-hero, and better, she brought some refreshing levity to a movie that really needed it.


Much has been written about the Batman movies being allegories for the war on terror and other aspects of post 9/11 America. Rises certainly strummed those chords. But the marketing materials suggested we’d also get a story that tapped other charged currents in the world, from revolutionary unrest in the Middle East to the “Occupy” protest against economic inequality and injustice. Some tried to frame the Batman vs. Bane conflict as class warfare writ gothic, a dark fantasy riff on the clash between the 1% (greedy playboy billionaires like Bruce Wayne) and the 99% (the pissed-off everyone else, repped by Bane and his minions).

I’m still trying to make sense of these themes as they were presented in the film, or if they were really in the film at all.  Bane’s switch from self-righteous agent of judgment to Talia-whipped puppydog muddied his metaphorical meaning. And I think it takes a willful misread of Nolan’s Bruce/Batman â€" or forgetfulness about the character’s backstory and trilogy arc â€" to assert that he’s some kind of jackbooted stooge of the 1%. I did find it interesting that Bruce was willing to let “Bruce Wayne” â€" meaning, the vacuous, selfish billionaire he played in public â€" be counted among Bane’s victims. Even Bruce wanted that guy dead. Rises ends with Bruce turning his mansion into an orphanage, but I’m not sure what the takeaway was supposed to be. That the rich can and should do more?

Where I find meaning in this trilogy of Batman movies â€" but not comfort â€" is in their tone. The Dark Knight trilogy has captured the unease of our times â€" the post-traumatic stress of so much catastrophe; the ominous dread that there’s more and maybe worse to come; the worry (and denial) that we’re handling the whole thing wrong and becoming worse for it. It was all brilliantly jittery. And like Bruce Wayne, I’m ready to leave the dark night behind and make a better, truer future.

Especially if it begins in an Italian café with a hot cat burglar.

Your turn. What did you think of The Dark Knight Rises?

Twitter: @EWDocJensen

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