Monday, August 6, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

Since Christian Bale first shuffled - cantankerous and cold - onto our screen as Batman several years ago, the series has migrated via director Christopher Nolan along its own rough path, with a more 'idea'-strewn them, and penny-winks to the comic books.

Progressing over that time into a more methodical, less fun character than his variegated conceptions in the past, Batman is now defined not so much by his character than by his environs (always bleak) and enemies (always anarchic). Darkness, however, does not always equal depth, and nor do cryptic scowls at the sky, but within certain limits they can.

Crime has always been Batmans vineyard, and the police are everywhere in Gotham. On the supply-side, however, the motivation for crime in Nolan's world is nearly always anarchy, and never down to want or need. The League of Shadows, an explicitly 'anti' grouping, seeks only a kind of aristocratic retribution on the world as it is. For if there is any theme running through the Batman franchise it is intra-Aristocrat conflict. Bruce Wayne, in his distant Chateau, automates Noblesse Oblige into a sleek industrial artform, and his crime crusade serves as foil for his wealth - 'oh Lord, let the children have my mansion, but not yet...'

His enemies, though often from clouded childhoods, are always closer to him (albeit more interesting) than he to the common man. For example, the antagonist in Dark Knight Rises, Bane, looks like a thug but speaks like Prince Charles jumbled into a Vader-mask, and is revealed to have an elegant ancestry (blood will tell, another comic-book trope)

In the real world, of course, most criminals are boring, with poor future-time orientation and unworked out views of the proper organisation of society. The mega-criminals - of which there are few - are obviously closer to the right side of the bell curve, and are perhaps more interesting, but keep a low profile, and have a vested interest in the status-quo, from which they collect economic rent and subliminal status.  Real criminals are not anarchists.

The criminal-as-anarchist theme culminates in the persona of Bane who, from a deep prison pit, seeks to replicate that lawless dungeon in an advanced metropolis. He has also gathered a strange number of followers to this end, and yet the motivation of his lackeys - all ready to sacrifice themselves - is never entirely clear. In an era where most terrorists have some specific purpose, some distant gleaming goal - empyrean, political, sexual - Bane's army seem a weird hodge-podge, and their dedication to their demonstrably valueless leader is something the raises questions. Charisma is charisma, I suppose... but what am I missing?

The film takes place eight years after the Dark Knight, and Batman has become an intentional cliche - the superhero scorned by the society he once protected. He spends his days traversing his segment of mansion, ignoring wider Gotham, which, due to the passing of a certain law in connection with Harvey Dent, is basking in a period of relative security.

Shadows arrive in the form of Bane, and his anarchic push on Gotham gestures toward an unhinged 'occupy' movement that has graced recently the banking districts of Western capitals. But there the connection ends, and Bane's callous violence debars the audience of any latent sympathy. Only slowly is Bruce Wayne coaxed from his Palace, and only slowly do Gotham welcome him back into their fold.

The film is physical - very physical - one of Nolan's welcome innovations, and he and Bane partake in some brutal and level fistfights. Unburdened by supernatural gifts, Bruce Wayne uses advanced engineering, pluck, and some cunning to undo his foes. Romance does not play much of a part - a hint at catwoman is thrown in for padding, and a more mature minx - but these moments are filler.

There are other gemstones. The unpredictable appearance of an Irish rogue as jester-judge in some Stalinist show trials. A rippling scene in a sports stadium. An iBanker getting his commupance on the back of a speeding motorcyle, and a welcome twist. All these keep the film alive and well.

Although this review may have a critical undercurrent, and although my forebrain tried to fight back at times, I distinctly enjoyed the film. There was enough interesting 'stuff' happening, along with a thumping score that targets a primitive slice of soul, that the viewer is kept ever-enthralled. I was never bored.

So kudos to Nolan for that achievement.

No comments:

Post a Comment