The Dark Knight Rises: is this really the future of big-money cinema?
The latest Batman film has raised serious questions about its themes and message, but also about how Hollywood films are created today,writes Simon Hardy. Be warned, this review contains plot spoilers
Yet another record breaking comic book action hero movie takes to the big screen as Christopher Nolan completes his Batman trilogy with what can only be described as a spectacular mess.
Yes, I mean that quite literally, the movie is visually spectacular in all the ways you would expect, but the plot and its “message” is a mess.
Several people have already noted on Comment is Free (here and here) that the film is rich with conservative overtones, which sees antagonist Bane lead a mercenary army into Gotham City to in a sort of semi-revolution.
Having probably read the German sociologist Max Weber, Bane knows that to be successful he has to end the states monopoly of the use of force enjoyed by the police, so he buries Gotham’s police department underground, whilst his ragtag army busts out the prisons and forms a mob to wreck havoc on the city.
The rich are literally hauled out of their ‘hiding places’ and their homes are turned over to the people of the city. Bane then calls on the people of Gotham to take control of their lives, referring to the capitalists and the police as the “oppressors”.
A positive message, certainly, the only problem in the process he threatens to detonate a nuclear bomb (a nice bit of ‘remember the Cold War imagery’) if anyone leaves the town. Emancipate yourselves or be turned into atomic dust? Not a very credible manifesto in my opinion.
Clearly this is not a revolution (despite what one of the disposed rich calls it), it is a coup, led by a psychopathic mercenary. Others have commented that this is a pointed critique of the Occupy movement. Bane and his soldiers even assaulted the ‘Gotham Stock Exchange’, reminiscent of Occupy “targeting” stock exchanges across the world. The show trials of the rich act as a terrifying warning of what happens when the ‘mob’ takes over. But this is not an isolated theme; David S Goyer, the movie’s script writer has also penned the plot of the next Call of Duty computer game, in which another psychopathic mercenary (referred to as “the Messiah of the 99%”) tries to instigate a global uprising. Naturally, it is up to the special forces of the US army to stop him (played by you).
Back in Gotham it is up to Batman to restore the status quo, and after some inconveniences and set backs he inevitably succeeds, though not without a cost.
Batman as an ally of the 1%? Well, naturally, he is a capitalist after all, though of a more humanitarian kind. The fact he is a wealthy white elitist who spends his time beating up street level criminals has already been pointed out most eloquently elsewhere.
Indeed, with all the commentary and debate about the message of the film and the ambiguous status of Batman himself as a superhero, it allows us to dig a little deeper into the themes of the film and gauge where Hollywood is right now by the kind of movies it is making.
First off, Christopher Nolan’s films are getting increasingly out of control.
The Dark Knight Rises suffers from the same problem as its predecessor, The Dark Knight: it is almost entirely plot driven.
What do I mean by that? A story can generally be either character or plot driven.
A character driven movie has a story where the intended actions of the characters have a consequence, just like in the real world. The characters matter because who they are affects the outcome of the story.
In a plot driven movie the story happens to the characters, they are merely cyphers swept along by events, some on the side of the angels and some with the devil.
In Nolan’s Batman films the villans were extraordinarily adept at being one step ahead of the heros, all the way until the final punch up. In The Dark Knight, Heath Ledgers Joker was such a mastermind he had every single avenue and possibility covered all the way through the film, and the same happens again with Bane.But this is not due to the strength of the characters (although Ledger’s acting was very good) but because they are charicatures of the omnipotent villain.
Nolan’s antagonists have omniscient knowledge of everyone else’s actions, every act is plotted and prepared in advance to a ludicrous degree. Nolan thinks he is being clever, but the overplotting drags the movies down.
The problem with plot driven movies is that they suspend your involvement in the characters and just try and astound you with explosions and clever twists in the story.
Nolan tries to create a false tension by the mysterious and regular appearence of threat at almost every turn, but is a threat with no suspense, the baddies just turn up because they-knew-what-was-going-on-anyway.
But an even deeper problem rests with the plot itself. Once again, it makes no sense.
The number of Hollywood films that are being made by some of the best in the business show a worrying lack of credibility in the story-developing process. Another recent example of a confused plot which ultimately ruined the movie was Ridley Scott’s Prometheus which left me feeling dazzled but with a long list of around 20 frustrating plot holes. Once again, great shots and direction, but lousy characters and maddening inconsistancies which stop the film from being real classics.
The implied conservative critique of Occupy which Nolan produces in the film has no basis in any actual ideology or sense of political change. More than that, the villans goals don’t make sense.
Bane is linked to the baddies of the first film who wanted to destroy Gotham beacuse it was so corrupt, Bane’s plan involves this nuclear bomb and some kind of popular uprising. But the bomb will self detonate in 5 months anyway (a scientist babbles something about deterioration of the nuclear material – the bomb even has a handy timer on it which indicates the precies moment at which these materials will self destruct, very useful for the ‘tense’ closing scenes).
Bane and the other baddies knows that this will happen, and they keep everyone in Gotham trapped under this mob rule regime. In fact, it is finally revealed that their entire plan was to blow the city up anyway.
At one point Bane says this is to give the people hope and they they will know true despair.
An entirely correct psychological observation (the promise of hope dashed is the cause of genuine despair) but the practical effect of the nuclear bomb will just be to kill everyone very quickly.
So what was the point of the uprising? Why go through the entire process of the mock revolution, complete with ‘revolutionary’ tribunerals and the seizure of the homes of the rich?
Furthermore it is revealed that one of the primary capitalists involved in the plot is actually working with Bane to destroy the city, which was the intention all along. So the capitalist creates a rebellion against the rich which lasts for around 5 months and then wants to destroy the city anyway? Like I said, it makes no sense.
Now at this point you might be thinking, why complain about it, it is only a stupid movie based on a comic book, what did you expect? Well, you might be onto something, but this raises a serious question about the entertainment industry today. The Dark Knight Rises cost $250 million (£161 million) to make, in its opening weekend in the US and Canada alone it has generated $160 million (or £103 million) with more to come.
Big blockbusters are huge money earners. With the increasing cost of cinema tickets and the now instituionalised summer blockbuster ‘event’ movie – each movie spectacular needs to out explode the previous ones.
The rash of disaster movies and “the city/world is going to be destroyed!” style films reflect not only better film making technology but a form of millennial angst about mass scale destruction by terrorism of the environment.
Sadly they can also make for not great films.
The bombardment of super hero films in the cineplexes also show a distinct lack of originality from mainstream film making, not to mention the exaltation of the individual over society.
No more pretty films which lack substance. No more fake depth created by inconsistant plots which fire bigger explosions at you almost as an audio-visual substitute for the actual social explosions contained in the radical ideas of films which try and make you think whilst they entertain you.
After all, Nolan’s Batman as an action film is not the same as a contemptible Michael Bay film. His previous work, including Memento and Inception are intelligent and emotionally balanced pieces. Nolan reaches higher and faster than Bay ever could. But reaching is not enough, and an over plotted mess of a film indicates an emptiness of the creative spirit, sound and fury signifying nothing.