The Dark Knight Rises: is this really the future of big-money cinema?

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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

Wayne Enterprises, vigilante capitalism

 

 

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.

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7 Comments

  1. Luke Cooper
    July 23, 2012 at 10:16 pm · Reply

    The problem with the concluding remarks about the direction Nolan is supposedly taking the Batman films it is that it implies there was ever such a thing as a “character driven” batman film. Sorry, it’s just not true. You are talking about one of Hollywood’s most tacky comic book incarnations (and before that an awful tv show!).

    Nolan breathed new life into a dying franchise by making it much darker. But you can’t expect him to turn it into a character driven film, for the simple reason that you are talking about a comic book concept with one dimensional characters, so it’s always the plot that has to do the work of making the films interesting and engaging.

    I want to see the film so didn’t appreciate the plot spoilers either, but I was warned to be fair!

    • August 7, 2012 at 11:06 am · Reply

      Personally I find TDKR interesting because I think Nolan genuinely set out to make a left-leaning film that denounces the excesses of the 1%, but that his own liberality’s conservative tendencies – fear of anarchy, & of the kind of social upheaval that could accompany radical change – betrayed themselves. The reason this interests me is because it’s something I’ve found really common among non-radical leftists. And, in keeping with Nolan’s vision of revolution as sort-of understandable but mostly terrifying, I think that most of these people would agree that economic inequality needs to be redressed, but cack their pants at the thought of actual anarchy or other radical systematic upheaval.

      For me, this feeds right into “why go see it at all” – pop culture has a lot to tell about the kinds of tropes & morals that people are engaging with. So many people don’t even notice ideological inconsistency, and even get pissy and accuse you of “ruining it” if you point it out. (Also for the awesome explosions. I won’t pretend it’s all about lofty cultural analysis; my inner 12 year would’ve killed me if I hadn’t taken it to see The Avengers.)

  2. Joana Ramiro
    July 23, 2012 at 10:23 pm · Reply

    If it is so bad

    “one of Hollywood’s most tacky comic book incarnations (and before that an awful tv show!)”

    why go see it at all? The story is well known, the characters predictably flat, the film gratuitously violent/action-packed… If the left was so adamant on boycotting The Iron Lady (which was fair enough), why is it dying to go see the epitome of capitalist propaganda?

    • Luke Cooper
      July 23, 2012 at 10:36 pm · Reply

      Lol, is the left dying to see it?

      I have only seen negative leftie reviews.

    • August 1, 2012 at 2:38 pm · Reply

      What I wonder is why Batman gets special attention from the left? There’s Spiderman, Avengers, Fantastic Four, etc. none of which have elicited the left’s wrath.

      • Dan Fisher
        August 1, 2012 at 6:52 pm · Reply

        I’m biased against the concept of superheros in the first place, but I’ve been dragged to all the latest films, and I have to say I really liked Spiderman. The Avengers was made worth it by Mark Ruffalo’s performance.

        Batman was just awful; it’d have been awful without the political disaster but that made it worse.

      • John Bowman
        August 1, 2012 at 8:53 pm · Reply

        It’s true – perhaps we need an analysis of the imperialist Captain America, and Ironman – billionaire leader of the one percent!

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