Sunday, October 14, 2012

Batarang Culture

The Dark Knight Rises
2012. 164 minutes. USA. Directed by Christopher Nolan. Watchdate: 7/20/2012.
If The Dark Knight was The Godfather Part II of comic book movies, this movie is thankfully not The Godfather Part III of comic book movies (that dubious honor belongs to X3: X-Men United). That may not be the kindest way to begin discussing this movie, but it feels honest to me. Leaving aside the tragic events that occurred in Colorado when the movie opened, I see a lot to like about The Dark Knight Rises but it is also clear to me that all of The Dark Knight's weaknesses are present with interest in this sequel - the hurried editing, the narrative overambition, the underdeveloped characters.

However, the biggest problem is that these weaknesses are not excused by strengths nearly as formidable as those of its predecessor. Still, I will give the movie a considerable amount of credit for two of its overarching aspects. First, its sly determination to bring a dizzying coherency to the three movies as a trilogy. Second, and more importantly, its unflinching commitment to exploring complex contemporary political and cultural phenomena without any reliance on pat answers (or even simplistic interpretations) within the vehicle of a loud summer blockbuster. More than any other filmmaker working on adapting comic books in Hollywood, Christopher Nolan continually shows a willingness to challenge the assumptions of heroism itself and to stride into moral gray areas with his 'superhero' characters and massive audience in tow. For seamlessly weaving all of chief tensions of our age into pulpy entertainment, the movie deserves plaudits.

When I promised a follow up to my post about the movie theater shootings in Colorado, I had in mind some grand ambition about drawing together Christopher Nolan's operatic exploration of the War on Terror and post-crisis economic inequality with the horrifying dimensions of the movie theater killer's madness and even including my own personal experience of hearing the breaking news of the midnight shootings as I stood in line for the movie. Now, I think I am incapable of doing so. I'm not even sure doing that would be a good idea.

But I still feel it's important to praise the intelligence and political ambition of Nolan's Batman trilogy in an age of pointedly brainless blockbuster adventures that thoughtlessly glorify stupid violence and substitute explosions and backflipping cars for theme and narrative coherency. Nor did Nolan take the easy route of polemicizing some stance on the War on Terror in The Dark Knight or Occupy Wall Street in The Dark Knight Rises.

Instead, he gave us quiet moments of doubt - Morgan Freeman's righteous protests over the surveillance device in The Dark Knight, Joseph Gordon-Levitt's disappointment with the willfully opportunistic dishonesty (i.e. corruption) of his police detective idols in The Dark Knight Rises. The latter moment probably qualifies as the primary saving grace of a movie that teeters on the brink of being a noisy machine with far less sophistication than the rest of the trilogy. For that reason, a better title for the movie might have been Joseph Gordon-Levitt Rises.

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