Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Batman versus the straw anarchists [SPOILER WARNING]

The other day I went to see The Dark Knight Rises, as you might do on a bank holiday Monday if you're mildly obsessed with Batman. This review contains spoilers, so I'm putting it under a cut.

I wasn't expecting to like Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle at all, but I have to take my hat off to her - she did an excellent job. She managed to get across all the nuance and complexity that Nolan's Catwoman has (which I was also pleasantly surprised by), she was clearly having fun with the role, she was sexy, smart and mischievous in all the right ways. Hell, Catwoman is by far not my favourite DC lady - that title belongs to Harley Quinn - but she was a joy to watch this time around.

I also defy anyone not to love Michael Caine as Alfred. Or Michael Caine in general. What a guy. He almost had me in tears a couple of times.

The Dark Knight Rises is a film of nice touches. It's always a pleasure to see Cillian Murphy's Scarecrow pop up; Catwoman has some brilliant lines; the "trial by the people" scenes are eerily reminiscent of 19th century sketches from the French Revolution; the cinematics and special effects are, as usual, impeccable. But I'm sorry to say that I was disappointed. It’s not that it’s a bad film. Taken on its own, it’s a perfectly respectable action flick that keeps you entertained for three hours. The problem is, it exists as part of a trilogy, and it’s nothing like as good as The Dark Knight.

One of the reasons for my disappointment is, to be fair, not the fault of the film. I knew in advance what the main plot twist would be, and I clocked it the minute it appeared on screen, so I figured everything out a couple of minutes in and I spent the rest of the film just waiting for the plot to be a plot already. Bad spoiler-mongers. No biscuit.

That's not all, though, and a lot of my misgivings centre in one way or another around Bane. Joker is absent from The Dark Knight Rises for fairly obvious reasons (we miss you, Heath!) and without him, I can't really quite make sense of Bane's inclusion at all. I can't get behind his alignment with the League of Shadows, even though I'm pretty sure it's canon. There was no set-up for his loyalties fall where they do, and I felt that I was expected to just believe that's how it is because That's The Plot. I can understand why Bane would follow someone like Joker much more than I can understand what actually happens in the film, Turkish prison pits notwithstanding.

Incidentally, I really hope that the NHS doesn't take its cue from the film and start trying to correct spinal problems by dangling people from the ceiling by a rope harness. I'm no doctor, but I'm pretty sure that's not how spines work.

Most of all, the film did not communicate to me why it is that Bane should command such a fanatical following, aside from the fact that he's a tank. I guess he's kind of charismatic, in a Hannibal-Lecter-wearing-a-sphincter-mask way, but charismatic enough to lead an army of mercenaries? All of whom would die for him? Not convinced. Tom Hardy does a great job with a sadly limited script.

Yes, I think the mask looks like a sphincter and I decided to share that image with you. You're welcome.

Nolan is on record as claiming that The Dark Knight Rises isn't intended to be political, but it's difficult not to read a capitalist subtext into it. Here are all these big, bad - anarchists? Communists? Anarcho-communists? Anti-establishment nasty men in sphincter masks? - trying to break down society by taking all the rich men's money away in a way that clearly aligns them with the city's quasi-defunct organised crime syndicates. And when the rich men lose their money, this somehow paves the way for the nasty anarcho-sphincter-communists to lead the poor, gullible general public - who are lost without their rich, sparkly overlords - to turn against law enforcement and live in chaos. Obviously. This is, of course, only one potential reading, but it's a pretty problematic message to be putting across even by accident.

And honestly? The anarchist straw man has lost most of his stuffing by now, and the communist straw man was reduced to rags and buttons forty years ago. Hollywood, it really is time to find a new common enemy.

Ra's al Ghul is a believable villain because of the air of supernatural indestructibility he carries. Joker is a believable villain because he is so far removed from common perceptions of reality that he could easily command a fanatical following, in much the same way as many cult leaders do. For all Tom Hardy's skill as an actor, Bane is just a big shouty man in a mask whose puppet-master turns up too late to be convincing.

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