The Dark Knight Rises, the Avengers, and Occupy

Posted: July 22, 2012 in Braak, crotchety ranting, movies, Politics
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I am going to discuss The Dark Knight Rises at length, now, and I am of no mind to be careful about what I reveal — like I’ve said before, I don’t really “review” things, like, “Should I go and see this on Saturday?”  Yes, you should go see The Dark Knight Rises.  That is my review.  What follows here is a discussion of the movie, and to that effect you must understand that there will be Spoilers, and this entire opening paragraph before the jump is actually just an extended Spoiler Warning, and I don’t want to hear any of you punk suckers crying to me if I reveal that Hulk punches Thor or something, all right?


The Dark Knight Rises has gotten some criticism in some parts because of what appears to be a contemptuous attitude towards the Occupy Wall Street movement — a very particular populist uprising that directly opposed the overwhelming influence that monied interests have in our political system.  I am going to talk a little bit about this movie, and about the way it presents power in society, and I’m also going to talk about The Avengers and how the two movies diverge in terms of their characterization of the merits of individual power.

Now, fair warning:  I, Braak, am an atheist, socialist, trade unionist, anti-corporatist, multiculturalist, and (in principal, anyway) sexual libertine.  I don’t completely align with the Green Party because they can’t get on board with my plan to nationalize the energy industry.  I am about this close to completely opposing the notion of private property, and I definitely think that a preoccupation with property is a huge character weakness.  I am exactly the kind of person that Adolf Hitler and Joe McCarthy warned you about.  I am solidly, staunchly in favor of the Occupy movement and of the principles behind it, and I have been consistently, inexorably, and secretly judging every person I’ve met who didn’t take it sufficiently seriously.

I also love Batman, and have a pretty positive relationship with the Avengers.

The Structures of Power

One of the issues that superhero stories have always, always had to deal with is the notion of elitism.  Batman, especially, has always been — for all intents and purposes — an aristocrat.  He’s the good kind of aristocrat, the one who has a powerful sense of the noblesse oblige, the one you like to have as the hero in your regency romances, but the fact of the matter is that he’s still representative of a system in which the good of the aristocracy hinges entirely on the particular largesse of its individual members.  The Dark Knight Rises absolutely maintains the sense of Batman as a basically morally, physically, and intellectually superior person, whose actions we’re meant to appreciate by virtue of that superiority.  Batman lives in a world in which the law can’t really be trusted, in which everyone is corrupt, and in which you and I, the regular citizenry, have to accept that our lives depend on just how well Batman does whatever he wants to, and how much what he wants to do is in our interests.

Likewise, in The Avengers, we’re faced with an incalculably destructive alien invasion, and here we’re supposed to entrust Nick Fury — a guy whose qualifications and political mandate are, to say the least, not readily apparent — with a giant flying aircraft carrier equipped with nuclear weapons, and a super-team of the most powerful people on the planet.  At least one of those guys (Iron Man) straight-up thinks it’s okay to take the issues of political conflict out of the hands of democratically elected representatives and into his own.  This is, indirectly or not, absolutely an endorsement of a fundamentally elitist philosophy — one in which regular people have to just trust that better people are going to protect them.

Weirdly, I’m actually less bothered by the Dark Knight Trilogy in this respect than I am The Avengers.  The thing about Batman, and about the way the Batman is portrayed in these movies, is that the treatment of a billionaire aristocrat is actually subversive from the way that we ordinarily deal with billionaires — Bruce Wayne, in Rises, has sacrificed his body to the point of being a cripple in order to fight the physical threats that Gotham faces; he’s sacrificed not just his fortune but very nearly his ability to have a fortune, just for the purpose of keeping a deadly weapon out of the wrong hands.  And the thing about this attitude is that it doesn’t map onto traditional defense of the 1%: Bruce Wayne says, “I’m going broke in order to protect the 99%”, while the basic defense of our real, regular 1% is, “I can’t protect you guys because then I would be broke”.

If Mitt Romney stood up and said that he was exactly like Bruce Wayne and we should respect him for the many sacrifices he’s made in order to protect the greater good, we’d rightly laugh at him; the conservative defense of wealth is that wealth IS the greater good, so sacrificing it would be counter-productive.  And the portrayal of Gotham in the Dark Knight Trilogy is one that makes it abundantly clear that this is not typical behavior for a billionaire; that, in fact, one of the reasons that Gotham is such a shithole is because Bruce Wayne is the only guy who’s doing it.  The Trilogy does not present an overall defense of billionaires, as the only other wealthy characters are either deluded maniacs hellbent on revenge, or else cutthroat capitalists who are willing to do anything in order to get more money — up to and including manipulating the stock market so that they’ll have the opportunity to sell weapons of mass destruction to…well, frankly I can’t think of anyone to whom it would be okay to sell weapons of mass destruction, so I guess the point is moot.

There’s a problem that you run into with George Bernard Shaw’s Major Barbara (a lot of Shaw’s works, actually), which is that his defenses of personal success, hard work, enterprise, &c. all seem like they follow Carnegie and Ford’s theories about Social Darwinism — but Shaw himself was a socialist, and even Major Barbara explicitly advocates for mass uprising against oppressive capitalism.  I think one of the ways to reconcile it is that, in large part, both Shaw’s works and the Trilogy are specifically addressed to people who have power about the way that they should behave:  they aren’t a defense of the strong to the weak, but an excoriation of the strong by the presentation of an example of real strength.

When you look at it in contrast with The Avengers, I think there’s an interesting hitch.  The Avengers pretty specifically posits the merits of a cabal of super-people who are here to save us from the bad guys — and it generally glosses over the motivations, behaviors, and even personalities of its villains to make that pill a little easier to swallow.  We might be in an awkward spot if Bane had been the villain in The Avengers, and the de facto head of the Military-Industrial Complex (Nick Fury) had just assembled a superhero team to fight him, because the thing of it is that SHIELD is very specifically a political agency — while Bruce Wayne uses his vast wealth to separate himself from both the legal and political society that governs Gotham City.  There is a difference, in other words, between the Scarlet Pimpernel rescuing aristocrats in Revolutionary France and, say, a secret tactical assassination squad made up of the King’s Musketeers; one is an outsider trying to protect people from mob violence — the other is unmistakably an advocate for the aristocratic society that was just overthrown.

The 99% Rises

Which brings us to the popular mandate.  One of the things that I think it’s important to remember in the Trilogy is that there is, in fact, no popular uprising.  Bane’s uprising is NOT Occupy Wall Street and, in fact, doesn’t even resemble Occupy Wall Street.  It is very specifically an intricate revenge plot that co-opts the language of populism in order to create a militarized police state.  And it’s also the culmination of the plot set into motion by Ra’s al Ghul, so let’s take a moment and talk about him.

Ra’s argues in Batman Begins that it’s his responsibility to destroy a society when it becomes decadent, and this actually puts him and the League into a very specific moral and historical position.  When your enemy is decadence, and your response to it is to, either legally or illegally, create and enforce a kind of moral purity in response, then you are a Fascist.  This is exactly what fascism is:  an often extrajudicial movement that seeks to fight “decadence” and “corruption” — almost inevitably defined as “multiculturalism” or “moral relativism” — by creating a renewed sense of purity.  When we take the first movie into account, it’s readily apparent that it’s not income inequality that’s on Ra’s’ mind, and so it’s not inequality that Batman is defending — in fact, the income inequality in Gotham was purposefully engineered by R’as al Ghul in order to destroy the city, to battle against the “decadence” that he’d witnessed.  While his ambitions might not be specifically about achieving and maintaining power, Ra’s is actually a fascist terrorist, and Gotham was meant to be the League’s Reichstag fire.

Bane, in fulfilling that plan, actually does exactly what every historical fascist movement does — he hands out power to a minority of aggressive, militant thugs, while simultaneously insisting to the population that he’s liberating them.  Fascist movements, while not always popular, are always populist.  This characterization of Bane’s revolution in the Trilogy actually does several things, to my eye:

1) In the first place, it very clearly distances it from the Occupy movement.  The fact that a Fascist movement can use populist language does not imply that all populist movements are Fascist, and when you consider Bane’s actions — the militarized state, the abiding sense of terror that he creates with his bomb, the kangaroo courts, &c., it’s manifest that this isn’t really a criticism of Occupy.

2)  Pursuant to the above, what Bane’s revolution also does is point out the inevitability of militarized resistance to income inequality.  Every single time we’ve seen a revolution go sour — France, Russia, South America, even in the US (Ethan Allen presided over his share of kangaroo courts, to be sure) — every time a revolution has gone bad, it’s been a direct result of how widespread inequality made a society vulnerable to Fascist movements.  That is to say, it’s important for us to understand, and I think that the Trilogy argues for it, that a Fascist police state isn’t the direct consequence of revolution; it’s the direct consequence of the conditions that precede revolution.    The aristocracy will always argue that we can’t entertain revolution, because if you give the revolutionaries what they want then eventually they’ll ask for your head; this is propaganda — the truth is that the revolutionaries don’t start demanding heads until you’ve denied them everything ELSE that they want.

3)  Finally, the language that’s often overlooked in criticisms of the movie is that Bane’s pronouncements about liberation?  Those are our pronouncements — America’s pronouncements, the kind that we make a big deal about when we “liberate” other countries.  Bane leading a line of tanks down the streets of Gotham and demanding that the people greet him as a liberator is as absurd as us telling the people of Iraq that we’ve liberated them with our tanks and our drone strikes, or the people of Afghanistan that we’ve liberated them from the Taliban by delivering them directly into the hands of a different corrupt dictator.

Of course it’s easy for us to overlook criticisms of our own, American hegemony, which is one of the things about The Avengers that makes me bristle so much — it’s so very clearly built to be a propaganda film.  Consider that Ra’s’ characterization as a deadly fascist is…well, not subtle, but it’s at least specific and pursuant to the plot.  Ra’s makes an argument that eventually sees fruition in Bane’s fascism.  Contrarywise, Loki’s characterization as a new Hitler is a consequence of him just being an inexplicable cock — he goes out and is an asshole to some Germans, at which point one of them compares him to Hitler.  It’s not just a ham-handed device; it’s also only evocative of the broadest and most simplistic understanding of who Hitler was and how he came to power.

Similarly, consider the differences in the rank-and-file villains of the two movies — there’s a complexity to those in Rises (I will get to this) that The Avengers purposefully, specifically eschews.  In The Avengers, the earth is under attack by aliens that lack any clear motivation, any individual characterization, any position of moral ambiguity that might cause us to question, even for a moment, the moral rectitude of annihilating them with a nuclear weapon.  They are, very specifically, the demonized Other (actually, I think “The Other” is the name of the head alien) — a foreign force that is purely malignant and can therefore be destroyed with a clear conscience, created solely for the purpose of giving our heroes a threat to fight that won’t cause the audience to think about the moral ramifications in any way.

Justice, Vengeance

Importantly, one of the abiding themes of the Dark Knight Trilogy is how Batman’s acts of violence come with inevitable and often disastrous consequences.  This has actually always been a question that’s dogged most superheroes, but it’s also dogged Batman in particular: how does beating up a bunch of muggers actually solve the problem?  Right from Begins, we see the abiding argument that it doesn’t — it’s not the Joe Chills of the world who are the real bad guys, which Bruce Wayne learns the first time he had to steal to avoid starving, it’s the system that creates them that Batman has to fight.

It’s a fair argument to point out that the Trilogy can be seen as a rich guy who slums for a while as an excuse to beat up the people he doesn’t like, but I think this is an unfair characterization; Nolan very particularly makes it clear that Wayne is in this for the long haul — he doesn’t just pretend to be poor, like he could go back to his wealth whenever he wants; he actually has to get arrested and go to a prison in China.  He doesn’t get to pass judgment, in other words, until he’s committed himself in a non-trivial, irreversible way — and, to his credit, he still refuses to pass judgment on the kind of petty criminals that he’s seen are a consequence of widespread income inequality.

It’s certainly possible to read Batman’s final confrontation with Bane, in which he asks if Bane thought he was the only one who could climb out of hell, as a kind of indictment of people who suggest that privilege necessarily insulates us from an understanding of the suffering of others; but it’s also important to remember that Batman can’t win until he actually does climb out of hell.  It’s not enough to understand where a person has come from — if you want to engage with them on equal footing, you have to have actually been through the shit, too.  I think it’s a much stronger position, though it’s also easy to see why, if you’re in a position of privilege, you might overlook it.

What’s vital to remember in all of this is that there is one and only one action that Batman takes which has unequivocally good consequences:  it’s not defeating Ra’s al Ghul, that just sets up the long-term vendetta that will see Bane’s revolution; it’s not becoming the Batman, that’s just what creates the Joker; it’s not even shielding Harvey Dent from blame for his actions — that just serves to create a system that suspends due process and provides Bane with an army to destroy Gotham.  This is the complexity that I was talking about earlier, in the rank-and-file villains of the Trilogy:  the first one they’re mostly just random thugs, sure; but in The Dark Knight and Rises, those thugs are people who are mentally handicapped (and out on the street, why? Because they live in a city without the kind of social safety net that would have seen them get the medical treatment that they needed), and people who were arrested en masse, possibly for spurious reasons.  Simply beating those guys up is not only not productive, it’s actually kind of morally problematic — or say, rather, while it might not be bad, it’s also not explicitly good.

No, obviously the one thing that Batman does that permits him a genuine freedom, instead of his self-imposed seclusion, is risking his life to take the atomic bomb away from Gotham City.  This is an act that’s not about defending a status quo, about beating up a villain, about an identifiable enemy, about morally ambiguous lying or secrets; this is flat-out a guy sacrificing himself for the sake of the common good.  The only true heroism, at the end of this long argument about the fine line between justice and fascism, is self-sacrifice.

And when you look at it next to The Avengers, the key difference is thrown into relief.  Batman risks his life to protect Gotham City from a bomb; Tony Stark risks his life to protect Manhattan from a similar bomb, by pointing it at an army of invaders.  Batman’s aim is solely to protect, and his action will necessarily protect the good and the bad — the bus of orphaned schoolchildren AND the hardened escaped cons who were just gunning down cops.  Tony is happy to protect the humans, but the foreigners are going to get wiped out — their asteroid-thing is annihilated, the remainder…die, I guess.  It’s worth noting again that Thor, whose own movie hinged on him opposing genocide even of people who were bad, doesn’t even seem a little sad that this is the only way that they could do it.

Look at what Tony Stark says, too, about what the Avengers are and what they’re for:  “Because if we can’t protect the Earth, you can be damned well sure we’ll avenge it!”  The point of the Avengers is explicitly NOT self-sacrifice — and we can really read an argument that says that if an Avenger did sacrifice himself in a way that didn’t destroy an alien horde, that sacrifice would be a failure.  The Avengers aren’t here to protect anyone; they’re here to destroy Our Enemies, which is a position that Rises, in the end, explicitly rejects, and I think it’s stronger for it.

The Problematics

Of course, everything is always going to be at least a little problematic.  The fact that it causes problems shouldn’t be taken as a reason to not like it, but you do need to keep these ideas in your head and you have to weigh them when you’re talking about the merits of a movie.  Rises, and the Dark Knight Trilogy as a whole, have their fair share of problems.

Among them, I think it’s unfortunate how often “the people of Gotham”, characterized as a largely-faceless mass (or by the occasional orphan) that Batman asserts (without any particular evidence) is fundamentally good, is essentially used as a prop in other peoples’ power struggles.  While the treatment of Bane’s fascistic rise is a good one, it’s a little disheartening that we don’t see the fact that the end of fascism in a time or place is never something that rests on the back of one hero, but is itself a popular movement.  We, the people, aren’t juggled between Fascists and Revolutionary heroes — we make the fascists and we let them lead us; and they leave when we make them leave.

Likewise, there’s a lot of Rises that seems like it’s defending the 1% in a way that I’m ultimately willing to let slide, because I think this has more to do with the problems that are incurred when you have a director who is also a writer:  namely, that justifications tend to be over-written.  So, for example, when Bane seizes the Gotham stock market, and the cops don’t want to go in because of hostages, there’s a day-trader or something who tries to argue with a working-class guy about why it’s desperately important that the stock market be protected.

My suspicion is that this is less an explicit defense of the merits of the stock market, and more an anxiety on behalf of the director, who was afraid that the audience (whom he can rely on to be mostly indifferent to stockbrokers, at least) would be insufficiently invested in the stakes unless he made it absolutely clear how a fucked-up stock market could directly affect us, the working folks.  I think this was a mistake on his part, I think that scene would have worked fine without the explanation; but I’m inclined to ignore it in favor of the broader structure of Fascist revolutions simply because of it’s so clearly and clunkily an explanation for this particular set of actions.  It’s not a demand that we protect Wall Street, per se, it’s just a plea to the audience, for the sake of the plot, for us to not say, “Well, fuck those guys.”

Well, maybe.  It is pretty annoying, though.

The Upshot

In my opinion, The Dark Knight Rises — both as an individual film and as the culmination of a trilogy of films — is superior to The Avengers in every respect save one.  I am happy to credit The Avengers with developing a kind of action vocabulary that made for some exhilarating fights, with the kind of fluidity that you almost never see in live-action films that involve super-powers.  But otherwise…well, look, just the fact that we can have a discussion about Batman as an allegory for fascism in popular movement and the nature of heroism, and any discussion of The Avengers kind of peters out after we’ve covered Whedon’s one and only socio-political argument (“It’s about constructed family“, yeah, yeah, we get it, man) indicates that the Dark Knight is by far the denser, more intelligent treatment of the attendant questions of superheroism, of power, and of elitism.

  1. braak says:

    Before anyone comments, I want to let you guys know right now that I am not accepting structural arguments in favor of movie weaknesses. Like, “The Dark Knight Rises HAD to be this way, because otherwise it would have been too long”, things like that. I have shown, THROUGH DRAMATURGY, that structure is extremely flexible and can be used, often with minor adjustments, to make any necessary point. Arguing that a movie couldn’t be both enjoyable AND morally interesting is an argument from personal incredulity (i.e., “I can’t think of how it could be done, therefore it couldn’t have been done.”) and THOSE ARGUMENTS WILL BE IGNORED.

  2. benjb says:

    That’s a very interesting argument, but I can’t help feeling a certain (William) Blakean ambiguity about the Batman movies.

    That is, it seems like you argue that Batman is a terrible idea on almost every level: on the personal level, Batman represents a stunting of Wayne’s emotional growth (he’s still living at the moment of trauma); on a sociological level, Batman inflames insane criminal activity (as outlined by Gordon at the end of Batman Begins); and on an economic level (where Batman’s activity is all hidden and personally-directed, vs. the overt and interpersonal activity of his father’s monorail).

    I’m on-board there; and I’m even on-board when you argue that the movies demonstrate how Batman’s acts reverberate terribly.

    But at the same time–and here’s that Blakean ambiguity–so much of the movie is spectacle and fetishization. We may think, “yes, vigilantism is terrible,” but aren’t we simultaneously feeling, “oh man, I’d love to drive that car and blow stuff up!” Is Nolan not secretly of Batman’s party without knowing it?

    Or! Do you think that the spectacle and fetish is there to teach us a lesson about the amorality of aesthetics, i.e., it doesn’t matter who looks cool, heroes are not identified by capes/masks, etc.?

  3. braak says:

    That’s a really good point, and I have to say, I don’t really know the answer to it. You’re absolutely right that while it principally argues that having Batman is, in many ways, catastrophic, it also makes being Batman seem like it would be totally fucking awesome.

    In part, I think the fact that the default attitude towards Batman — which is that Batman is rad as hell — is part of why it’s structured the way it is; that is to say, it’s not the case that Nolan is trying to fetishize the sort of universally troublesome consequences of being Batman, but actually it’s to take the already-fetishized idea of Batman and ameliorate it by showing us the other side of the argument.

    If it’s the latter, I think we’d kind of have to accept the movies as a failure, because broken back and no knee cartilage and all, being Batman still seems rad as hell.

    On the other hand, there may be a broader point about the natural tension between symbolic and practical action — we’re often told that part of the merit of Batman is as a symbol, so maybe what we’re broadly seeing is a thesis like, “Look, it’s important to have an imaginary symbol like Batman in your minds, because it teaches us to be good — but it’s simultaneously important to remember that you can’t supplant practical, real world knowledge with symbolic knowledge, because that real world knowledge teaches us how to be good.

    Maybe. Hmmm, I am going to keep chewing on this, I think.

  4. Moff says:

    The thing that bothered me most about Rises — and I am trying to write something about it — is what you say about not seeing the end of fascism as the work of more than one hero. What I couldn’t help thinking about was those scenes in the first two Spider-Man movies — the end of the first one, where the people of New York start throwing crap at the Green Goblin, and the subway scene in the second one — where Spidey’s heroism became bigger than he was. There was nothing like that in Rises.

    There was also something depressing about how the end just erupted into a regular old shooting match between a bunch of angry men. And, given the problems we have with police power in this country, and how tied up those problems are with our class issues, something disturbing about how the good guys were just an army of cops. I don’t know, maybe this was a case where Nolan was showing us truth — how things really would be — and expecting that some people would be bothered by it. But it felt dangerously close to a simplistic endorsement to me, and even more than that, it felt like a lack of imagination. And in this case, a lack of imagination on Nolan’s part translates to a lack of imagination on Batman’s part, which is too bad (and highlights something, which is that I’m not sure the trilogy ever evokes one of my favorite Bat-qualities, the fact that 95 percent of the time, he’s supposed to be two or three steps ahead of everyone else).

  5. braak says:

    Yeah, I think the fact that the city never really rises up (HA!) in its own defense is probably the most grievous flaw in the Fascism narrative, especially because the necessary elements are there — Joseph Gordon-Levitt has been leaving Bat-symbol shaped marks on the walls, Batman announces his return with that fire-bat-thing, &c. And The People Coming Together Because of Batman is both a part of Nolan’s movies that they harp on, and even something that Frank Miller can get his head around.

    I think the necessary change, which would have made the story (in my opinion) both darker, but somehow righter, would have been if most of the cops had actually died in those explosions — that Bane announces his arrival with a kind of Krystalnacht-inflected actual mass-slaughter — and it was The People of Gotham who end up coming together for that fight against the criminals at the end, forcibly rejecting Bane’s dominance after contacting each other through the hope that the Batman inspired.

  6. Carl says:

    A few things:

    I want to throw my lot in with you and Moff about the troubling absence of any genuine revolution, en masse, by the people at the movie’s end. Like you say, stories of salvation by the elite is standard superhero stuff, and the messianic themes here are pretty overt. One important feature of the messianic narrative, of course, is that he has to do for the people what they most certainly cannot do for themselves. Troubling as the political implications of that are, I like your notion of the movie being aimed at the elite moviegoers, offering a blueprint for how to conduct yourself as a member of the fortunate few. Not sure I buy it, but I like it. But I had the very same objection over the Cops in the theatre last night: why not just kill the police in the tunnel collapse and have the people rise up against Bane at the end? The notion of virtuous, institutional law-and-order is already so thoroughly sullied by the triology’s depiction of corruption in Knight and Robin’s indictment of Gordon’s lie and the misappropriation of police power in Rises (such that the apparently obvious moral action here is for Robin to walk away from the GCPD at the end) that it’s very odd to make the Cops into an undifferentiated, heroic mass at the climax. I thought maybe, drawing on Ben’s ambiguity point, it was something to do with the necessity of having two seething spectrum forces at each others’ throats that are distinguishable theoretically but not practically? Two forces that aren’t the people of Gotham themselves, embodied by Batman, but between which they are trapped– something akin to the plight of the protagonists in Children of Men? But then I think, no, because Nolan went way out of his way to give the Cops an institutional redemption here, both in the embodiment of the arc of Foley (from fool to coward to hero) and of Gordon (from liar to cripple to general). Intended or not, it reads to me as though they are assuredly virtuous only when the bat symbol is reconstituted at the movie’s end— only when the messiah is present to lead them in righteousness, apparently. Which is why Bruce has to leave the cowl in somebody’s hands if he’s stepping away. I’m not sure how to feel about that.

    While I agree that the Occupy correlation that’s shown up in reviews is off-base for many of the reasons you outline, I think you’re being generous and maybe a little rose-colored in your assessment of Nolan’s political commentary. If anything, the trilogy seems to me to be a conspicuous expression of muddied centrism more than a subversive, proletarian screed. There is obviously much here for it’s criticism of the 1%, and yet it doesn’t seem to portray the 99% in much better a light in this film. Note how in the revolution scenes, after the prisoners from Blackgate storm the streets, ‘the help’ at the condos join the mob in tossing ‘the rich’— some of whom are old and hobbled— out on their asses. Much as we’re meant to subtly enjoy the brokers’ comeuppance at the stock market, they are drawn pretty sympathetically when executed by exile. Frankly, that scene where Selena Kyle walks through the trashed apartment building with her— what, lover, sister? I couldn’t tell— is about as pretty a love letter to private property as you’re ever going to want to find:

    Selena (looking at the ransacked apartment forlornly): “This used to be a home.”

    Lover/Sister Chick: “And now it’s everyone’s home.” (Selena stares, agog. The Lover/Sister Chick wraps her arms around her from behind) “Well this is what you wanted, right? Remember? A storm is coming?”

    There’s some pretty adept visual storytelling that screams “what everyone owns, nobody owns,” m’friend.

    Lastly, in honor of the frequent demands made of Braak that he think less about entertainment and enjoy himself more (and his heroic refusal to do so), three quick plot nitpicks, if I might:

    Why the five month siege of Gotham? If Talia and Bane were willing to die to see the nuclear explosion through, why the delay and populist deception and all of that? I don’t understand it motivationally, I don’t understand what it profits the League, I don’t understand how it facilitates the project of restoring balance. All a five month delay does is make it possible for the cops you didn’t bother to kill to escape the tunnels under your city and thwart your plan. I think it’s weak.

    Also: where did the Scarecrow come from? I presume he was imprisoned after Begins right? He was released from Blackgate or was he in Arkham, or what? If he was in Arkham, where’s the Joker? I mean, obviously, he’s not going to show up because Nolan is being respectful of the memory of the actor, but if you’re letting out all of the crazies, it’s weird not to have the most deranged psychopathic madman in the history of your city figure in its theatrical, catastrophic collapse. A mention? Something? If not, don’t bring Crane back to make his absence conspicuous like that.

    Lastly, when Bruce emerges from the prison half way around the world, what the hell? He’s flat broke, right? He’s just been in the most hellish prison in the world for months. Everyone, even the prisoners, apparently, know he’s got nothing, so he’s not going to the local Radisson and charming someone into sending a limo for him. How does a penniless, homeless, scraggly drifter get halfway around the world, seemingly overnight like that? When he’s phenomenally rich and has unlimited resources at his disposal, we go okay, he just made it happen somehow. We buy that he can track a cat-burglar down under a random overpass and appear before her undetected, or arrange to have a bridge rigged with combustible materials so it glows like the bat signal. But this, he has less support at this point than Gordon at that point in the movie. Way less. No car to get around, no Bat to carry explosive materials from one place to another, at that point. I don’t know. As insane as this sounds, for the first time in the trilogy, when totally penniless Bruce showed up in Gotham overnight after climbing out of the pit, and he managed to rig a bridge immediately adjacent to Bane’s well-trafficked execution grounds with explosives, I went “come on, man.”

  7. Moff says:

    Actually, if you recall, Scarecrow shows up at the beginning of The Dark Knight, too, and is put away again by Batman. So it’s actually kind of a nice touch to have him back for the third movie as well. And not inappropriate, since there’s a case to be made that fear and overcoming it are at the heart of the whole trilogy.

    Yeah, the whole Bruce reappearing in Gotham bit bugged me too. Also, it was weird how the guys in prison went from “They’re paying us not to let you die” (which — with what? the best cigarettes? free Wi-Fi? YOU ARE IN A THIRD-WORLD PRISON) to “Here, let’s help pop that vertebra back in and then cheer for you to escape.” And he looked so good when he got back to Gotham! The Bruce Wayne Workout:

    1. Get back broken (after shaking off eight years of lethargy and permanent bodily damage).

    2. Eat only wafers and gruel.

    3. Learn to stand again with a rope.

    4. Push-ups and pull-ups.


    Also, couldn’t they at least have adjusted the bomb threat so that he got back with some time to spare and then Talia changed it so there were only minutes left? Because a movie with this much aspiration deserved better than a totally by-the-numbers clock-is-running-out climax.

  8. Carl says:

    Regarding Scarecrow: oh yeah, that’s right. That’s what I get for not doing a check-in with the first two films before trotting out to see the finale. I think my Crane-related Joker gripe stands, though.

  9. braak says:

    The thing is, yeah, that’s all true. What’s weird, though, is that scene with the people getting dragged out, and Selina Kyle and that line, is that it’s all so fucking incongruous. Not even like it doesn’t make sense, which it kind of doesn’t, but it all feels completely vestigial. Catwoman saying to Wayne that there’s a storm coming has all the sound of a personally-selfish thief justifying her actions; there’s no indication that there’s been a secret communist revolution brewing among the people, Bane isn’t even really using the language of income redistribution (there’s a lot about seizing power, but I don’t remember him saying much about how now they’ll all own property in commonwealth), the second movie presumably disproved the Joker’s thesis (that Gotham was always on the verge of just utter collapse because everyone was so horrible), and, importantly, when Jen says, “Now it’s everyone’s home” no one else is living there. It’s just empty, it’s not anyone’s home!

    First looking at it I thought that maybe all of those doormen and such were actually Bane’s goons in disguise, the way he infiltrated the stockmarket with a dude dressed like a pizza man. But even afterwards, and after Jen’s attitude on redistribution, I still have a hard time crediting it. It’s true that the whole series tends towards a kind of muddy centrism, but the muddiness is caused by what look like these weirdly, inexpertly patched-in antitheses to what by all rights ought to be a fundamentally populist narrative.

  10. braak says:

    The thing about Bane and the plot with the bomb is — and I agree that the timing on it is less than perfect — it’s not Bane’s plan. It’s Talia al Ghul’s plan, and she ISN’T there to actually save the world from decadence, she isn’t really there as a fascist terrorist, she’s mostly there because she wants to see Batman suffer, and wants him to watch impotently as his city dissolves into chaos. It’s a weird, mean, baroque plan, but within the context of her character — that it’s the slow knife that cuts the worst — it does kind of make a lot of sense. Bane is there specifically to be a theatrical villain, to supervise this imminent collapse, and to draw attention away from Talia.

    Lastly, when Bruce emerges from the prison half way around the world, what the hell? He’s flat broke, right? He’s just been in the most hellish prison in the world for months. Everyone, even the prisoners, apparently, know he’s got nothing, so he’s not going to the local Radisson and charming someone into sending a limo for him. How does a penniless, homeless, scraggly drifter get halfway around the world, seemingly overnight like that?

    Well. He’s Batman.

  11. Moff says:

    I like to imagine that Superman actually does exist in the Nolan mythos, and is responsible for that sort of time-defying travel assistance, and the only reason he doesn’t show up to help is that Batman glares at him and grunts that he’s going to handle this and Clark better not get involved.

  12. Erin says:

    “The Dark Knight Rises absolutely maintains the sense of Batman as a basically morally, physically, and intellectually superior person, whose actions we’re meant to appreciate by virtue of that superiority.”

    Morally? Did we see different movies?

  13. erinsnyder says:

    “Bane’s uprising is NOT Occupy Wall Street and, in fact, doesn’t even resemble Occupy Wall Street.”

    Bane quite literally occupies Wall Street in the movie. Those scenes were filmed during the Occupy Wall Street protests – right across the street from them, in fact. Whether it’s an accurate reflection of the movement, it’s clearly supposed to resemble Occupy Wall Street.

    My sense is that Nolan wanted to play with the connection, though I don’t really see it as any sort of deep statement one way or the other. Bane was clearly manipulating the “99%”, and Catwoman was a sort of anti-hero of the poor (not quite Robin Hood, but at least she robs from the rich). Some of the Bane vs. Batman stuff felt like literal class warfare, but it never seemed to add up to anything.

    Ultimately, none of this had anything to do with whether it was a good movie or not. I disliked Dark Knight Rises because it was badly plotted, full of plot holes, and its characterization of Bruce was outright horrible. It borrowed heavily from far superior stories and didn’t do them justice. I did think Catwoman was pretty awesome, though.

  14. […] This co-opting of the city is the real story of The Dark Knight Rises. Bane’s hamhanded political maneuver is the least of his accomplishments, particularly because it does nothing to build his power base. His minions are just minions, either myrmidons imported from his mercenary days or inmates he freed from Blackgate Prison. The regular folk hide in their homes, and the guardians of order are quite literally forced underground. This “rising,” as Chris Braak astutely notes, is a long way from a popular one. […]

  15. John Jackson says:

    I noticed after watching it. Nolan’s films are spectacularly awesome, but I can’t think of one that actually has substance.

    As for Bruce Wayne showing up the next day in Gotham. Well, I think it was ‘fixing’ a ‘pacing issue’ in post. The way it cut together he shows up with a day left on the clock, gets in to see Fox and Tate, says he can’t rescue her ‘tonight’ and then…is that before he rescues Gordon? Does the timing of the ‘day before’ the climactic battle make any sense at all? I don’t think it does. I think there are quite a few plot threads and scenes excised to meet the just under 3 hour cut. Catwoman can walk right into a Bane stronghold, while we have never seen her do anything with Bane or the army since she went to prison, she appears to have the run of the city, and not because everyone else does. And yet she still isn’t in the hierarchy.

    And that’s arguably the second or third most central character in the film! I imagine in the script/cutting room floor she serves a lot better as a foil/compromise/moral grey anchor in the film during the ‘occupation’ but so much of that was cut.

    The theme of Batman being a catastrophe is definitely lined throughout these films, but so is the theme of him saving the day. He’s both a necessity and a travesty for the city of Gotham. And the worst villains would never show up in Gotham if it wasn’t for his existence. I don’t think it was ever intended to come down either way on this issue, it’s just meant to be complicated.

  16. […] Threat Quality Press The truth is, you can electrify pretty much anything. « The Dark Knight Rises, the Avengers, and Occupy […]

  17. […] The Dark Knight Rises: Jim Emerson – A hero ain’t nothin’ but a knuckle sandwich. Threat Quality – The Dark Knight Rises, the Avengers, and […]

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