Yesterday, Jesse and I saw a film.
Having slept on it, some digested thoughts;
-First, just to get it out of the way: on a pure cinema craft level, this thing is bulletproof. Everyone slays their part, the script (while some places threadbare) is tight, and in the final analysis, it’s probably the most visually beautiful film Nolan’s made to date. The bleak place where the movie spends most of its Big Gloom looks like something out of a Moebius comic; it’s just stunning. And I looked hard for Anne Hathaway in this thing, but all I saw was Selina Kyle.
Young as I am, Knightfall would have been the first mainstream Batman storyline I was aware of. Everything else I knew of the character came from the Bruce Timm cartoon, which was viewed incompletely and in no particular order. I remember seeing posters in the window that strange, record-store-ish comic shop I was never allowed into — Bane, massive and anonymous behind that awful mask, staring at me as he bent the screaming Batman over his knee. Huh. Later, slightly older but no so’s you’d notice, I got the first Knightfall trade. I didn’t realize there were two others, see. In that last chapter, I kept waiting for Batman to turn it around. But whenever he tried, Bane would just knock him further down into the cave. He’d throw everything he had at this monster — shit I had televisual evidence would be enough to fell any foe — and Bane kept coming. I remember this feeling of helplessness as Bane hoisted the man up. This moment, etched in the Jim Aparo lines which told only truth about the Dark Knight, interminable on the page. Then the page turns, and the Caped Crusader is beaten and paralyzed on the Batcave floor, and there aren’t anymore pages. No To Be Continued. From the beginning of my comic book literacy, I have known Bane to be the ultimate and most terrifying foe. And, over the past fifteen years of most writers not really knowing what do with him, I’d allowed myself to forget.
But, Bane. As helpless in my theatre seat as I was with the book in my hands, Bane was back. That cool intellect, now married to a disarming joviality. That casual, apathetic cruelty. That patience. You know, I think that’s what gets me the most. He’s so inhumanly patient. He’ll stand and watch as you wear yourself thin getting to him, and then he’ll wait for you to throw your first punch. And he’ll keep waiting. And then you’ll stumble, gasp for breath, and then he moves on you. Just beyond your limits, just within that vast country where you are helpless and spent, waits Bane. The bogeyman of my childhood. Tom Hardy, Chris and Jonathan Nolan, whomever was responsible for that fabulous costuming, brought the anti-Doc Savage to life — and though there are some dissenting opinions in this matter, I absolutely dug how he played out in the third act. Hans Gruber, Darth Vader, and HAL 9000 have worthy kin the TDKR’s Bane. It’s just that maybe I didn’t sleep so well last night.
-In a cast of standout characters — which, one reviewer pointed out, seems designed to make the film’s lead look boring by comparison — Bruce Wayne comes through stronger here than he has in the entire series, the entire franchise. The Nolans very cannily drop the Batman On A Learning Curve aspect from the previous movies; where Begins Bruce struggles to make the mystery come together and Dark Knight Bruce is consciously pushing a need to be smarter, the decently older Rises Bruce just straight up IS smarter. He casually divines the solutions to several minor crimes in his first ten minutes of screen time, not in the flashy Sherlock way, but in a way that subtly reflects the way his mind has gained sharpness and sophistication over the near-decade since we see him Begins. Building Batman is not the point here. Bruce already has everything he needs to… I don’t know exactly how to say this so its palatable to me, but to fulfill his destiny. And if we really want to go down this line of discourse, we might say that Begins is about the body and the physiological reaction to fear (to the extent that the main weapon in the film is a chemical that induces it), Dark Knight is about the mind and the cognitive reaction to fear (to the point that its main villain spreads fear by confounding logical expectation), and Rises is about the soul and the spiritual reaction to fear (to the degree that I choose not to talk about here, for fear of spoilers). In each stage, Bruce has to overcome those respective levels of fear — and, I now realize, the way he does it is always by placing his trust in other people. He gives Jim Gordon the keys to the Batmobile. He gambles on the strength of the social contract against the Joker’s plans for mutually assured suicide. As another reviewer pointed out, these films state that power in any form is inherently corrupt, anarchy leads to exploitation, and that a better world is possible only through trusting each other. Better living though giving a shit about other human beings. And for all the hemming and hawing about cannons on the Batpod, that’s a pretty important part of Batman fiction that requires a decent level of insight to get to.
-These movies, the Nolan Batman trilogy, give us a Batman that never quite works. His ethics, his methods, his effectiveness, are all 85% there. There’s a flaw at the heart of Bruce Wayne’s Batman crusade. I wonder if the whole awkwardness of Bale’s Batman is a part of that — the voice, the open mouth, slight lumbering nature of the man, none of which are really present when not in costume (excuse me, armor) — is supposed to play to that. There’s a part of the climax of TDKR that speaks to that, at least I think it does. By the films ending (and it is a very, very good ending), that flaw has finally been seen to. Filled. Purified. Body, mind — once you’re done with the soul, you’re finished, aren’t you? You’ve won. You’re a human being. Not this crude matter, but a luminous being. And this is a very bright, sunlit film. In his last moments on camera, moments that will give you a very special kind of emotion, the man we’ve watched develop over three movies and thirty-nine years finally gets his shit straight.
-Ending on a slightly less lofty note: Bale and Hathaway have a very interesting chemistry here. This constant getting-one-over-on-the-other that somehow never feels gimmicky. It just seems, and this is kind of a funny thing to say, like the natural protracted interaction between a master detective and a master thief who are each, to varying degrees, constantly lying. I don’t think Bruce would come across as well as he does without Selina to play against, and vice versa. In their interactions, we see a side of him we haven’t before, which leads to what is probably the funniest line in the series. Move over, “…Like a submarine.” For the first time, I bought Selina Kyle being into this guy. And it has absolutely nothing to do with whips and capes.
-But yes, the knife heels are kind of silly.
-But the new lights-out Bat Trick is neat enough to cover for it. Which is, in and of itself, a pretty neat trick.
The Dark Knight Rises: Five Keatons out of Five.