'The Dark Knight Rises': And Michael Caine Wept

Elmo Keep: So, THE BAT?

Maria Bustillos: Yes.

EK: I celebrated my 103rd birthday somewhere in the middle of this film.

MB: You look so young for your age!

EK: Thank you. It is the remarkably smog-free air we enjoy.

MB: This movie was very interesting to me as a political document.

EK: Because it was about Occupy?

MB: Yeah? But really, beyond that.

EK: That the powerful people must keep all their money and control, because look OTHERWISE ANARCHY?

MB: DING DING DING

EK: DDDDDDDD:

MB: Little people! Listen and obey! You are better off with us bazillionaires looking after your tiny little interests!! We will be ripping you off for the duration, sorry!—but not blow you up with nuclear bombs! (unless we are accidentally infiltrated.)

In short, a remarkably accurate portrait of today’s America.

But. I really didn’t understand the villain, Bane. In the very first moments of the movie one of Bane’s henchmen is all ecstatically martyring himself, but the motives behind his fanaticism remain entirely opaque—for over two hours! Race purity? Nationalism? Religious zealotry? Is Bane a demagogue, a dictator or a plain old terrorist? Why would anyone follow such a mumble-mouthed no-face stadium-exploding bad guy who goes around wringing people’s necks just to pass the time?

Also, I had no idea who played Bane, until after the movie!? That totally handsome guy!

EK: But let’s not see his face! Which is crushingly beautiful.

MB: I was so mad when I found out! I love that guy.

EK: Brutiful?

MB: Broodiful.

EK: This is just one instance of the huge amounts of assumed knowledge about the Batman universes that this film takes as a given the audience has possession of. In the comics Bane is a criminal mastermind whose backstory goes towards explaining all this, but we only get a very small glimpse of this very late in the film, which amounts to essentially no motivation for us to peg his actions on.

MB: It bears mentioning, also, that the real center of the movie’s political faux-populist rage is Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle. The ex-hooker with a heart of gold who steals only from the rich, whom she hates. “There’s a storm coming, Mr. Wayne,” she whispers lustily. “You and your friends better batten down the hatches, ’cause when it hits, you’re all gonna wonder how you ever thought you could live so large, and leave so little for the rest of us.”

This hamfisted observation is critical because there is a suggestion here, incoherent as it is, that the Occupy movement is a mob of dangerous lowlife who would willingly follow a crazy, violent criminal. Whereas in reality the Occupy movement is a gathering of pissed-off regular people, a lot of them very young, plus Amanda Palmer bawling over her ukelele.

Later in the movie, Selina Kyle is sprung from the neo-Bastille. But when the whole city’s been smashed she is all full of Regrets, and she wishes so bad she’d just trusted in Bruce Wayne, like we all should. #pfft

EK: But also, forget about that because it’s about Daddy Issues.

MB: Yeah. Michael Caine, PLEASE do not be weeping in such an irritating manner.

EK: I think that the lack of emotion from all other people in these films was funneled through Michael Caine in that moment.

MB: “I failed you” and I’m like hell yes you did.

EK: Do you know what Christopher Nolan films really are, in disguise? They are the least fun KISS show you have ever seen. Explosions! Costumes! Theatrical voices!

MB: I’m quite fond of “I Was Made For Lovin’ You.”

EK: Dude, that is a top-shelf disco cut.

EK: There is no rock music in Christopher Nolan’s world. So sad about these Bat Movies, no Prince! No weird prog-glam U2 single. You can sort of imagine Christopher Nolan being like, “I do not dally with your pop music.”

EK: Instead: the ceaseless, unending score. It never let up.

MB: BOOM BOOM BOOM violins BOOM singing SUSPENSE violins

EK: The set-piece upon set-pieces upon set-piece just glazed my eyes over in the way that perhaps happens to people who need to consume more and more out-there porno? You know? Diminishing returns accelerate fast in this film.

MB: It is a bombardment, to be sure. And clumsy. But there are huge questions here, about genius, responsiblity, “giftedness” or “talent,” power and authority. It’s not just a Renny Harlin movie.

EK: I agree that these ideas are there if you look for them, but they feel so tacked-on to me, they don’t come off as very meaningfully explored. I feel like I am staring at a Magic Eye puzzle and the wonderment and greatness of these movies is never revealed to me. I realize this could be a failing of my eyeballs.

MB: Well, it’s nowhere near the movie that Inception is. But everybody was saying it was SO terrible that I was surprised to find it far more Meh than Yuck (except the politics, that really is incredibly Yuck.)

EK: There are vast tracts of this film which are very actively boring. It’s so bloated with players and twists it’s hard to care when it does try and raise an interesting idea.

MB: One other very, very upsetting thing caused it to be NON BORING to me even in the slow (round prison) bits.

EK: Yes?

MB: Are you sitting down?

EK: OH I AM

MB: Christian Bale bears an ever-more-uncanny resemblance to Geo. W. Bush. Round about the bloodless lips in particular. This realization caused me to go RIGID WITH HORROR IN MY SEAT and TRIP OUT, even during the boring cylindrical jail parts. YOICKS.

Then I discovered he was Oliver Stone’s first choice for the W movie!!!

EK: WHAAAAAAAAAT.

EK: So, I thought there was one interesting idea that was briefly raised in this film: When Bane breaks Batman, he’s given a perfect comic book line when he says, “Victory has defeated you.”

And I think this is a psychologically question rich to explore, what motivates people at the heights of powers? (More power.) Though this is not at all particular to rich and powerful people, or athletes at the top of their game, or artists at a creative apex, or whoever. I mean for each of us, what keeps us moving through the world once we attain something for ourselves, if we do?

But this didn’t go anywhere! Likewise the idea of rebirth via destruction, which is largely the reason the League of Shadows plot exists. We had to burn the village in order to save the village. This is an extraordinarily prickly philosophy to espouse.

Batman’s motives are all purely narcissistic until he evades a nuclear explosion.

OR DOES HE??

MB: He totally fixed the autopilot so’s he could escape incognito for no reason whatsoever with Anne Hathaway?

EK: They were in love, obviously! From meeting twice!

MB: ?!??! You clever little kitty-cat, you! She looked terrific on the neato motorbike, though.

EK: Oh man, she was so great! She enlivened all her scenes, so fun. She seemed the only person aware she was in a comic-book universe.

MB: Not just us either, nearly every reviewer loved her.

EK: Because she is visibly enjoying herself. Everyone else seems to think they are in Hamlet.

MB: To Ham Or Not To Ham. But Anne H., so fun. So pretty. Her hair, for pete’s sake, deserves an Oscar of its own.

EK: HER EYES OMG she is a hot tamale, that lady.

MB: THEY ARE ENORMOUS POOLS OF VOLUPTUOUS PROMISE or something.

EK: Impish. Which is perfect for a jewel thief.

MB: Okay, the cute ‘n’ naughty, it got on my nerves a little but I didn’t even care, once she got on the motorbike. And “came back” to the fight, like Han Solo.

EK: People have absolutely impeccable timing in these films.

MB: hee

EK: The most uncanny abilities to pin-point each other in Manhattan. Dan Kois was tweeting this to much hysterical laughter yesterday, he was so mad about it!

MB: What a mess, seriously. But I have another, equally important question for you.

EK: Yes please.

MB: The people of Gotham. What an incalculable mess they are. Who would bother to save such a sorry, brainless, helpless herd.

EK: EXACTLY.

MB: The people of the real Gotham are NOTHING like this. If any masked weirdo tried any such thing on the real Gotham, I guarantee you, Alex Pareene would eat him alive all by himself in like five minutes.

EK: But there are no stakes invested in Gotham’s being in peril, either.

MB: Heartbreakingly beautiful to look at, but tragic, I also thought, as if Nolan believes we’re looking at the decline of the place.

EK: Because we have no idea of the machinations of the city beyond the moneyed few and the police. And of course the poor orphans.

The fact that everyone meekly retreated to a ghetto or relied on being shunted on to a bus did somewhat reinforces the hopelessness.

MB: The pessimism made me angry. As though it were saying, there is something rotten at the core, here, something that not even the willing rich, like Bruce Wayne and Christopher Nolan, can fix. (But they’re our best hope!)

EK: “There can’t be despair without hope.”

THEY DID NOT FOLLOW THEIR OWN CLUNKY RULE HERE.

MB: YEAH. As it happens, the real Gotham is busting with rage and brains and juice. The whole real world is, even.

But this movie harks back to the absolute worst legacy of the Bush years. The “little people” aren’t needed, weren’t wanted, in setting things right. Just leave it to Dick Cheney.

EK: The filleting of protest. This implication this is a meaningless endeavour to undertake.

MB: PLUS there’s a long and honorable tradition in comic books of ordinary citizens behaving in a heroic way, a trope that has emerged in nearly all the best speculative-fiction films, e.g. Galaxy Quest, V for Vendetta etc. etc. I mean, V for Vendetta is the real Occupy movie.

EK: Robin is meant to symbolize that this hope isn’t lost (and also to ensure the future of the franchise). He is the new guard. He is Jason Gordon-Levitt and I will watch his spin-off against all better judgment.

MB: Yeah, he is a Man of the People. I had thought he was supposed to be a Teen of the People, but whatever.

EK: He is unsullied by corruption in a traditional comic hero sense.

MB: Another thing: Nobody expects the French Revolution! HUGE problem again, from a political and plot perspective. Total failure to suggest, or evoke, or relate anything to, the French Revolution. Much as I loved Cillian Murphy as the kangaroo judge.

EK: Again, dreamy eyes. They are very powerfully equipped in this guy’s gorgeous face.

MB: Pale and cold, full of subtle fire and whatnot.

Anyhoo, as the movie opens, we’re told that organized crime has all but disappeared from Gotham City; next thing you know there’s a mob of latter-day Mesdames Defarge sending people onto the icy river to drown. It’s not clear why.

The incessant quoting of A Tale of Two Cities in a movie ostensibly about a kingpin of organized crime! And the END. Why the hell they are equating Bruce Wayne with Sidney Carton?! Who offed himself to save the dude that his True Love wanted more. Sickest story ever. That was the most tacked-on, insulting part, from a literary POV.

The dumbness, the sloppiness, it made my brain hurt.

EK: Also mine. Just drop this stuff in to garnish with the illusion of depth.

MB: And all this is to say nothing of the utterly ridiculous bankrupting of Bruce Wayne by (a) his foolhardy investment in fusion-semifreddo-slash-dangerous-weaponry and/or (b) Bane’s clever hijacking of the Stock Exchange which, hwa?! Why did they have to be in the building?? Shouldn’t this wheeze have been a little stealthier? Couldn’t they have just gotten hold of some “rogue trader,” like they do IRL??

So that Bruce Wayne, and he alone, is literally bankrupted by having his fingerprints stolen and a bunch of fraudulent puts placed on his behalf wtf?

EK: There are many times when filmmakers have taken on huge ideas and have been given huge budgets to do so and they did not produce the kind of dross we are getting in big ticket cinema right now. This film cost a quarter of a billion dollars.

MB: They’ve gotten too big, I reckon. Too many people to hire, too much pressure on too few at the top… plus there is so much merchandising that goes with it, plus all the furren considerations.

EK: Can we try maths? At which I am terrible! Terminator 2 cost $100 million in 1991

MB: That was a big deal, I remember.

EK: The Dark Knight Rises was $250 million. So are these movies being made for about as much as they used to be? Or considerably more?

MB: This calculator says that $100 million in 1991 is $158 million in 2010, inflation-adjusted.

EK: !!!!!!!!!

EK: An extra $100 million. That is insane amounts of money. That is so many great smaller films.

:(

Like Moon, $10 million

MB: It seems to me like they can more guarantee big revenues in EMEA and Asia from blockbuster movies with explosions? Just from random travel observations, it seems like those are the movies they go for, abroad. Maybe Moon won’t play in Asia?

EK: Which again is about treating people as stupid.

MB: Maybe more like finding the thing everyone likes? Culture-blind stories? An explosion is an explosion in any language.

EK: “Better make it simple enough for them foreigns to understand!”

Do you think it’s enough to just “raise” these ideas? As in TDKR paying lip services to Occupy? We can easily argue against art that is didactic, but where is the line—is simply planting vague notions enough?

MB: Yeah so it’s like, fuck subtlety altogether, that is not what will bring in the simoleons.

EK: FFS

EK: Did you read this piece about Nolan movies being like videogames?

MB: I did not!

EK: Basically it boils down to: think of his films as games, not films.

This is presented as a defense against their criticism, but to me it reinforces the problem: if I accept that they are like games, then they fail as films. These aren’t interchangeable mediums: we do not participate in the outcome of a film narrative. A game is immersive and the player has agency to affect an outcome. Taking all the cool visual and visceral elements from games and mashing them into films is I think the exact reason why Nolan’s movies can feel so empty.

MB: This time I can really get behind that analysis.

EK: They feel so empty because we have no way to participate to tie up the million loose ends.

EK: There’s this idea of responsibility that loves to be reinforced in these superhero narratives. “With great power,” etc.

MB: Speaking of wearying. But, yeah.

EK: These films are so, so huge. I mean, almost the entire first world will see them. And to that end, I feel like the filmmakers have a responsibility that goes with the weird and enormous privilege of reaching that many people. Of taking their money and their time.

MB: I’ll say. It’s on them to lead the biggest conversation we have.

EK: And this might seem foolhardy and lame perhaps, to wish for them to be at least a little bit vigorous. A little acknowledgement that actually, people aren’t stupid.

MB: That’s why it’s so amazing when a movie like The Lives of Others breaks out.

EK: Yes. Something vital, a tiny jewel like that can sometimes slip through. But these films, these Bat movies, or Prometheus, or whatever tentpole juggernaut we choose, people will see them no matter what. So don’t waste that chance to communicate something other than, “Obey the law! Let rich people invest your money!”

MB: Or you have something that is nominally pretty dumb, like Alien, but that also has a ton to say about our various messes we are in, geopolitical, social, racial and so on.

EK: Exactly. And which engages in gender politics without being boneheadedly explicit about it.

MB: A legit message that goes all the way through. What do you think are the best juggernaut-movies, that way?

EK: Terminator 2, which is on the surface a total war porn movie. But which is also thrumming with that tension between technology and the wish to destroy it.

MB: Oh yeah. The greatest female lead in all of speculative fiction, I strongly feel.

EK: Yep. AND her arms! I still fantasize about one day possessing guns that impressive.

MB: ALSO a sexy love story, in the first one.

EK: Very strong contest between Sarah Connor and Ripley.

MB: No contest for me. I mean, I love Ripley but there’s so little nuance there. Whereas Sarah Connor is a lover, and a fighter. AND a Mom. Believable all three ways.

EK: Yes, that is true. Ripley has no sexual life (other than horrible, horrible rape threats and David Fincher = the worst) in the cold space future she inhabits.

MB: It’s dark up there! She is nice to cats anyways.

EK: CAT LADY PROGENITOR

EK: So we should really be celebrating the end of this infernal Bat person!

MB: He’s totes alive!

EK: OR, it is INCEPTION?

MB: No such luck, bwana.

EK: It was Michael Caine’s wish fulfillment?

MB: No! It’s the real deal.

EK: I’m choosing to believe the opposite because that is unbearably stupid.

MB: Why bother to make that kind of investment in the mere wish-fulfillment of a secondary character? And yeah, it is unbearably stupid. But the ending wasn’t set up as a believable martyrdom.

There was too much back-pocket option going on with the alleged busted autopilot and blah blah. This was a pretend ending, I feel certain.

EK: DOING MILITARY INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX SCIENCE.

MB: I know!

EK: This is the way this Batworld world ends: with both a bang and a whimper.


Previously: ‘Spider-Man’ And ‘Prometheus': The Not-Even-Mildly-Amazing Blockbusters Of Summer


Elmo Keep is an Australian writer living in Ballarat, Victoria. Maria Bustillos is the author of Dorkismo and Act Like a Gentleman, Think Like a Woman.