Trilogies are interesting phenomena. They are rather like three movement concertos. Just as you would not be allowed to come in just before the third movement without first having heard the other two, this movie is one of those where you need to have seen its predecessors to really appreciate it. No, I don’t mean you need to read all the old Batman comics, or revisit the comic TV show which turned Batman and Robin into farce. Nor do I mean you need to go back and work through all the previous Batman movies of just any sort. You just need to see the two prequels done by Christopher Nolan— Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.
Would you really start watching the Lord of the Rings with the finale? I don’t think so, and you shouldn’t do that with this movie either. Shoot, you can watch them on Kindle for $1.99 each, so go for it. Context and what has gone before is important to understanding and fulling grasping the weight and trajectory of this movie.
When I say weight, I mean a movie that is too heavy, too dark, too full of staring evil in the face, and too long for children. I’ll let you define children. The movie is 2 hours and 45 minutes, and with its waxing and waning it may feel even longer to some. The movie does not rely on 3D and it loses nothing for that. This is a powerful movie, easily the most powerful one this summer. It puts the spectacle back in the word spectacular.
One of the things that pushes a movie beyond good to great is pathos. Do you actually care about the characters? Are there any of them you care so much about that you would be left in tears or quite upset if they died? With this Batman trilogy there may be such characters, to take a lesser example, how about Alfred the butler, played so wonderfully by Michael Caine? The Alfred of previous movies and TV fame was not such an endearing and enduring figure. He was a bit stuffy and too old school and formal. Not this Alfred. If you ever could afford a butler, you would want him to care as much and be as warm as this Alfred.
If your check list for a good movie includes the following: 1) good characters; 2) good acting; 3) a good story (well, by comic book standards); 4) good cinematography; 5) good action; 6) some romance; and 7) pathos, then I think you can check all of this list off with this movie. Christian Bale is great as both Bruce Wayne and Batman. We’ve already mentioned Michael Cane. Gary Oldman reprises his role as Commissioner Gordon and is great. Anne Hathaway is a suitably feisty Cat Woman (and cat burglar), and Tom Hardy makes one bad dude of a Bane, though his voice sometimes sounds like Sean Connery.
What Nolan has done with ‘the Batman’ as he is called in these films is turned him into a flawed and deeply emotionally wounded hero. He is a hero that hangs up his spikes for eight years and lets Gotham go to blazes, though most seem oblivious to this fact. By not having the side kick Robin, who was a bit of comic relief, especially in the TV show, Nolan is able to play this anti-hero hero’s dark side to the hilt. He is a man of caves, a man of the underground, a man of sorrows, a man of lost love, an orphan. How many deprivations can one person suffer and not be warped or worn out? On top of all that, Bruce Wayne is now physically fragile, even looks gaunt at the outset of the movie. By the end however, he takes a licking and keeps on ticking (and what is up with his surviving a deep knife wound in the guts with no treatment as if it were a scratch?).
Are there some flaws in this film? Yes of course. Why exactly does Bane want to take out his frustrations on Gotham City? We never quite figure that out especially when he is a man from another land, another culture, another world. There are mysteries aplenty in the story, but they are not the flaws. In the end, the better aspects of the film allow one to largely ignore the flaws, and failures to explain. You want this film to end well, and it certainly does. Almost the entire last hour of the film you are sitting on the edge of your seat, but hopefully not holding your breath. Otherwise, this film will make you blue— literally.
As social commentary, this film does have a subtext, well several. One of the subtexts is the decadence and corruption of the materialistic West and the wickedness of the wealthy. This complaint is voiced not just by Bane, but more tellingly by Selina (aka Cat Woman). The rich, including Bruce Wayne to some degree, are portrayed as rip off artists, not without some justification. And no one is particularly upset when Wall Street gets shredded by Bane and his boys. But there is more. There is also the issue of the deep need of America for heroes, heroes who can resolve their crises with violence, if necessary extreme violence.
This last theme is played somewhat tongue in cheek, because on the one hand the Batman says ‘no guns’ (well he does have guns on his Bat plane, but he carries none). Cat Woman makes the rather catty and humorous remark to Batman at one juncture when she blows up a bad guy– “I don’t know about this no guns thing”. Sometimes in this movie, trigger-happy Americans may have longed for there to be a scene where Batman does with Bane what Indiana Jones once did with a scimitar wielding thug– instead of going toe to toe, fist to fist, or even sword to sword, he just pulls out a gun and shoots the guy. Batman could have avoided a lot of bruises had there been a scene like this in the film involving him.
If you are wondering about the plot, here is Warner Brothers summary–
“It has been eight years since Batman vanished into the night, turning, in that instant, from hero to fugitive. Assuming the blame for the death of D.A. Harvey Dent, the Dark Knight sacrificed everything for what he and Commissioner Gordon both hoped was the greater good. For a time the lie worked, as criminal activity in Gotham City was crushed under the weight of the anti-crime Dent Act. But everything will change with the arrival of a cunning cat burglar with a mysterious agenda. Far more dangerous, however, is the emergence of Bane, a masked terrorist whose ruthless plans for Gotham drive Bruce out of his self-imposed exile. But even if he dons the cape and cowl again, Batman may be no match for Bane.”
I will not spoil the ending of the movie for you, but I will say, it’s well worth seeing and pondering. How flawed do we really want our heroes to be? Is it that we would rather have a flawed hero, somewhat like us, than a sinless savior? Can a person really be a hero without violence?
However you may answer these questions, one thing is clear to me— this film will literally blow away the rest of the competition this summer. And for the most part, that is a good thing. Stan Lee has been put on notice— Marvel is not the only comic book film game in town. Nolan has served notice that even DC comics can be turned into AC DC films. In fact, this film should have had a theme song playing from start to finish— ‘Back in Black’ the first verse of which says—
Back in black
I hit the sack
I’ve been too long
I’m glad to be back
Yes I’m, let loose
From the noose
That’s kept me hanging about
I keep looking at the sky
‘Cause it’s gettin’ me high
Forget the hearse
’cause I’ll never die
I got nine lives
Usin’ every one of them
and running wild
(Cue the Chorus and the great guitar riff).
Next up for Nolan??? The Man of Steel!!