The Overwhelming Darkness of the Dark Knight Rises
If you have NOT seen the recent release “The Dark Knight,” you may wish to avoid reading this as it connects some of the dots where the movie is concerned. Consider yourself warned, all right?
I recently saw “The Dark Knight Rises” with my son. Technically, cinematically, musically, and in just about every other way, this movie was very well done. The script was great although there were a few places where the dialogue seemed a bit obvious and thrown away because of it. I won’t go into that though.
I grew up with “Batman,” both in the comics and on the screen. When the 1960s Adam West Batman hit the TV screens, I remember exactly where I was and I was enthralled. I was living just outside of Santa Maria, CA at the time and happened to be at a friend’s house who also happened to have a color TV. That was very rare in those days and of course, the ability to see something in color was dramatic.
Imagine watching “The Flintstones” daily in black and white and then all of a sudden being able to watch them in color. This I was able to do at my friend’s house right up the street on occasion. It would still be a number of years before we could afford a color TV in our home, so you can only imagine the excitement that accompanied that addition to the house.
Today’s young people really have little to no clue about what they have because they’ve never not had it. It’s always been there and the technology is just getting better, but back to “Batman.”
Having grown up during the era when Batman was colorful, but serious in the comic books and even goofy on the TV show, it was a dream to see Batman make it to the silver screen.
This of course finally became a reality in 1989 with Michael Keaton’s version of Batman against Nicholson’s the Joker. Frankly, Batman fans were ready for anything and we were even ready to bite our lip at the casting for this flick.
Following Keaton’s Batman, another was made with Catwoman and the Penguin, followed by another with Val Kilmer as the Caped Crusader along with Two-Face and the Riddler. Finally, Joel Schumacher’s seeming “Batman on Ice” complete with George Clooney as Batman, Chris O’Donnell as Robin, alongside criminals Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy, came to the theaters and it was clear that Schumacher had no real clue about Batman even insinuating that Batman needed to get over it with respect to his dead parents. So then the franchise seemed to be finished and we fans only hoped that it wasn’t for good.
A good amount of time went by, but in 2005, Batman fans were treated to “Batman Begins,” this time starring Christian Bale as the Dark Knight. This change from the Caped Crusader to the Dark Knight was still in keeping with the comic book stylings, this time of from Frank Miller, who offered a very dark, gritty Gotham City for comic book fans.
DC Comics was doing what they could to keep Batman alive and well on the silver screen by changing him, giving him a far more decidedly darker edge. The type of crime Batman was going up against required him to have and drive urban assault vehicles and weaponry that would place him above the type of weapons that criminals had.
The problem for me was that Batman himself became way too dark. It was actually as if Batman was losing the battle. For all the years of fighting he had done in Gotham City, the city still managed to become quite dark and it seemed as though even in spite of Batman, the fight against crime was being lost altogether. For that reason, I tended to quit reading the comic books of Batman. To me, the writers had jumped the shark.
But because “Batman Begins” was about Batman, I saw it and the next one titled “The Dark Knight.” Of course I needed to finish out the trilogy by watching the current final installment and so I did, but it was as I expected it to be: dark. Very dark. The movie actually left me with little hope for Gotham City.
When I left the theater, as a longtime Batman fan, I was not thrilled to have seen Batman become so human that he was wracked with real pain and seemed to think that dying in the battle of crime was to be the way he would be taken out. Not giving any spoilers here because that may or may not have taken place with the movie.
As I thought of the movie though, I began to think in more general terms and if we break it down to themes, the entire thematic display of Batman is found in the hero vs. the criminal element. That’s obvious. The hero gives and gives and gives until he winds up giving everything he has and then some. But to what end? This is where the movie fails, in my estimation. At the same time, I should be saying that this is where Frank Miller’s version of Batman fails from the comic book, though among fandom, he received high marks and praise. Not from me. The violence is overwhelming and deafening. I felt smacked down after watching it.
Looking back, the first Batman movie with Keaton was serious yet Keaton’s Bruce Wayne was a bit of an odd duck. He seemed to be unable to hold a complete thought in and like Michael Keaton himself, was a bit of an airhead and goof. Yet, we were to believe that this same Bruce Wayne was great at fighting crime. For me, it didn’t work too well.
As the first set of movies progressed through to the fourth, they seemed to get sillier and goofier, finally ending (thank goodness) with Clooney’s rendition of Batman driving up the side of buildings with his Batmobile while he chased Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy (oh, and I forgot to mention that Bane was also in that one!) to their respective hideouts. In essence, there was way too much silliness for me. It should have been avoided but Warner Bros. did not seem to care.
When Christopher Nolan’s “Batman Begins” was released, we were privy to a brand new Batman, as if none of the other movies actually occurred. New director. New script. New set of actors and that’s how it should be. It also seemed as though Warner Bros. was determined to not include any sense of silliness so they went to the other extreme and =made their movies very dark indeed.
It is really difficult to appreciate the darkness of Batman based on where I came from with him as I grew up. Yet, I understand that today’s young people will thrill at these movies because there is so much action, so much violence, and so much darkness. These are the mainstays of most video games today as well. It is what they have been spoon-fed for decades. It seems that in order to be a successful film today, these elements must be included. I resent that, frankly.
So with Batman, we have this erstwhile hero who fights another Bane and this particular Bane could have been cut from Satan’s cloth. He is completely cold-hearted and in fact, his evil seems to know no bounds. He can break someone’s neck as easily as he can break part of Batman’s back. No worries because he has an agenda and the agenda is to free Gotham City from the powers that have kept its citizenry in chains. Those powers are remarkably similar to what the Occupy Movement says it’s fighting against. It does not paint the Occupy Movement in a good light even though it doesn’t really mention them, but because Bane is obviously so evil, the implication is (whether intended or not) that the Occupy Movement is evil too. Was this part of the reason Occupy Movement member James Holmes recently shot up over 50 people, killing at least 12 in Colorado? Could be, but he isn’t talking, so we may never know.
(As an aside, regarding James Holmes, I’m more inclined to believe that Holmes is simply part of the coming “Black Awakening” that Russ Dizdar writes about…feel free to do a search on the ‘Net for more on that.)
So as the hero, Batman is fighting for the lives of everyone in Gotham City. At one point, he seems to believe (and this has been implied in all three movies) that it won’t be enough until he gives his life in the process. That always seems to be in the back of his mind. That alone creates the additional darkness of the trilogy of movies here. To Batman, it always seems that giving up his life in the pursuit of the lawless is a consideration that always drives him. This is unlike the Batman of the comic books that I grew up with; where he simply went out to fight crime and somehow, in some way, even though he might have been bruised in the process, was always the victor. Managing to remain alive was always something he wanted to achieve as well. The Batman of the Christopher Nolan films seems to think the opposite. He seems resigned to what he believes is his ultimate fate.
It may seem ridiculous talking about a movie here on this blog, a blog dedicated to discussing theology, but at least in some ways, this trilogy reminds me of the terrible struggle that goes on in the spiritual realm. We cannot see it, but Paul tells us about it in Ephesians 6. We know that it exists. We know that the powers and principalities in that realm do everything they can to create havoc in this realm by using people as their puppets. They are very good at what they do.
Bane presents himself as someone who is as callous, resolute, and evil as Satan himself. Of course, while Bane is strong in his own right, he does not possess supernatural strength and neither is he the man who exhibits supernatural wisdom or knowledge, as intelligent as he may be. Yet, as far as types go, Bane can serve to play the role of Satan who manages to force society to commit themselves to him, while he, at the same time, runs roughshod over them.
Batman, the hero of the film, tries his best to overcome Bane and his minions and succeeds, at least to some degree, by the end of the movie. But serious questions remain.
The tragedy of The Dark Knight Rises is that, in many cases, it is really a reflection of what is transpiring in America and across the globe. We see the corruption of government officials early on in the film, with Matthew Modine’s character (as a police detective) essentially working for himself, doing the things that make him appear to gain favors that he will ostensibly use later. It is only much later in the film when his true – albeit latent heroism – comes to the fore.
We also see a society that has been darkened by the constant threat and overpowering demeanor of a world of capitalism gone awry. And like many in America, the answer in the movie seems to be the need to overthrow that same capitalism so that Gotham City is henceforth controlled and operated by the people and for the people. Of course, while the movie never really speaks of how this is accomplished, we know all too well that in our society, forces are at work to hijack capitalism, wanting to replace it with something that clearly resembles socialism and even communism. This is in spite of the fact that neither communism or socialism has ever really worked anywhere in the world. This is the direction society is headed in and except for the upcoming elections this November, there appears to be little hope of stopping the progression. It may be that we’ve already come too far.
As a movie, The Dark Knight Rises is very bleak, taking place roughly 8 years from the end of the last movie where the dogs were turned loose on Batman who allowed himself to be blamed for Harvey Dent’s murder in spite of the fact that he was innocent of it. It is gloomy and in some ways, too gloomy for me.
I recently saw the new Spiderman movie (as well as The Avengers)and the difference was stark. Even though the same elements were there, Spiderman managed to catch much more of the lightness of the comic book, while maintaining a serious and very real approach to the heroic web slinger. Spiderman showcased his natural flare for sarcasm that became his mainstay in the comic books and yet, he was completely believable. I wish Nolan had done that, but he chose to go with Frank Miller’s surrealistic, desolate motif.
What I can hope for, if it doesn’t take too long to accomplish, is that the next installment of Batman will go back toward the seriousness yet lightness of the early comics, when Batman was generally known as the Caped Crusader. I don’t personally care if Robin is with him or not. I think Batman deserves to be the true hero he was in the comic books, always seeking justice while fighting a criminal that is evil but not evil incarnate. Maybe it can’t happen. Maybe it’s too late for Batman because of what our society expects. Maybe the Dark Knight is the best that can be done with him. If so, that’s a shame because Batman has always been for me the consummate, every man’s hero; a hero that the average person can identify with because Batman has no special powers. He has money yes, but he also has brains, his wit, and his tremendous training. He is not above being killed while fighting the criminal element, yet he does not believe that this is part of the plan. Because right has always been on his side, he was always just out of reach of the criminal element.
Movies should still be escapist fare. They have become far too real and realistic, too often reflecting society instead of helping us rise above it. I’m not asking for much. I’m simply asking for a believable, realistic, lighter Batman, a Batman from my youth that fought crime yet always remained on the winning side of right.
How about it Warner Bros.?
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