|Bane vs Batman|
In The Dark Knight Rises, Bruce Wayne has become a shadow of loneliness and his last connection to reality is Alfred, his faithful butler. Interestingly, the new Gotham in which crime has been eradicated as a result of Commissioner Gordon’s terminal lie reflects a new era as symbolised in the real life election of President Obama. It is a Gotham of relative stability yet beneath the austere surface is a corrupt and familiarly unequal society controlled by a wealthy elite - in other words, nothing has changed in terms of power and class since Obama came to office. Nolan has surprisingly downplayed the different social and political references made by the trilogy and this latest film continues such a preoccupation. If this new film takes place against Obama’s term in office then the it is not unexpected to find Bane’s first targeted attack against the stock exchange, a widespread symbol of social discontent and a site of economic corruption. Such an attack against the very financial structures that have created a seemingly perpetual age of austerity and global recession may in fact be justified given the way bankers have betrayed the trust of the people. Such prescient moments underline the film’s zeitgeist aspirations, framing the revolutionary actions of Bane and his army as both sincere and realistic. However, Bane’s revolutionary stance is rubbished by the presence of Selina Kyle who by teaming up with Batman bridges a necessary social and economic divide that separates Bruce Wayne from Gotham’s dispossessed. By holding Gotham to ransom with a nuclear bomb, Bane’s status of an ex communicated mercenary and former member of the League of Shadows changes to that of a terrorist. It is this threat posed by terrorism that ultimately unites the rich and poor of Gotham, acting as a social leveller and finally demanding that Selina Kyle surrender her ideological baggage for the greater good of the city. Perhaps then both Batman and his associates are in fact conservative agents of closure, restoring order by facing up to Bane’s terror and dismissing the more rational ideological musings of Bane as ancient demagoguery. Whereas the Joker in The Dark Knight was interpreted by some critics as a pale reflection of Osama Bin Laden and with Batman standing in for George Bush, The Dark Knight Rises locates the power struggle to the potent iconographic setting of New York, thus making clear parallels with 9-11 and exploiting audience memories of past events. Of course, films which subscribe to the dominant point of view, which encompasses the majority of Hollywood films, are not to be discussed in such political terms because they are in fact entertainment for the masses. As Nolan has said, he only sets out to tell a good story not offer any kind of social or political commentary. Fair enough but such a feeble position sounds a little cowardly given the way the film taps into current anxieties.
The refusal to negotiate with terrorists is an echo from the Bush doctrine and yet by placing such rhetoric within the context of the new administration suggests a natural continuation of attitudes to the Arab as the demonic Other. Given that Bruce Wayne was trained by the League of Shadows, his battle with Bane is in fact a battle with himself. Nevertheless, by locating the myth of Talia al Ghul in an unnamed country, most likely India, and with the comic book telling us she and her father are of Arabian descent, makes the threat posed by the Other an altogether conventional, if not xenophobic, one. However, the trilogy seem to downplay the Arabian lineage in fear of yet again labelling the Middle East as fanatics who dream of bringing about the end of western civilisation. Of course, the great conundrum in all of this is that The League of Shadows led by Ra’s al-Ghul trains Bruce Wayne to become a formidable warrior. The Dark Knight Rises really comes alive in the third act, something which many recent blockbusters have failed to get right, and weaves together numerous narrative situations to create an ambitious conclusion to a hero’s quest started in Batman Begins. What makes Nolan’s conclusion audacious is the way he leaves the final moments open to interpretation. He does so by drawing on the ending of his most recent film Inception and by throwing in the wish fulfilment of Alfred, closure becomes a complicated affair. It is a film richer in terms of social/political subtext and scope, and equals the emotional resonance generated by the first two films. However, the score by Hans Zimmer is not as good as the first two films and the absence of collaborator James Newton Howard is telling in many respects. The two greatest assets of the film are Bale’s understated performance as Wayne/Batman (by far his best of the three films) and the magnificently noirish cinematography of Wally Pfister. Is it a masterpiece? No. Is it a visionary work? No. Is it a great mainstream blockbuster? Yes. And for that alone Nolan should be praised.