Movie Journal
J. Hoberman on movies and movie-related things

MOVIE JOURNAL: J. Hoberman on movies and movie-related things

Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight of the Soul

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Sad but true: Save for an occasional oddball comedy, the summer blockbuster is pretty much Hollywood’s remaining contribution to world film culture — with those movies that draw on comic book superheroes having the added advantage of elaborating a cherished national mythology. In that sense “The Dark Knight Rises” not only celebrates a caped Übermensch but is itself, as a commercial enterprise, something beyond good and evil.

Will Christopher Nolan’s third trip to the Bat Cave eclipse the “Spiderman” reboot and challenge “The Avengers” as the year’s top grossing movie? Don’t bet on it. For heedless fun and visual pizzazz, “The Dark Knight Rises” has nothing on “The Avengers” — although, playing a crypto Cat Woman in requisite form-fitting vinyl, Anne Hathaway proves an even tougher and more personable action-babe than Scarlett Johansson’s avenging Black Widow. Moreover, despite being shot in IMAX-friendly 70mm, “The Dark Knight” has eschewed the built-in box office inflation that comes with stereoscopic cinema. It’s proudly 2D, if only half interesting, and, although tiresome in its stridence and strangulated by its own grandeur, not without a certain integrity. Nolan is a terrific editor but, as with his much maligned “Inception,” he withholds the bang-bang montage that is his signature special effect until what used to be called the final reel.

Set eight years after “The Dark Knight,” “Rises” opens smartly with an extravagantly botched CIA rendition cum skyjacking somewhere over Central Asia before settling in for a long (long) stay in night-shrouded and Knight-deprived Gotham City. The same brutal oligarchy is in place but, thanks to an engorged prison population, the city has been pacified and, nursing his wounds, alienated plutocrat Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), a/k/a The Batman, has taken himself out of the crime-fighting game. Thus an inordinate amount of time is devoted to the hero’s glumly punishing rehab even as an odd cabal of venture capitalists, rogue contractors, and miscellaneous thugs, fronted by the monstrous Bane (Tom Hardy), a bald, beefy bruiser with a face held together by a leather muzzle, concoct a fiendish plan to take over Wayne Enterprises and, after playing havoc with both the stock market and the infrastructure, set off a nuclear explosion in the Gotham sewer system.

“The Dark Knight,” which opened during the last presidential election and used the advertising slogan “Welcome to a World Without Rules,” had a strong political subtext, not to mention an uncanny posthumous performance in Heath Ledger’s Joker. Depending on one’s point of view, the movie served to either critique or to glorify George Bush’s War on Terror with Glenn Beck only the noisiest member of the latter contingent. John McCain was specifically identified with the Batman while, less than six months after taking office Barak Obama was being portrayed as the Joker, a Tea Party trope that the Republican Party would find useful during the 2010 mid-term election.

“The Dark Knight Rises” is less coherent but no less topical. As “The Dark Knight” was obsessed with 9/11 and its aftermath, so “Rises” is haunted by the ghost of Occupy Wall Street. Class resentment is rampant. Hathaway talks like a 99%-er. The nihilist Bane, who rallies the rabble to loot the condos of Fifth Avenue, calls himself a “liberator.” More than a few scenes pit the local Scum of Baghdad against New York’s Finest. That the movie’s oft-referred to villain is called Bane (as in Bain Capital) is a coincidence which, earlier this week, gave Rush Limbaugh conniptions: “Do you think that it is accidental,” he demanded. The mass audience is being set up to hate Mitt Romney! “The thought is that when they start paying attention to the campaign later in the year, and Obama and the Democrats keep talking about Bain, Romney and Bain, that these people will think back to the Batman movie.”

Although the Bane character made his debut in the Batman mythos some 19 years ago, Limbaugh sees a White House directed conspiracy; I’ll suggest another. Although Gotham City is an exercise in creative geography that cobbles together locations from Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Newark, and London, so many scenes were shot in and around Wall Street that you have to wonder if New York’s own ruling plutocrat, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, didn’t clear Zuccotti Park so that Nolan could make his movie.

Image: © 2012 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Legendary Pictures Funding, LLC

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