Yeah, I woulda gone with #Occupy Gotham but I’d be super late for the party on that one.
So, my lovely Gurlfrenn just booked us tickets to the pant-shittingly anticipated The Dark Knight Rises and at the BFI IMAX no less. But why is it then, as a life-long Batman fan, that after the four year wait and year-long, ever intensifying marketing campaign I am overcome with what can only be described as blockbuster ennui? I am rarely a victim of hype but I do fall for the occasional, clever hysteria machine (which recently left me twice shy after getting a nasty bite from Ridley Scott) but not so this time. Frankly, the marketing for Christopher Nolan’s latest Bat-sequel has been inconsistent at best – each trailer giving off a different tone and each poster drive featuring wildly divergent styles, one’s left a bit confused and, after Joss Whedon’s delightful four-colour fun-fest Avengers it all looks very…grey.
But, what worries me the most about the whole affair are the Occupy overtones and the series’ ultimately conservative leanings. This isn’t news and neither is it very subtle. Here at the Slate they pretty much outline all the relevant Occupy-esque scenes from the film’s first trailer. Catwoman’s (Anne Hathaway) dialogue is the most damning evidence, as she denounces Bruce’s world of excessive wealth:
“There’s a storm coming, Mr. Wayne. You and your friends better batten down the hatches. Because when it hits you’re all going to wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us.“
The rest of us, presumably the 99%. Now, I’m not disparaging that a blockbuster is using contemporary issues as a backdrop or even as an arena of discourse but what’s troubling is associating Occupiers with terrorists, revolutionaries with evil and the police state with order, heroism and honour. Also necessity.
2005’s Batman Begins is by far the superior of the two Nolanverse pictures to date. It combined (and invented) the Gritty reboot, with an air of the gothic – Eerie old institutions, secret Ninja Tibetan hide-outs and weaponized Bats! The more bizarre aspects would be entirely eschewed in a sequel that is over-plotted, clunkily edited and devoid of humour. The closest Begins gets to politics is Wayne’s problematic choice to Leave R’as al Ghoul in the run-away train. As the car speeds towards imminent doom Wayne leaves his old master saying “I’m won’t kill you, but I don’t have to save you” which serves to solidify the vague Libertarian notions that had been bandied around the film thus far. It stuck out as odd, because the Batman I knew (from the Animated Series!) would have undoubtedly tried to save his nemesis with his trusty grappling hook. Batman has an almost Hippocratic oath – he would have had to save him. Even my mum tutted audibly at this scene lamenting the murky morals at work.
So Batman may be a libertarian who believes the state is complicit in the corruption and chaos that ravages his city and must work outside the law to enact change. I can buy this, I guess. If Batman were real he would be terrifying and anti-state.
But then there’s The Dark Knight. For the most part, The Dark Knight draws from the U.S’s demented War on Terror, casting the Batman as George Bush – who goes to perilously dangerous lengths to capture the madman and terrorist, the Joker. Not only does Christian Bale look eerily like him but his Bruce Wayne mimics Dubya in his policy of violence, kidnapping and phone-tapping up to and including extraordinary rendition. Again, I actually embrace using contemporary issues as source material and I love that the Batman doesn’t have to be our hero in every sense – that he can make morally disturbing choices and doesn’t have to be the audience surrogate that heroes usually are. But the film squanders this in its final moments; instead of merely reflecting recent history it decides to come down on one side. Even though Batman has lost his love and has conducted an immoral campaign of spying and surveillance against the people he has sworn to protect he has beaten the Joker and virtually shut down organised crime. To maintain order and peace in Gotham and keep the baddies behind bars (objectively good things) he must lie and say he was responsible for Dent’s murderous rampage. He utters the most tripe, Iraq invasion apologist bullshit line I have ever heard.
“Sometimes the truth isn’t good enough. Sometimes people deserve more.”
You don’t even need an arts degree to decode this here, boys and girls. There were no WMDs in Iraq. BUT the ends justified the means. Things are better because of a lie and thus, it was worth it. The above line is probably repeated ad nauseum by the entire Bush administration and Blair every night before they hop into their plush King-size beds. And then from the mouth of babes, Jim Gordon’s blonde, innocent son – “But he didn’t do anything wrong!” in context it’s beyond parody. He had to make the difficult choices and he will be hated for it – nay hunt him for it. Because he can take it. Because he’s not the hero-….bla bla bla bla bla bla.
So Batman’s a neo-liberal, willing to lie, cheat and steal and fuelled (like Dubya) with a zealot like fervour. He compromises his own moral codes in order to “bring peace” because he is “outside” the law – No UN resolutions for him! He’s also responsible for the crime of having a really silly voice.
Interestingly, Rorschach is offered the same choice at the end of Watchmen. But Rorschach is a proper, nut-job libertarian – he’s honest: “Never compromise. Not even in the face of Armageddon.”
I don’t think the Batman of the comic would allow Superman to craft a new Utopia if it meant Supes would have to fry a few skulls with his heat vision to do it. But Nolan’s Bush-man obviously has a different set of ethics.
And now we come to The Dark Knight Rises. The trailer has the “war-hero” cop Gordon being set-up for retirement as it’s now “peace-time”. If we thought the allegory in the previous film was circumstantial then BAM it’s just been confirmed. The follows a slew of images of scruffy-looking peeps ransacking Wayne Manor and mass scruffy uprisings around Gotham. The latest trailer even shows a gang or rising, scruffy Untermensch descending upon an up-market hotel. The lines are clearly drawn – the only question is which side is Batman on.
And to make matters more interesting the film even wanted to shoot at Wall St. while the Occupy movement was there, the trailers feature “terrorists” shooting up the Gotham stock exchange and now we get these, rather intriguing comments by Chris Nolan on the film’s scale and vision:
“It’s all about historical epics in conception. It’s a war film. It’s a revolutionary epic. It’s looking back to the grand-scale epics of the past, really, and for me that goes as far back as silent films. I’ve been watching a lot of silent films with my kids on Blu-Ray. We’ve shot over a third of the movie on the IMAX format, and that naturally puts you more in the mode of staging very large events for the camera. It’s my attempt to get as close to making a Fritz Lang film as I could. It’s also more in the mould of ‘Doctor Zhivago,’ or ‘A Tale Of Two Cities,’ which is a historical epic with all kinds of great storytelling taking place during the French Revolution.
There’s an attempt to visualise certain things in this film on this large scale that are troubling and genuinely to the idea of an American city. Or, to put it another way: revolutions and the destabilising of society have happened everywhere in the world, so why not here?”
This seems to be a direct allusion to things like the Arab Spring, most recently and his talk of a “revolutionary epic” brings to mind films like The Battle of Algiers, Strike! or I am Cuba. Giving my pinky, lefty, faggy, Communist background I would probably welcome a film depicting a people’s uprising in America to battle their subordination by the wealthy elites and their corporate sponsored congressmen. But given where the story’s come from and the apologist tone of the previous film will Batman be defending a corrupt, totalitarian state from a popular uprising? Is the Batman going to be defending “order” and “stability”…thus defending the likes of Mubarak or Gaddafi ?
The trailers depict armed, violent militias and freed prisoners attempting to “destabilise” society, orchestrated by a shady, esoteric Eastern terrorist group we can assume is The League Shadows from the first picture. If this is meant to reflect either Occupy or the Arab Spring it is insulting to both as both championed the use of non-violent demonstration and strikes. Any descent into violence occurred at the hands of the violent reaction by the police and armed forces. Also, having an Occupy uprising secretly organised by a shady, Eastern terrorist cell reads something like a Tea-party wet dream. The reason the police and the Tea-party never clash is that the tea-party are so well-armed at their rallies. Surely they would be more likely to attempt an armed coup on their black Socialist president.
Batman and Fascist propaganda are no strange bedfellows. Frank Miller, creator of the famed and yes overrated Dark Knight Returns graphic novel, gave the character new-life as a quasi-fascist, anti-state loon and also wrote and drew an anti-muslim propaganda rag entitled Holy Terror, though DC Comics were wise enough to allow him to actually feature Batman in the book. The writer recently sunk to new lows in an online rant about the Occupy movement which is so uninformed an demented it reads like a Rorschach journal entry. Given that TDK Returns revolves around the Batman coming out of a stretch of retirement, just as the latest film will, it merits mentioning.
Will The Dark Knight Rises really go the whole hog and confuse Occupiers with armed terrorists, terrorists with ninjas, revolutionaries with terrorists, order with peace? Or will Wayne turn around and realise he could have enacted more significant change had he paid more taxes and instead of buying mini-tanks just gave some of his loose change to upgrading the city’s infrastructure like his good ol’ Da did.