...a blog by Richard Flowers

Friday, August 03, 2012

Day 4227: The Morning After The Dark Knight Before aka A Tale of Two Kitties


Mr Christopher Nolan Sisters would like it made quite clear that his new movie "The Dark Knight Votes Palin" is IN NO WAY political, and any resemblance between Mr Bane the Baddie's OCCUPATION of NEW YORK and the, er, Occupy New York movement is entirely a DELUSION brought on by Obamacare.

Obviously, this makes Mr Nolan Sisters either FRIGHTENINGLY naive or the biggest FIBBER since, well, Mr Bane.

Nice to see that, in spite of the chaos caused by the Joker, the Dent Act hasn't made it any harder to get vast quantities of explosive anywhere in Gotham, though.

Spoilers follow...

As the third instalment in the "Dark Knight Trilogy", this has the distinct feel of a part FIVE and hang on haven't we missed a bit?

For starters, the end of "The Dark Knight" surely did NOT imply that Batman was going to vanish into the (k)night.

I remember writing at the time how this was win-win: Gotham's white knight (Harvey Two-Face) gets to keep his reputation intact; Batman gets to let everyone think he might actually kill people without Bruce breaking his "I'm not going to kill people" rule.

(The studio, apparently, wanted the third film to star the Riddler and carry on in a more traditional fashion.)

Instead what we get is "eight years later..." and – improbably – a Gotham that has cleaned up its act. The (implicitly draconian) "Dent Act" has succeeded in cleaning up the streets.

Not that we get to SEE any of that, as we "skip to the end" where the prisons are full of baddies and everyone is happy so long as Commissioner Gordon doesn't mind that his conscience is gnawing at him like an ulcer.

It turns out, in a twist on The Brothers Karamazov, that you CAN build a utopia on a LIE so long as the lie is "One good man sacrificed himself for this city".

Good job THIS movie doesn't end that way too, then! Oh...

I said that, in spite of its OBVIOUS sexism (and BIGGEST crime against comic: airbrushing Ms BARBARA GORDON out of the story!), "The Dark Knight" was like a SOCRATIC DIALOGUE between Mr Batman and Mr Joker about CHAOS and ORDER and who tells lies to which end.

In comparison, this is a RANT, student politics – commies are baad and fascists are baad and people are baad and all – delivered at a bellow and not entirely coherent.

It seems that, at times at least, what this film WANTS to be saying is that this utopia IS a lie and it DOESN'T work. Moments like young detective John Blake (Mr Nolan Sisters LURVES Joseph Gordon-Levitt) talking righteous anger to Commissioner Gordon or Ms Never-actually-named-as-Catwoman Selina Kyle whispering sweet nothings about an Oncoming Storm to Master Bruce on the dance floor. I don't THINK she means Dr Woo.

Thing is, the movie TOTALLY BOTTLES it.

When we get to see the inside of Blackgate Prison, we DON'T discover that it's full of POLITICAL PRISONERS in ORANGE JUMPSUITS who are there because they drove their taxi past the wrong cop one night. Even the "Arkham City" game managed THAT! We don't get to see that the consequences of unlimited police power are unlimited police brutality and corruption. No, we just get a sub-Silence of the Lambs scene where Selina gets to break a comedy bad guy's wrists. For laffs.

We're told that Bruce and Miranda spent billions on clean cheap energy and then abandoned the project – couldn't we see CONSEQUENCES of this?

We're also told that Bruce loses all his billions, but THAT doesn't seem to have consequences EITHER. I mean, given a chance to show Down and Out in Gotham we get... a taxi ride back to Wayne Manor.

Similarly, it is implied that Selina has a BACKSTORY that leads to her wanting the "Clean Slate" anti-Google software, but we're never TOLD what it is, or what has driven her to take to crime? So it comes across, largely, to be because she LIKES it. And how does a cat burglar get away with all this crime if the Gotham P.D. are so ice hot these days?

(Also, she drives the Batpod remarkably well for someone whose skillset is burglary with a little light acrobatics.)

We hardly get to see the "common" people of Gotham at all. Everyone is a cop, a billionaire or a baddie. So how can we tell if the Dent Act has left the everyday folk happy and prosperous or starving and oppressed?

Batman, when he arrives, acts to defend the STOCK MARKET, and to turn the police into an ARMY.

The problems of RICH PEOPLE and the ESTABLISHMENT are SO much more important, after all.

Once again Mr Bane is badly served by a Bat-movie. I don't mean by giving him the cod-Mittle-European accent of Dr Johann Krauss from Hellboy II and then filtering it through the wrong end of a bicycle pump, though obviously it doesn't help that he sounds like he's swallowed Batman's fist even before the punching starts.

No, it's the way the dialogue forced into his mouth has him saying things like: "I vil tvorture an intyre schity just so you don't git ze idea zat my stance against corrupt government and plutocracy haz ein point, ya!"

Bane here is characterised as an almost NINETEENTH CENTURY villain: the anarchist revolutionary, specifically a FRENCH revolutionary.

Daddy Alex points out, quite rightly, that there are plenty of RUSSIAN revolutionary clues too – not least the rivers of Gotham freezing over, like it's a St Petersburg winter, but I say just LOOK at all the references to "A Tale of Two Cities", even without the YES WE GET IT reading from the book at the end (if not the end of the book, as many have pointed out).

We get the storming of the Blackgate Bastille, and Mr Bane's declaration of "rights". We get a showcase "people's court" (yes, very Reign of Terror) presided over by everyone's favourite nutty professor, Dr Jonathan "Scarecrow" Crane, no less (nice "Death By Mau Mau" gag, by the way). With that thing on his face, it's only a surprise that we DON'T get a "shot in the jaw" moment for Mr Bane.

Of course, later it turns out that he's ACTUALLY a fascist PRETENDING to be a revolutionary, but by that point it's not even his plan any more.

Yes, there's the "The World is Not Enough" twist ending that reduces him (as per "Batman and Robin" and THERE'S a comparison you DON'T want) to female baddie's henchperson.

"Ah, I know zat you are really Bruce Wayne," is supposed to be a sign that Mr Bane is a GENIUS.

"I know your secret identity 'cos my girlfriend's dead dad told me," doesn't come across as quite so impressive.

Nor is there any sense that he has the same fighting skills as Batman. He's SUPPOSED to be the anti-Batman, trained by the League of Shadows and with a brain as smart if not smarter than the great detective. Yet he mostly just stands there and takes it as Mr Bats slaps him around the chops, going "Ha ha von ha; now I vil gobbledegook".

Not that Talia al Ghul (yes, the daughter we never knew he had) is much better served – nice to see Aslan Neeson doing the "materialising out of the Force" thing that he refused to do for George, to explain the plot to Master Bruce, though. I'm pretty sure that in the comics, however, Talia is MORE honourable that her father. Of course it helps that she's in love with Batman/Bruce Wayne, but I thought that she would stick to her code where her mad dad would happily toss it out the window if victory was an option.

The SUPPOSED purpose of the League is to sacrifice one city in order to drive the rest of the world back to "Order" (whatever "Order" is supposed to mean in these circumstances – i.e. "doing things the way WE say you should" probably).

Now, the first interesting question here is how, other than SCALE, is this different from Commissioner Gordon and Batman's plan to drive the people of Gotham back to Order through the sacrifice of one man (in this case Harvey Dent – or possibly Batman's reputation)?

The second question, though, is isn't the Dent Act supposed to have WORKED? Hasn't Gotham turned back to order and light and locked up all the baddies? In which case, why ARE the League going to destroy Gotham?

So it seems that petty vengeance is her only motivation. Basically: "You killed my dad so I'm going to nuke your city!"

And Bruce Wayne just hands over the keys to Wayne Enterprises to this person?! When exactly did he stop doing deep background checks on everyone he meets? This is the guy who had his own childhood sweetheart checked out, and now he's just letting "Miranda Tate" turn up and take over? Gee, he HAS gone slack.

For that matter, though, when are Bane and Miranda/evil Talia supposed to have trained with the League? If it's supposed to be AFTER "Batman Begins", then wasn't Ra's al Ghul supposed to be a little bit DEAD and the League disbanded? (Remember this is "REALISTIC" Batman, so Ra's al Ghul's "immortality" involves disguising his identity and faking his own death NOT get out of death free by mystical resurrection.) But if it's BEFORE "Batman Begins" then wasn't it really rather CARELESS of Ra's to train TWO successors in quick succession and have BOTH of them go off on him? Especially after two thousand years of the League's cleansing programme working fine (unless of course he just made that up on the spot to give himself a sense of history and grandeur, which admittedly monomaniacs often do). And it's he just a tiny bit too surprised that Bruce might turn down his offer of leading a genocidal pogrom when it appears that his own daughter must have done just that too?

Actually, the timeline of "Batman Begins" is quite difficult to work out properly, what with all the flashbacks within flashbacks. It makes for a great movie, but in no way a straightforward one. (It's even more complicated than "The Empire Strikes Back", where Luke appears to have months of Jedi training intercut with Han and Leia spending an afternoon being chased round rocks by the Empire before the Falcon takes a few months without hyperdrive to fly to Bespin during which time Luke spends an evening in a Cave of Evil(TM).)

For example, it appears that the main action in Gotham takes place over JUST FOUR DAYS, and for two of those, Batman is unconscious!

Seriously: the first appearance of the Batman (taking down Boss Falconi at the docks – great image of the "first bat signal") is on a Thursday; next night (after Bruce Wayne does dinner and buys a hotel) he goes to the Narrows and gets gassed by Scarecrow. Two days later, he wakes up and it's Bruce Wayne's birthday. He has Alfred keep the guests entertained (tell them that joke you know) while he goes and rescues Rachel from Arkham Asylum, chases home in the Batmobile, gets Wayne Manor burnt down and stops Ra's and the League's plan to destroy Gotham ALL IN ONE NIGHT!

(It's more likely that several days pass between the first appearance and the trip to the Narrows, but the film REALLY doesn't play that way!)

It's even WEIRDER when you think that FOURTEEN YEARS pass between the earliest flashbacks (Bruce falls down the well, breaks his arm, has his arm set by Daddy Wayne, gets taken to the opera – "time to get up" ties this to the broken arm – and sees his parents murdered) and the day that Joe Chill gets shot and Bruce runs away to discover how to be Batman.

And then ANOTHER SEVEN years at least pass before he's trained and comes back! (Alfred having had him declared dead... and that's another thing, dontcha think that in comparison Bruce Wayne is declared dead extremely quickly at the end of "The Dark Twice Knightly"?)

Just how OLD is Bruce Wayne supposed to be, anyway?

With THIS movie taking place "eight years later", the trilogy spans THIRTY YEARS (if we throw in a year for the gap between "Batman Year One cough cough Begins" and "The Dark Knight"). Arguably this takes us from the Nineteen Forties to the Nineteen Seventies (since Bruce's parents were killed "in the Depression") or (somehow presciently and yet actually more likely) from the Twenty Teens to the Twenty Fourties.

I guess that means he starts off about TEN and finishes about FORTY.

Anyway, what we don't, actually, know is how long out of his seven years' exile he spends training with Ra's and the boys. If it's just the last six months then maybe, maybe, Ra's just about has time to train Talia and Bane in the NEXT six months while Bruce is back in Gotham making his Batty preparations. Maybe.

However, I'd have to say that judging by the age Miranda/Talia appears to be in Gotham and the age child Talia appears when she climbed out of the pit then we have to assume that Ra's gave them their training FIRST, probably YEARS before he found Bruce.

Which makes it rather an OVERSIGHT that he never mentioned this failure before, not to mention him being REALLY RUBBISH at picking successors.

So it's really not true to say this movie is apolitical. It is HIGHLY political, it's just DEEPLY confused about what its politics actually mean. The effect of Mr Nolan Sister's brand of "realism" on the series is to take the fundamental contradictions of the Batman character and ramp them up to a THOUSAND.

So, Bruce Wayne is a privileged PARASITE whose well-intentioned efforts as a vigilante and in the boardroom only make things worse for everyone except his own elite class, while Commissioner Gordon is the most corrupt cop of them all, securing his personal power with a lie and apparently locking up people at will because "he knows"! And the movie actively endorses the choices that these bad-words make as not only right but GOOD. The people who oppose them are in fact lying and acting from selfish or possibly insane motivation. The only person – Selina – who dares to whisper a word against them actually aspires to and in the end succeeds in joining their class.

Auntie Jennie, of course, makes all these point more succinctly.

Inspired by her, though, here are more thoughts on the Dark Knight...

Fusion reactors don't work like that...
Fusion is where you take atoms and force them to stick them together as bigger atoms, at the basic level taking two hydrogens and making one helium. One helium has slightly less mass than two hydrogens and because Einstein said E=mc2 this means you get energy out.

Of course it's not as easy as that. You're trying to take one atomic nucleus (made of protons and neutrons) and squish it into ANOTHER atomic nucleus (also made of protons and neutrons) and because BOTH nucleuses are POSITIVELY charged they repel each other quite strongly until you can get them close enough that they suddenly snap together like LEGO.

So you need a lot of energy to start with to force those nuclei to collide.

The traditional fusion model is the magnetic torus or "STAR IN A BOTTLE" version that involves putting hydrogen isotopes deuterium and tritium into a metal doughnut using magnets to stop them touching the sides and then whizzing them round and round very fast so that they turn into a plasma and start fusing. Once they are going fast enough, they start to collide with enough oomph that the repulsion from the positive v positive charges is no longer enough to make them bounce off each other so they smash together instead.

The NEW-FANGLED way of achieving fusion is to use office-block-sized lasers to zap your target atoms with enough energy for them to reach the fusion point (so not REALLY like what Doc Oc does in Spider-Man 2).

Neither of these, you will have spotted, has anything remotely resembling a "core" in the form of a huge dangling cat toy that can be removed for Bane to play ball with.

Hypothetically, Bruce might have come up with a shiny NEW way of initiating the fusion reaction that DOES involve a "core" that looks something very like a BOMB – some sort of "starter motor" that will set the reactor in motion. But in that case, surely his best hope for making it SAFE is to turn the wretched thing ON!

Nuclear Bombs don't work like that...
Because even given all that, the script still seems dizzyingly confused about how THIS core actually works. The Russian scientist warms MR Bane that the core will DECAY, and that after five months he might not get any bang at all. But then Mr Lucius Fox warns that ACTUALLY the core will become UNSTABLE after five months and rather than not explode at all, definitely WILL. Now forgive me if I read too much in here, but I would have thought that UNSTABLE means it is more and more likely to go off AT RANDOM. Except everyone seems able to time to the MINUTE the moment it's going to detonate. Even Mr Batman, even though he was already dragged off to prison in darkest African Middle-East when it was unplugged and can't know precisely when the countdown was started.

Also, it starts off with a whole load of green and red LEDs which start going out to indicate growing doom, but by the end of the movie someone has kindly wired in a digital clock displaying the minutes and seconds as they count down. I guess Mr Bane needed a hobby.

And even if your batcopter CAN get you six miles in sixty seconds, there's still going to be a blast wave and a tsunami hitting the city.

Helicopters don't work like that...
Helicopters gain lift because the air above the rotors has to move faster than the air below; this makes it less dense and therefore the air below pushes the helicopter upwards. Covering the upper surface of your rotors with armour plate seems to me more likely to compress the air above the rotors, making it heavier and pushing your batwing DOWN rather than UP.

Also, from what I could see of it, the rotors on the engine were steeply sloped like a jet engine, rather than a helicopter. More precisely like the FRONT end of a jet engine (which is indeed designed to compress the air, before it's injected into the ignition chamber and shot out the back to create thrust). This suggests that (a) there ought to be an outlet at the top somewhere and (b) it's upside down.

Breaking your back doesn't work like that...
Although Daddy points out that they're quite careful NOT to say that that loud snapping noise as Mr Bane brings Mr Batman down across his knee in a faithful rendition of the "I'll break you" scene from the "Knightfall" comic is Mr Bruce BREAKING his back, it's probably worth pointing out that Mr Tom Conti saying "one of your vertebrae is sticking out," would suggest that not all is entirely well. Mind you: "let me just punch it back into your spine," is probably not best medical practice either.

Incidentally, I'D thought that the way a CHILD might get out of that prison where a GROWN UP couldn't would be because they were small enough and light enough to use the thin cracks in the wall to climb rather than leaping between platforms like it's Tomb Raider or, er, Lego Batman. But that would have been CLEVER rather than MACHO. Also, might have stopped broke-back Brucey getting out just in the nick.

People don't work like that...
Cut all the bridges to New York and rely on emergency food packages? H-Bomb or no H-Bomb you'll have FOOD RIOTS in forty-eight hours tops.

The Ending of Inception doesn't work like that...
There's more than UN HINT of a suggestion that Mr Nolan Sisters is trying to recapture the is it real/is it all a dream AMBIGUITY of the ending to his previous mega-movie "Inception" in the final moments where – all shot in dreamy sunlit Paris – Mr Alfred sees Bruce and Selina alive and well and living happily ever after. Is this for real or all in his fluffy old head, just a recurrence of his fantasy from the years when Bruce was away training (as confessed earlier in the movie)?

Only there are really just too many other P.O.V.s pointing to REALITY – Mr Lucius discovering that Batty Bruce HAD fixed the autopilot after all; Mr "Robin" being given directions to the Batcave.

(And incidentally – again – it is COMPLETELY wise to give stately Wayne Manor over to an orphanage – even to escape the Wayne estate's debts – when all it takes to get into the Batcave is plinking on the piano a couple of times? Like the kids aren't going to find THAT by about the second afternoon.)

Still, it all LOOKS absolutely gorgeous, and if you like guns and cops and REALLY tight rubber then I'm sure you'll find LOTS to appeal to you in Mitt Romney's electoral address, er...

For me, somehow I find myself preferring the Sixties Batman Movie, and the nobility of the almost human porpoise. We didn’t even get the nobility of the almost human humans here, last seen in the bad man's orange jumpsuit throwing a detonator out the window at the end of "The Dark Knight".

Last thought: "The Dark Knight" is not just a good title, but a PUN. And so is "Knightfall". "The Dark Knight Rises" is neither.

Although it might be taking the Rise.


Simon Fernandes said...

Agree with pretty much all of that, though I wouldn't even qualify it as 'student politics', since the script can't seem to settle on one side or the other.

On one, as you rightly say, we have the 'villain' Bane representing the Occupy movement, and by extension those who object to "the 99%" or "the feral elite" or whatever label is currently attached to them.

His agenda is fake, but the movie does acknowledge the very real anger of Gotham's ordinary citizen's about the widening inequality. When Selina hears that Bruce has lost control of Wayne Enterprises, and is bankrupt but still can keep his giant mansion, she remarks that "the rich don't even go broke like the rest of us".

So far, so excoriating, but then, as you point out, Bane is lying and it's presented that Bruce the hyper wealthy (if bankrupt) hero is the city's only hope, and he can only save it by restoring the power of plutocracy and draconian law and order. It doesn't help that Gotham's ordinary folk (stirred by the Tale of Two Cities parallel) turn into a vengeful, cruel mob that is hardly going to make the audience side with them over the wealthy adherents to the status quo like, say, the hero of the movie.

So which is it, Mr Nolan and co - uncontrolled plutocracy is bad, or revolting against it is bad?

And while I wouldn't dream of disputing your scientific analysis, I think it's fair to say that I tend not to expect rigorous accuracy on that score from a movie like this. I wouldn't normally expect political coherence either, but since the script is so obviously trying to make a political comment, you'd expect it to at least decide which side of the argument it's on.

Debi said...

Oh Millenium, how I love you. This is all of my problems with the movie.

Minus the whitewashing of two characters of color, mind.

Your timeline for the trilogy is even understated, though. In Begins, Barbara Gordon snr is seen, pregnant, with a toddler. There are at least five years between Begins and TDK.

And seeing as Gordon was a police officer when Bruce's parents were killed - never mind Wayne, how old is JIM?

Andrew Hickey said...

Agreed with pretty much all of this. When I first came out of the cinema I was very much in two minds about it, because on a technical level it's as well-made as ever, but the more I think about it the more I come to the conclusion that it's Nolan's first truly bad film... it's a shame, because he's made so many good ones.

Andrew Hickey said...

Also Computers Don't Work Like That -- there's no possible way the degoogleator that Catwoman wants could actually remove all mention of her from every database. It's like saying "press this button and all books published in 1983 will no longer exist" or something. Just absolutely asinine.