I have crafted the perfect sentence to describe The Dark Knight Returns. Here, read this: The Dark Knight Returns is a worthy and satisfying end to Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight saga, a reimagining of the beloved hero Batman as a dark, tortured avenger in a bleak, cynical world. That sentence is absolutely perfect. I’ve been saying it for 22 hours now, and everyone I’ve said it to has immediately said, “Oh. That makes sense. I guess I’ll go see it!” What I’m not mentioning when I say that The Dark Knight Returns is the worthy and satisfying end to Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight saga is that I hated every second of it from the opening gambit to closing “twist”. I was bored out of my skull from beginning to end as I watched characters new and old alike run through the motions of closing this series out.
Every single scene in this movie feels like it’s specially crafted from beginning to end. Not in a good way. It feels like all the individuality, personality and anything that might be cool or fun or different has been sanded down like an edge on a sphere. It opens with Bane robbing a plane. He’s robbing the plane of the scientist that’s on it. That would be pretty cool if you didn’t see it coming from having watched The Dark Knight that one of the masked men in the criminal’s crew is Bane himself. This was the first time of many that I found myself muttering to myself, “I get it.”
It’s been eight years since anyone’s seen the Batman–I mean Bruce Wayne–I mean both Bruce Wayne and the Batman, and Mr. Wayne himself has become a recluse in the east wing of his mansion. On the evening of the … some thing involving the memory of Harvey Dent, I guess, a maid who looks like Anne Hathaway steals Bruce Wayne’s mother’s pearls, despite the fact that his crippled self is there to–you know what? No. The first hour of this movie takes too damn long. In bullet points, Selina Kyle’s all “There’s a storm coming” and Bruce Wayne’s all “Cool, yo”, then Joseph Gordon-Levitt (whose detective might as well be unnamed) is all “I know you’re Batman.” Big theme of this movie: pretty much everybody knows Bruce Wayne is Batman. When Bruce walked into a social function about an hour in, I half-expected him to ask for a show of hands of who didn’t know he was Batman. Might’ve been funny, might’ve been daring.
Anyway, Bane shows up and incites chaos in Gotham while spouting pseudo-communist rhetoric to emphasize to the assumedly pro-Kapitalist young male audience that the bad guy wants them to share their toys with everyone else. I have to say, it’s a little scary that Christopher Nolan’s made a movie that was shot during the Occupy protests that villainizes the people asking why we’ve allowed the rich to get rich on the backs of social programs that they then destroy once they get old enough to forget that those programs got them as rich as they are. This isn’t subtext. It isn’t implied. It isn’t an undercurrent. It’s as explicit as possible that cops are the good people who are just trying to help (despite the force being nearly 100% corrupt in the previous installment) and that the citizens are monsters who will support the killing of anyone as long as someone allows them to.
It’s like someone took the entire McCarthyist spiel of the fifties and painted a Batman movie with it. The dirty reds are the anti-American bad guys who want to kill the rich. The rich, of course, are the Reaganite job creators whom we should worship. The working class are just waiting for an excuse to kill them all anyway, and even if it’s a nuclear bomb being wielded by a crazy dude no one can understand, they’re gonna get killcrazy.
Anyway, even leaving aside this movie’s legitimately frightening conservative overtones, it failed to move me at all. Every scene, every plot point, every development, every single thing that happened, all I could think was “I get it.” Over and again. Bane’s a terrorist, okay. He goes around destroying social order to incite chaos. Thing I don’t get, how come The Joker wants to incite Fear and Bane wants to incite Chaos? Given that Bane is supposed to be the physical nemesis to Batman, why doesn’t he use fear? And given that The Joker wants to show how base all of Gotham is, why doesn’t he incite the chaos that Bane does to demonstrate how much they all suck?
Which is another thing. This movie is pretty much a direct sequel to Batman Begins. At least in terms of plot threads, picking them up and dealing with them. It will far more behoove you to know who the villains were in Begins than it will to rewatch Dark Knight to prepare. The Joker’s ignored, so I guess they found a prison that would hold him. I understand they did it out of respect to Heath Ledger, but it still leaves a hole in the narrative. A lingering doubt as to where that guy who held all of Gotham hostage went. The League of Shadows comes back in a big way. Joker’s gang doesn’t. And hey, there’s Scarecrow. Again.
I guess my biggest and probably only real problem with this movie–the one from which all other problems spring–is that I don’t want to see sad superheroes anymore. I saw Thor last year, and it made me realize that superheroes used to be fun. They used to be magic. They used to know exactly how ridiculous they were and they used to not care. Then suddenly, the entire world was convinced that the grimdark of Chris Nolan’s Batman movies was the way they should be. I disagree. Batman’s cape flops uselessly against his back and it’s a wonder it doesn’t get in the way when he’s punching people behind him. By contrast, Thor’s cape flies behind him, billowing in the wind when he walks. It naturally emphasizes every move he makes. It makes him feel not real, but hyperreal. More than real. Cinematic.
I just want the fun back in superheroes. And Marvel’s doing that while DC’s telling me that hope is a lie you tell to children as they’re about to die. TWO STARS