*Spoilers ahead. Read at your own risk*
I’ve never really liked the Batman. That is no secret. Friends, colleagues, students, people dear to me know this fact. Not that I hate the dude, no. I mean, how can you hate Batman? But I never liked him. I never looked fondly at his gadgets (I’ve always thought of them as distractions, perhaps even an attempt to make 007 look like a technoob). I never really cared much about his city, Gotham. I never thought twice about his enemies.
I didn’t like him, no. And I didn’t care.
You see, I never really considered him to be a superhero. I’m quite, no, I’m very picky when it comes to superhero worshipping. I prefer the more organic, more natural approach to making someone ‘super.’ To me, Bruce Wayne/Batman is just one rich, spoiled, playboy with lots of cool toys who, because of a personal tragedy (a staple in any hero story anyway), decided to don the cape and act all vigilante in an attempt to clean his city of all its dregs.
I’ve seen all the Batman movies, sure. The Keaton, the Kilmer, down to the Clooney. I didn’t like any of them. Their take on Batman was all too whimsical and I didn’t really understand how those movies could figure in my already pristine notion of superheroism. I couldn’t even find myself in any of those crazy Bat flicks. Because isn’t that the reason why we keep coming back to the movies? To books? We are eternally lost and it is in these stories where we pin all our hopes. It is inside the dark theater (and within the pages of books) where we hope to find ourselves amidst all the world’s madness.
Perhaps that’s the reason why I never really cared much about the Dark Knight. I never really understood him.
Then Christopher Nolan came. Christian Bale, too. Yes, they changed the whole tenor of the franchise. They made it gritter, more real than real, a lot messier, minus the technicolor, pre-set Burtonesque ways of its predecessors.
And we all liked it, yes?
Sure, but I still didn’t like the Batman. I don’t know why, exactly. Maybe it’s just too darn dark for my taste. Maybe it’s the phlegmatic voice of the Bat hero. Maybe it’s the gadgets (again, I hate those gadgets). Maybe, maybe, maybe.
Enter the Dark Knight Rises.
I wouldn’t call it a fun movie, no. It was not enjoyable to watch, not for me. But I would dare say that so far, it is the best movie I’ve seen this year.
Oh if you want fun and crazy one-liners, go back to the many superhero movies of this previous summer. There’s that movie that assembled a whole bunch of ‘em. And there’s that Arachnid Boy, just a few weeks ago.
But if you want to witness an assault, a very physical, hit-to-the-gut kind of movie, then this one is for you.
Best. Movie. Of the Year.
In one of my previous movie reviews here I mentioned how I’m not very fond of watching scary movies because they don’t do anything to me. Well this Batman movie is one scary helluva film. I found myself glued to my seat, heart going all a thump-thump from start to finish. I couldn’t even breathe properly in some parts. I was that scared, yes. Embarrassing to admit, but very true. I feared not for my life (as most horror movies want you to feel as you’re easily drawn into the narrative, thanks to the scare factor), but for somebody else’s.
I was afraid for the Batman’s.
Here’s the deal. The last time I was totally sympathetic towards a screen hero was around this time, last year, with Harry and his quest for the Horcruxes and Hallows. I cried like a baby, then. But see, I was heavily invested in that movie. Harry Potter defines a big chunk of my life and I loved that kid to bits and all that he represents. I was no doubting Frankie when it comes to Harry’s heroism. Of course I was sympathetic. It was a given.
But with the Batman, this Caped Crusader whom I have always doubted?
This time, yes I was sympathetic.
Finally, finally, I saw the man. Finally I saw the journey that he was trying to take. Finally I understood the man behind the mask, and what that mask represents.
It wasn’t just the acting of Bale (brilliant!) and what the narrative required him to do. It was the heart of Alfred (Michael Caine, oh how I cried in all his dialogues!), it was the idealism of John Blake (brilliant character reveal in the end), the balance of realism and hope in Gordon, and so on. It was an all-star cast, yes. Oh, there’s Selina/Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) and her feline appeal (nothing substantial or nuanced, but I appreciate the effort nonetheless) which will make you go ‘huzzah!’ as she tries to do a Han Solo towards the end.
This movie is not your garden-variety superhero movie. It’s not fanciful. It’s not fantastic. Far from it. It’s very real. In your face real. It is not happening in some la-la neverland where you watch with an objective eye and nitpick the finer details of an imagined universe. It’s all real and it is happening right here, right now. Not in some distant future. Not in some planet. Not in some dimension.
Everything about this movie is an assault. I left the movie house with knees all a trembling. LITERALLY.
What a perfect assault it was.
The movie starts with everyone missing Harvey Dent, the fallen/mistaken idol from the previous movie. We see Bruce/Batman missing in action. He is damaged physically, emotionally, and psychologically. But we know he wouldn’t stay that way. It’s his movie fer cryin’ out loud. There has to be a wake-up call. And that wake-up call is this dude named Bane (kinda channeling a Darth Vader there). That dude is a killing machine, and he is the perfect nemesis to our hero. The hero has finally found his match.
Oh how I love it, so love it when I see a hero suffer. Call me a sadist (but no, don’t), but I prefer to see the hero go through all levels of hell before the proverbial ascent towards the heavens. That makes the journey all the more rewarding. That makes the man all the more heroic. The deeper the pit, the tougher the challenge, the greater the reward.
There was this scene more than halfway through the movie where we find our hero trying to escape from this prison (the pits of hell if you ask me). Oh gods, you should have seen me. Of course there’s the expected hit and miss as he tries to climb towards freedom. But when that moment arrived, that moment when he realized what had to be done, when he had to cast away that safety net in order to feel that which is necessary to his ascent— to feel fear in order to rise above it, you should have seen the entire cinema house.
The hero climbs the wall, we root for him. We sang alongside those prisoners of the pit. He makes the leap, and there was a collective gasp. The hero makes the jump, and there was this silent exultation. From all of us.
He made it! All will be well.
I surprised myself right then because there were tears in my eyes. All because of that scene.
There is hope.
And then the crazy countdown commences. All very exciting. All very dramatic and suspenseful. Some cameo appearances strewn here and there as well.
But when the Batman finally did what had to be done, when he put into action what he merely promised by words to Catwoman a few minutes earlier (Catwoman: “you’ve sacrificed everything for them.” Batman: “Not yet”), I swear, as he went flying over the horizon, over the waters with the dreaded bomb, I had to hold my chin, literally, mind. I was afraid people next to me could hear it trembling.
Detonation= unbridled tears.
I was a wasteland of emotions, I tell you. I was a lump of a mess.
Ah, Batman. You have, indeed, surprised me.
I still wouldn’t call Batman a superhero. There’s nothing ‘super’ about him. He’s just an ordinary man who offered his life for the common good. That does not make him super.
That makes him divine. And in his divinity, he becomes, in my eyes, a true hero. Strike the ‘super’. There is no need for it.
You see, it is not the act of giving up one’s life that makes one a hero. It’s what you give to everyone else, after the fact.
Batman gave us, all of us, hope. He made us realize that hope could reside in one man, and use it to better the world. Sounds corny, and I’m quite sure this hero is allergic to all forms of cheesiness, but you know I’m right.
So there we were, willing spectators inside the theater who just witnessed something divine, and we all, as if on cue, started clapping as the last scene faded into black. The Dark Knight has ended on a most promising note, and we were all left with nothing but tears in our eyes, and a big lump in our throats.
The bat is gone. The man has risen. The end.
I still don’t like the Batman, oh no. But that doesn’t stop me from believing in him.
Yes, I daresay it. I do believe in Batman. I do, I do (repeat as necessary).