Bain vs Bane: The Politics of The Dark Knight Rises

*WARNING: This article contains some plot details of The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises is the must-see event of the summer. Its overarching themes, thrilling action, and gripping suspense transcend the superhero genre and extend to ancient myths, classic literature, and altogether high quality storytelling. So why has this blockbuster been politicized, taking some of the joy out what is otherwise a wildly entertaining epic about the Caped Crusader otherwise known as Batman?

Well, donchya know? It’s an election year! It’s Democratic President Barack Obama in one corner and the Republican nominee Governor Mitt Romney in the other. It’s liberalism versus conservatism, fairness versus freedom, and blue versus red, and they’re always looking to one-up each other by latching on to current events and news. However, most of the political attacks leveled against Romney in relation to The Dark Knight Rises occurred before the movie actually came out. I was privileged enough to see the movie at its midnight showing, and I’ll break down its messages and politics.

 

In the midst of the Obama campaign’s charges against Romney, Democrats have been especially critical regarding details of his time as CEO of Bain Capital, an investment firm that attempted to turn around struggling businesses or invest in startups. Given that the villain in the new Batman film is called “Bane,” Democrats latched onto the homonym. They saw an uncanny connection between Bane, the merciless mercenary bent on destruction, and Bain Capital, which often closed down factories and cut jobs in order to save a company from complete ruin. (To be fair, Bain Capital has far more success stories of creating profit–and thus jobs–than failures). The Obama campaign is hoping to highlight what they call the “vulture capitalism” of Bain Capital, thereby disqualifying Romney as an elitist who cares little for the people, only for his own financial and political gain.

Christopher Nolan, the writer/director of The Dark Knight trilogy, is a smart filmmaker. According to a consensus of critics and moviegoers, every one of his eight movies are excellent moviemaking (just check out rottentomatoes.com for a list of reviews). Nolan is my favorite filmmaker. The complexity and depth of his movies is on the highest level, with masterpieces like the psychological thrillers Memento and The Prestige, not to mention the mind-bending sci-fi heist movie Inception. Therefore, I do not doubt that Nolan is aware of current events. In fact, he even admitted in an interview that, regarding The Dark Knight Rises, “We were trying to honestly reflect the world we live in.”

Having seen The Dark Knight Rises, I can vouch for its storytelling integrity and greatness as a modern legend. Politics is not at the forefront of the movie. In fact, politics is nowhere to be found, unless you’re really looking for it. Having said that, there are several moments and lines in the movie that speak to the very issues we are debating in this election year. But let me begin with Bain versus Bane.

It’s not just Democrats who have linked Bain to Bane. Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh claimed that the comic book creators or Bane meant it as a criticism of Bain Capital. Nolan called this a “peculiar” notion, in his soft-spoken British-American accent. And in a recent interview with the creators of Bane, both men say they are conservatives who had not heard of Mitt Romney or Bain Capital when they were creating Bane in the early 1990s.

But did Nolan make the connection? Let’s examine the character Bane. He is a foreign mercenary bent on the total destruction of Gotham. He is merciless, he is cold. He hates the world, and he cares for almost no one. In his quest to overthrow the government of Gotham, he destroys the infrastructure as well as roads, bridges, stadiums, tunnels, etc. Having just killed the mayor and imprisoned most of the city’s police force, he tells a stadium full of people and those watching on television to take control of their city, to essentially do as they pleased. There are essentially no rules and no authority. He doesn’t care about money, profits, or people. Only destruction.

Here, I pause. Does Bane sound like anyone that you know? Yeah, didn’t think so. Nor does he sound like an institution founded to turn around failing companies. It appears that Nolan does not compromise the nature of Bane for any political message. I actually doubt that Nolan knew anything at all about Bain Capital either when he and his brother Jonathan were writing the script in 2009 and 2010 or when they were filming it in 2011.  Therefore, I have to conclude that connections between Bane and Bain are ridiculous.

However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any political messages at all in the film. There very well may be, but you have to listen very closely. In one of the opening scenes, the cat burglar Selina Kyle tells billionaire Bruce Wayne, “You and your friends better batten down the hatches, because when it hits, you’re going to wonder why you lived so large and left so little for the rest of us.” Selina Kyle lives in near-poverty, and she steals to provide for herself and those she cares about. Selina Kyle ends up aiding Bane, looking forward to a time where the playing field is even (when Bane eliminates the currency and typical justice).

Clearly, Selina Kyle holds a Robin Hood-like mentality that is similar to that of President Obama. He often speaks of the rich paying their fair share, paying more taxes, etc. Early on in the movie, it’s established that Bruce Wayne had been helping to fund an orphanage. When his company stopped being profitable, the money stopped going to that orphanage. One character in particular confronts Wayne on “paying attention” and “apathy,” regarding his charitable giving. It’s an interesting few moments, but does it indicate the liberal ideology of redistribution of wealth, or voluntary charity? I suppose it’s up to the viewer to decide that.

Later on in the movie, once anarchy has taken control of Gotham, Selina Kyle has a moment in the house of a rich family where she is looking at a picture in a broken frame. “Somebody lived here,” she says introspectively. The moment she had strived for her whole life, when the playing field would finally be leveled, was not as triumphant as she thought it would be. Selina Kyle realizes thats what she considered to be “good” for everyone else, was a tragedy for another family. Her character goes through a long journey of selfishness which is confronted by Batman’s sacrifices. After betraying Batman, she becomes more compassionate and wants to help save Gotham.

In a few scenes that echo A Tale of Two Cities, Dr. Crane (or Scarecrow from Batman Begins) is a judge. Anyone who is brought before his court is either rich or a policeman, and he sentences all of them to death without due process or proper evidence. To be fair, many of the rich are displayed as corrupt, and some of them employ Bane, thinking he will deliver a fortune to them.

In the epic climax, Bane and his mercenaries/convicted felons confront Batman and the police force. This scene was made famous during production, because it was filmed during the height of the Occupy Wall Street movement’s popularity. There was speculation that Bane’s minions could represent the Occupy crowd. It is worth noting that the film would have been written around the time of the Tea Party, however, there had also been several riots in Europe during that time. It seems to me, however, that the fact Bane utilizes a sort of anarchy that leveled the playing field with mass poverty is not a great argument for the Occupy message.

Finally, we come to Bruce Wayne. Billionaire owner of a large company who wants to save his city. If anything, this sounds somewhat like Mitt Romney, who is worth at least $250 million and owned Bain Capital for several years as its co-founder. He often speaks of “saving the soul of America” in his speeches.

I have touched on various aspects of the film in regards to possible political undertones, but I don’t have a definitive answer, only to say that I don’t believe the franchise or this film in particular is motivated by politics, but by story and characters. Connections made between Bane and Bain are ridiculous, but there are echoes of certain themes regarding class warfare.

The theme of the movie is rising. Bruce Wayne rising above his own psychological turmoil, the villains rising out of Hell on earth, orphans rising from poverty, Gotham rising from the ashes. Along the way, there are several places where Bruce Wayne or other characters are helping the needy. Wayne tosses a rope to some prisoners. He donates to orphanages. He helps Gotham’s citizens, which are mostly portrayed as helpless. Selina Kyle helps those closest to her. Alfred helped Bruce as a child. This list goes on.

There is a scene in a dark prison at the bottom of a large hole in the earth wherein it is revealed that only one person has ever climbed to the top, a child. This symbolism would seem to indicate that those in society who rise to the top have a responsibility to help those who don’t. Liberals believe this is accomplished by higher taxes on the rich and more entitlement spending. Obama calls it “giving back.” Conservatives believe in helping the needy, the disabled, the old, and the young as well, but mostly through charitable giving. Or perhaps it is only meant as a metaphorical parallel for the mythological Phoenix, who rises out of the ashes.

I cannot know for sure what the Nolan brothers meant when they wrote it, but I suppose people will read into it what they wish to. Other people can obsess over it, but I just love the movie. It is truly a rare piece of cinema that carries with it a triumphant and inspiring message in these dark, perilous times of economic and political uncertainty.

Check out my review for The Dark Knight Rises.

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The Dark Knight Rises: A Modern Legend for Today’s America

Okay. I’ll admit it. I was one of the ones who walked out of a theater on July 17, 2008, and said The Dark Knight would never be topped. I was one of the ones who doubted, when Anne Hathaway was cast as Catwoman. I was one of the ones who was frustrated, when Bane was announced as the villain, and not the Riddler. I was one of the ones who raised eyebrows at the 165-minute running time.

Once again, Christopher Nolan was right, and I was wrong.

The Dark Knight Rises is not just the best film of the year, but one of historical import. Brazen, brutal, and breath-stealing, the final chapter of Christopher Nolan’s genre-busting saga is as enlightening as it is electrifying.

The world wondered how Nolan and his team could ever one-up the cultural phenomenon that was The Dark Knight, which was bolstered by Heath Ledger’s otherworldly performance as the anarchist serial killer known as the Joker.

Four years later, we have our answer. Whereas The Dark Knight was a thrilling, chaotic crime drama, this film is an epic tale of a legendary hero. The Dark Knight Rises ties the first two parts of the trilogy to the finale in seamless fashion, and it makes elements of Batman Begins especially important, recalling the oft-repeated line of that movie: “Why do we fall?”

Tom Hardy is ferocious and terrorizing as Bane, who has both the brains and the brawn to match Batman, pound-for-pound, and then some. As a merciless anarchist bent on Gotham’s total destruction, Bane pulls no punches and spares no one if he can help it. When he and Batman finally face off, the combat and violence are escalated to bone-rattling levels.

Every scene sizzles with suspense and uncertainty. Everything we fear about terrorism and anarchy are on full display. The violence pushes the envelope of PG-13, as The Dark Knight did. Many questioned why that movie wasn’t rated R, and this film is probably just as violent and equally disturbing. As one critic put it, “This movie makes The Avengers and The Amazing Spider-Man look childish and silly.” Make no mistake, The Dark Knight Rises is occasionally fun, but it is primarily an epic story of a hero and a city being pushed to the brink by forces of pure evil, and Nolan isn’t afraid to stretch the PG-13 rating to its limit.

For all the skepticism surrounding Anne Hathaway’s character, she makes a convincing turn as femme fatale Selina Kyle, the cat burglar. Gary Oldman as Commissioner Gordon delivers his best performance of the series, Morgan Freeman returns as Lucius Fox, while Michael Caine gives a surprisingly gripping and important portrayal as Alfred. Joseph Gordon-Levitt delivers the emotional credibility to his character, and Marion Cotillard, always a mesmerizing actress, rounds out an amazing ensemble cast. Every character has specific motivations and histories that the Nolan brothers bring to the forefront and tie into a fast-moving, complicated whirlwind plot.

But it’s Christian Bale’s reprisal as Bruce Wayne/Batman that is so engrossing. While Batman was overshadowed by The Joker in The Dark Knight, Nolan makes this movie about Bruce Wayne’s physical and personal journey, delving into the psychological toll of the events of the last two movies. Bruce Wayne is realized as a man who is truly alone, charged with snapping out of apathy, and overcoming the impossible. The problem is that he sees only one end to his journey, and that’s what his journey has been marked by: tragedy and death.

Even if people believe that this movie isn’t as good as The Dark Knight, there is no denying that it is a truly great movie in its own right, independent of its predecessor. Its epic themes, immersive performances, and mind-bending plot turns are on the same level as The Dark Knight and, in my opinion, go beyond that movie. The Dark Knight was a crime drama, but this movie takes that to the next level as an epic, echoing A Tale of Two Cities as well as Greek and Roman mythology. Christopher Nolan’s brother Jonathan, (who helped write Memento, The Prestige, and The Dark Knight), wrote the first 400-page screenplay for the movie and deserves tremendous credit for the risks he takes and for the scope he brought to the table.

Critics are calling it the best post-9/11 film, because of its real-world atmosphere and themes that are grounded in today’s defining issues. It forces the viewer to confront questions concerning terrorism and class warfare, but it doesn’t alienate with specific political messages. Christopher Nolan said that he merely wanted to “honestly reflect the world we live in,” and it does just that, but it goes a step beyond that: it issues a challenge. It’s a challenge for America and perhaps the world. It’s a challenge to fight, to believe, to rise. A challenge to be a hero to ourselves, to our friends and family, and to our world.

Early box office returns indicate that The Dark Knight Rises will far exceed The Avengers $19 million midnight showing with a record $31 million. The film has a legitimate chance at topping the single day $80 million mark set by The Avengers, but analysts are unsure of whether it can claim the top spot of $91 million which was set by the last Harry Potter. Both of those films box office numbers are inflated by 3D ticket prices. Warner Brothers estimates it will make about $175 million on the weekend, short of the $207 million record set by The Avengers. However, speculation is growing that The Dark Knight Rises may indeed squeak out a box office win over The Avengers, despite its disadvantages. The excitement of the final installment of Nolan’s epic trilogy may have been weakened by news reports of a tragic shooting at a midnight screening in Colorado.

To whoever is hired to reboot the Batman franchise in a few years, I can only wish them luck. They’re going to need Divine intervention to surpass what Christopher Nolan accomplished with his Dark Knight trilogy. This movie, along with its hero, is legendary. In today’s world, where so many movies are cheap reboots and sequels and adaptations, Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy stands as a beacon of integrity, vision, and originality. Its themes transcend modern moviemaking, elevating it to the level of the highest quality mythological storytelling. To borrow a line from The Dark Knight: perhaps this is the movie that we need, not the one we deserve.

This is a film that defines the times in which we live. And, like its hero, it does not compromise. It’s bleaker and blacker than anything you’ll see this summer, but it holds on to a simple but powerful hope. It’s grand ambition to make a modern myth is fully realized in emotional, intelligent, and riveting ways.

The movie is worth multiple viewings for its complex story, fascinating character development, and even a handful of plot twists. See it, see it in IMAX to experience the best possible picture and sound. Films like this one are an endangered species, and it’s not every day that you can witness something as culturally-defining and poignant as The Dark Knight Rises.

5 stars out of 5

The Villain at the End of The Amazing Spider-Man: It’s Not Who You Think

Having just watched the stellar reboot of the Spider-Man franchise dubbed The Amazing Spider-Man, I couldn’t help but be intrigued by the final scene in which Doc Connors is visited by a mysterious figure who seems to have special knowledge of the fate of Peter Parker’s parents.

From a few shots of the short scene, we can see that the shadowy figure has long, messy hair, hands with older skin, and is dressed in long flowing garb.

Fans and blogs are abuzz as to who this potential sequel-villain could be. As you can see in the video above, all that we see is messy hair and older hands. He also has a gravely voice and is wearing some type of long, cloak-like garment. Most importantly, he seems to appear and then disappear into thin air.

Connors appears to be alone, but there is a sinister voice. A moment later, a shadowy figure stands before him.

Since I am not a huge comic book fan, I turned to a friend of mine, Jordan Peters, who is a lifelong Spider-Man fan. He has seen the movie and the bonus scene multiple times. The following is his list of possible villains, concluding with his opinion of who it almost certainly is.

HOBGOBLIN

PROS: Roderick Kingsley is an associate of Norman Osborn, the owner of Oscorp. Oscorp played a pivotal role in The Amazing Spider-Man. The gravely voice is a signature characteristic of this villain in the 1990s cartoon. He is also connected to Connors.

CONS: The reboot did not introduce us to either of the Osborns, much less Kingsley. Also, Hobgoblin does not have the ability to disappear.

MYSTERIO

PROS: At first glance, this looks like an attractive possibility. Mysterio debuted in The Amazing Spider-Man #13 comic, and he has the ability to appear and disappear. He also wears a long cape.

CONS: In Jordan’s opinion, Mysterio is too weak of a villain for this new Spider-Man franchise and has no connection to the storylines introduced in the new movie. He is also only ever seen wearing his plexiglass helmet.

ELECTRO

PROS: The lightning imagery featured in this short scene immediately calls to mind the shocking villain known as Electro. He is a strong villain and would provide the moviemakers with plenty of exciting visuals.

CONS: He cannot disappear, and he has no known connection to the current storylines.

GREEN GOBLIN

PROS: Judging by a quick search on Google, this is the most common guess by bloggers. Some are suggesting that Green Goblin is Spider-Man’s version of The Joker and that the reboot could explore the Goblin in new ways, like The Dark Knight did with the re-imagined arch-nemesis of Batman. Normon Osborn owns Oscorp and would be an acquaintance of Connors. The hair, his voice, and his age recalls Willem Defoe’s 2002 version of The Green Goblin.

CONS: First of all, the Green Goblin can’t disappear. The attire is also off. And most importantly, Jordan thinks that the public has seen enough of the goblins from the first trilogy and they will likely not be re-visited anytime soon. Spider-Man has such a wide universe of interesting villains, it’s unlikely they will return to the Green Goblin or even Hobgoblin.

As of now, it seems that Mysterio is the most likely choice, and we have effectively ruled out Green Goblin and Hobgoblin. But there is another little known character who is pivotal to the rise of some of Spider-Man’s most dangerous enemies.

BARON MORDO

Baron Mordo is highly intelligent, a skilled hypnotist, and most importantly, he’s a user of astral projection and teleportation. His voice has a gravely tone in the 1990s cartoon, he has similar hair, is older, and he wears a long flowing garment. In the cartoon, he is seen in the same scenes as Doctor Connors and is interested in some of his technology.

Michael Massee is rumored to be portraying the villain portrayed at the end of The Amazing Spider-Man.

So who is Baron Mordo? He is strongly associated with interstellar villains, but most importantly, he is responsible for the symbiote suits that possess Eddie Brock and Cletus Kasady. Those characters transform into Venom and Carnage respectively. In the cartoon, he gives the symbiote suits to them as part of his master plan to steal technology from Doctor Connors (as seen in the YouTube clip at the bottom of the page).

The most definitive case for Baron Mordo may be that, in some comics, Richard Parker is revealed as the creator of the symbiote suit that becomes Venom. And Richard Parker is specifically mentioned by the mystery villain of The Amazing Spider-Man. CHECK. MATE.

UPDATE NOTE: Having recently combed the final scene for any additional clues, we now see that there is one other hint regarding the identity of the figure. With the last flash of lightning, it appears he is wearing a fedora hat. We know of no important character in the Spider-Man universe who wears a fedora. However, this is quite possibly the same hat that Peter Parker’s father wears earlier in the film. Some have used this as evidence that the shadowy figure is actually Richard Parker. However, it seems unlikely that Peter’s father would refer to himself in the third person, or that another actor would be cast to play a character who would be but 10 years older.  Jordan and I believe that the hat is an intentional clue that this figure not only knows what happened to Richard Parker, but is possibly holding him against his will. If the figure is indeed Baron Mordo, it could mean that he is forcing Parker to develop technology such as the symbiote suits. 

With the Lizard being a darker, edgier villain, compounded with the new franchise’s more daring tone, it seems likely that the new Spider-Man saga could be on a fast track to featuring a Venom that is more terrifying than the one featured in Spider-Man 3. There have been several rumors circulating about a stand-alone movie for Venom that is in the works. It would make sense for Venom to be re-introduced in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, opening the door for a stand-alone Venom movie.

But what would be most attractive about a big-screen adaptation of Baron Mordo is the possibility of Carnage, who is described as being stronger than Spider-Man and Venom combined. As featured in this clip from the Spider-Man cartoon of the 1990s, Carnage is an unstoppable force that is a very exciting prospect for big-screen consideration.

So you heard it here first, folks! Feel free to share and comment below.

Special thanks to Jordan Peters for making this post possible.

Check out my review for The Amazing Spider-Man.

The Most Anticipated movies Summer 2013.

The Amazing Spider-Man: Rebel With a Cause

*Warning: The following review contains important plot details and spoilers.

“That was amazing.” As cliche as it is, that’s all I could think after I walked out of the theater, having just witnessed The Amazing Spider-Man. The action is frenetic. The acting is phenomenal. The plot is riveting. It’s as humorous as it is daring, and endearing as it is suspenseful.

 

 

Forced to part with his parents after a mysterious break-in, Peter Parker is struggling with his identity long before he gets bitten by that spider. But when he discovers some old research files in the basement of Uncle Ben and Aunt May’s house, he becomes obsessed about finding out what it could all mean.

He tracks down Doctor Connors, a scientist that used to work with Peter’s father and discovers first-hand that Connors and his corporation have been experimenting with crossing human and animal DNA to cure physical disabilities and diseases. Peter suddenly discovers he has developed super strength, as well as an uncanny ability to stick to things. Bullies become less of a problem, and he builds a relationship with a girl named Gwen Stacy.

Peter Parker reaches a tipping point when a close family member is killed. He becomes reclusive, anti-social, and obsessive about finding the killer, reaching disturbing levels of psychological imbalance and volatility. He essentially turns against everyone that cares for him, and even finds himself hunted by the police. When a giant lizard begins wreaking havoc on the city, Peter Parker thinks he has a good idea of who is behind it. But is he strong enough to confront a creature that is gaining more power with each passing day?

Marc Webb directs the heroic web-slinger in his first film since the innovative romantic drama (500) Days of Summer. I believe he was the perfect choice to take the helm for the new Spiderman. As he did with Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel in Summer, Webb builds chemistry between the two leads, which is a testament to his uncanny ability of connecting with the audience on an emotional level. Elements of a romantic comedy are certainly present, adding to the feel-good yet complicated nature of the film.

It doesn’t hurt that Andrew Garfield (The Social Network, Never Let Me Go) is one of the most promising young talents in all of Hollywood, showing an unusual amount of believable emotion even in this, a superhero movie. Garfield treats every scene he’s in with the utmost honesty and sacrifice as any actor I’ve seen, with the potential to be on the same skill level as Heath Ledger or Leonardo DiCaprio.

Garfield’s gripping portrayal of Peter Parker, corresponding with the film’s themes, echoes James Dean’s Rebel Without a Cause in startling ways. In both movies, the central characters struggle with the idea of being alone in the world, fostered by an unstable home life. Like Dean’s Jim Stark, Garfield’s Peter Parker finds himself unable to back down from bullies or any kind of fight. He even confronts the city’s police chief as well as his own caretakers. Parker treads the line between rebel and hero throughout the movie.

The Amazing Spider-Man is geared primarily towards teenagers and preteens who will identify with the rebel/nerd Parker who struggles with the loss of his parents, confrontations with bullies, and expressing himself to females. But everyone can identify with the themes of using our talents and gifts to benefit others, not for our own selfish desires. Rebellion is our natural inclination, while righting the wrongs we’ve committed can motivate us to good, if only out of guilt. It’s only in the final battle scene in which Peter realizes he is “not alone.”

The film poses several questions and answers almost none of them, leaving the door open for multiple sequels. What happened to Peter’s parents? Who is behind Doctor Connors? Will Peter keep the promise he made with Gwen’s father?

Some say it’s too soon for a reboot. I say that this movie couldn’t have arrived soon enough. And in case anyone’s forgotten, the last Spiderman movie was 2007 when we got the convoluted, disappointing Spiderman 3. After that movie, I don’t know anyone who was sad to see director Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire move on to other projects. The first two Spiderman movies were good. But this was the first Spiderman movie that connected with me on an emotional level, bolstered by Andrew Garfield’s ambitious and completely engrossing portrayal of Peter Parker.

I say that this is an amazing movie by most any moviegoer’s standard, well worth the price of admission, and a completely refreshing take on one of the most beloved superheroes of all time. Bound to bring out the kid in you, this is arguably the best Marvel movie of the year. And that, as we all know, is saying something.

Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

The Avengers

(500) Days of Summer

Prometheus