A little known fact to those within my inner circle is that I have a bit of shady past.  I wasn’t always the debonair cocksman that I may appear.  I claim no shame, however I do not often flaunt that fact that aside from an affinity for both baseball and hockey cards as a child, I had another collection growing beneath my bed.  No I was not the cool kid on the block who found his father’s Playboy stash - that title had already been taken- instead my magazines were of the illustrated variety.  I have a bit of comic fanboy in me.

I would not claim to be a Comic-Con attendee in waiting during my youth, but I was well versed in the classics of Batman, Spider-Man, Superman, and the X-Men.  I also celebrate the entire collection of Bill Watterson’s opus Calvin & Hobbes.  I never really swam too far outside of the mainstream in my comic consumption but I can appreciate a good Asterix & Obelix issue as well as any Parisian.

To me comics were a better form of Saturday morning cartoons as there were no commercial breaks and they were there at any time.  They were on demand before there was On Demand.  In many ways comics helped me grow up in that they convey a level of respect in assuming the reader to be mature enough to handle the blood and gore as well as the human drama which they contain.  What every little kid sees as a story for entertainment is really a novel repackaged with colored pictures there to teach a lesson.  It’s a sitcom that doesn’t need a resolution in twenty-two minutes. 

I realize this now, as an adult and particularly as I look back on how I spent my Saturday night, sitting in a darkened IMAX theater taking in the sights and sounds that are Christopher Nolan’s latest creation The Dark Knight Rises.  For as much as it is a third installment of a three story series, packed with the action, gadgets, and witty banter that you would expect of Bruce Wayne and his alter ego, The Dark Knight Rises is so much more.  This may have been Nolan’s last appeal to an audience as wide as Batman’s cape, so he used the weapons at his disposal to make a pitch to the masses for his vision.

Before getting any further I want to clarify that in no way do I intend for this piece to spoil the movie for those who have yet to see it.  I have no plans to discuss plot points or reveal any secrets that may ruin your viewing experience, because that’s what The Dark Knight Rises is: an experience.  I would also like to take this opportunity to salute us as a society for collectively keeping quiet on all of the twists and turns that the movie encapsulates.  In this day and age of Twitter followers and Facebook statuses I was very impressed that after opening night the movie had not been ruined for me.  I’m sure there are spoiler websites out there but I haven’t seen them (nor have I looked) but the vast majority of us as a culture who have seen the film have recognized art and appreciated it for what it is, and then left it for the next person to see and enjoy for themselves.  It’s sad to say but that is rare in today’s world so I thought I’d take a moment to tip my cap. 

As a quick primer, Nolan’s run with the franchise began with the film Batman Begins in 2005 without much fanfare.  With the nipples of the batsuit being everyone’s last memory of a Batman film, expectations were set well below sea level.  Nolan and his relatively unknown Batman (Christian Bale) were afforded the luxury of anonymity coming out of the chute.  It is said that Nolan took the major players of the films crew to a special screening of Blade Runner before they began shooting as his vision of Gotham was to resemble the dystopic world Ridley Scott had created in 1982 (of 2019 Los Angeles coincidently) to set the stage for the story of class warfare he envisioned.

To Nolan, Batman is a unique story of a boy who was born on the “right” side of the tracks but was thrown to “other” side when his parents were killed, and proceeded to live his life fluctuating between the two.  He was the rich kid who was an orphan that took it upon himself to fight for the poor.  I believe that Nolan and I share the same draw to Batman over many of the other superheroes due to the fact that he was not born in outer space nor bitten by a radioactive bug.  He’s just a man who chose the life he leads and opted to use the resources at his disposal for the betterment of all. 

Batman Begins introduces Gotham (society) to the idea of a terrorist cell (The League of Shadows) in a post 9/11 world.  The second film, The Dark Knight takes that theme to the extreme where a criminal mind that we cannot comprehend is intent on watching the world burn for the sheer enjoyment of it.  He tests humanity and our threshold for the ties that hold what we call civilization together.  In the third iteration The Dark Knight Rises I don’t think I’m giving anything away by saying they go the next step further and true chaos and anarchy seize the day. 

It is in The Dark Knight that the prevailing theme of Gothamites needing to stand up for themselves and not rely on a savior to sweep in and protect them emerges.  No longer is it good enough to have a caped crusader fight the tough fights for them, the people need a white knight (Harvey Dent the District Attorney) to show them that they can win their own battles.  In the end humanity prevails but not without their hero riding to the rescue once more. 

The Dark Knight Rises does not let this social theme go however and in one of the better lines of the film the villain Bane says, “I am the borrowed time that you’ve been living on.” 

From the start Nolan has set society up as a wide chasm of social divide teetering on the brink of collapse all by itself, and the villains are there just to give it a push.  He wastes no effort in noting how the rich sit idly by complaining about the problems at hand while making no effort to remedy them.  If that’s not commentary of today’s world then nothing is.  Rather than letting the poor and downtrodden wither and die however, Nolan’s knight comes from the ranks of the elite to save the poor and the pillars of their world (Gotham) time and again.

There’s a famous story of how Teddy Roosevelt got into politics that involved his getting sick and tired of hearing his socialite friends sit idly by complaining about the government and the issues of the day so he decided to run for political office (not a thing that men of his stature did at the time) because that’s where the action is at and those are the only people with the power to do anything about it (paraphrased). 

Bruce Wayne is Teddy Roosevelt in Christopher Nolan’s eyes.  His name and his fortune get him into the biggest parties and galas the city has to offer but his disdain for them is visible from the outset.  In many ways Bruce Wayne is the character being portrayed and Batman is a reflection of his true self.  Rather than complain about the day’s problems he opts to act and take it upon himself to resolve it (literally in Batman’s case).  It’s a unique twist on the Horatio Alger story where instead of a poor man working hard and improving life for himself it’s a rich man putting himself out there for the betterment of society.  It’s Robin Hood with grappling hooks and assault vehicles.

I think Nolan’s point is that society is becoming ever divided and there are people out there who can do something about it but choose not to.  There are too many spectators and not enough folks willing to take action.  It’s those who have the most who can make the biggest difference but they also can be blinded by the fear that they have the most to lose as well.  The question is what good is all that they have if the world in which it was earned or acquired crumbles around you while you try to hold onto it?

During the scenes where anarchy is in full swing in Rises, it’s interesting to see how in Nolan’s view anarchy is not just unruly mobs walking the streets at all times.  Once the dust settles and central control is removed in an anarchist state there would certainly be those who go into their homes and essentially put their heads in the sand to ignore the problems of the outside world.  The United States (aside from those who vote for Ron Paul) learned after World War I that this introverted mentality is not only not sustainable but also dangerous.  We need leaders to stand up and fight for what is right.  It’s too easy to turn a blind eye or comment from the peanut gallery about everything that’s wrong.  Rather than complain about why everyone else is wrong the more important conversation involves the question, what are you doing to fix it?

This is an important topic for people to discuss in the world today so Christopher Nolan took the biggest megaphone he could find (in the form of a summer blockbuster and the culmination of his three movie run with one of the most successful franchises in history) and screamed in our ear about it.  He made sure to pound the message home by providing the last shot of the film which very easily could have ended much as Inception had with the cut to black while the top kept spinning, but instead he wanted (or was forced by the studio) to make sure that everyone understood that in the end the responsibility falls to us to create a better world in which to live and there won’t always be someone there to swoop in and save the day.

Go see The Dark Knight Rises because it’s a good summer blockbuster.  The action is intense, the villains are wicked, and the story keeps you guessing.  For a two hour and forty-four minute run time it feels like time stands still while you watch it - in the best possible sense.  Both The Wife and I agreed that had the movie started over after the credits had finished we would have sat through it again immediately if given the option.  Instead we were left to talk about it and rehash different scenes and interpretations with the conversation still going strong three days later.  It’s everything I’m looking for in a movie, as well as a reminder of everything I wish to become as a member of society.  Honestly, who doesn’t want to be Batman?