EDITORIAL: Realism or Bat to the future?
Criticism against the Dark Knight Rises has partly focused on the fact that some of Nolan's decisions don't seem to be realistic enough when he claimed that his version of batman was more realistic than previous ones. But does the story even require it at this point or may there be a different reason for the 8 year gap between TDK and TDKR?
We all have heard how Nolan apparently has sold out, how he does not stick to his idea to make batman a realistic character, especially with Bane's mask, the flying vehicle called "the Bat" and Bane's "instrument of liberation". The defining question is: does he even need to stay realistic with the kind of story he's likely to present to us? The author would like to examine whether TDKR is more of a science fiction film rather than a realistic one and whether or not the 8 year gap has a different purpose than we originally thought.
First of all, as far as the themes go, Nolan has dealt with culturally relevant isues before: TDK got much critical acclaim for presenting a paranoid post-9/11 world, in which the freaks are not the people like the Joker or two-face but the people casually reporting their hideous crimes, therefore spreading the fear of terror. Now TDKR comes along and is apparently ready to give us a healthy and unpleasant dose of reality: namely the income inequality and class warfare from above, corruption and recession that was there already in BB and has not been resolved in TDK. The only thing is: we have the same problem right now across the world, as the capitalist system comes crashing down in flames...but that's not entertainment and many people don't want to think about things like that in a batman film, except that it's also partly addressed in batman comics like the Dark Knight Returns. The film is making a political statement and I don't know which side of the issue Nolan will fall on because, while his batman is supposedly the hero of the story we look at him from the outside so we can judge his actions with a greater emotional distance. So, while the film might not be realistic in the sense many people want it to be it does not take away from the fact that it deals with real and timeless issues in a serious way.
So now that that's out of the way we can delve into the real issue at hand: the realism that was supported by so many "Nolanites" as people call them. I don't condone the pejorative meaning of that term but hey the loudest people apparently can say whatever they want (just like the crazy GOP candidates can invent their own facts).
I believe the 8 year gap was deliberately chosen to allow Nolan a less realistic take on batman because earthquake machines, while apparently having been invented already, would probably not work as well as the do in the trailer at this stage of our History. Fast-forard 8 years and that idea might suddenly look more plausible. I had no idea 10 years ago things like ipads, iphones and drones would become the focus of so much attention. So is it that hard to imagine a military device like a flying vehicle that looks like "The Bat" being developed between the end of TDK and the beginning of TDKR when there are 8 years between those two films? One of the strengths of Batman: the Animated Series was that it took Batman and transposed him into an environment where stange technologies (Hugo Strange's thought-reading machine, the Mad Hatter's Dream machine or Mr. Freeze's suit) could co-exist with black and white television and old cars. I am only asking this because it seems that technology, especially military technology like cyber warfare, drones and missiles, is advancing at a fantastic speed and it would not be unlikely to see parts of Nolan's Batman technology in the future being used by real soldiers (like the body armour or the gliding cape). I therefore don't see why a batman film set in the future should not have a more fantastic arsenal of gadgets and technology because that's how science fiction works and there certainly are many elements to batman that are science fiction.
But then I hear "wait a second: you defended Nolan's realism before and now you suddenly say he will make it a more fantastical story? How does that not sound like a betrayal of what he set out to do?"
The answer is: context. Noone complained that "A Clockwork Orange" presented us with a dystopian future that looked like just more of the present, undermining our ability to socially and culturally evolve.
I think that the technology used in TDKR might be plausible for the context in which we'll see it. If indeed 8 years have passed since TDK there's no reason to think that technology has not advanced since then and even in TDK we had the sonar-device, which was no stretch of the imagination for most people while they watched the film, despite the fact that such a device probably does not exist yet, because of the people's awareness of the fact that the State and the private interests behind it have an interest in spying on our lives so they can sell us more consumer goods while slowly taking away our social safety net, civil liberties, social security, and our education system just so they can get more money to start yet another war in another Middle Eastern country...because that's all they can do, they don't know anything else. It did not matter what type of technology was being used in TDK because there were very real methods on spying on people available to the oligarchs in power (maybe not the ones in the film but similar ones).
To present the kind of corrupt society that the US is undoubtedly going to get in the future...well you have to set the story in the future, which comes with a certain suspension of disbelief that we've been told should not be necessary with this interpretation of batman. I am just saying that criticising a science fiction film for presenting you with technology not yet available means that one fails to understand the implications of science fiction...a possible future with the director's idea of what the society would then look like. While watching BB I did not know the memory cloth was actuall something the Us military is working on now. In a weird way TDKR might actually do what Batman: The Animated Series has been doing all along and I don't understand the resentment behind the criticism. Calling Nolan a sell-out and hypocrite at this stage is pointless because his batman films have never claimed to be 100% reality but they've tried to make batman less fantastical and, to a certain degree, they've succeeded in making that interpretation entertaining for a lot of people.
Nolan already explained that TDKR returns to elemnts of BB but that it will retain the serious tone of TDK (and we all know that BB was much more fantastical than TDK). I however can see how people will be expecting more of a TDK realism and Nolan's biggest challenge will be to convince people of a middle ground. One can argue over the looks of the characters but, again, it's his interpretation so he can do whatever he wants and it's a very dangerous thing to let fans decide what should and should not be in a film because then you'd end up with something like for example Planet Hulk, which the general moviegoing public has no interest in.
TDKR might actually not be intended to be a realistic film set in present-day but rather a science fiction film set in a dystopian future where the poor have literally no other option but to rise up against the corrupt society around them (whether that would be realistically possible, given that even today's peaceful protesters are pepper sprayed to death, is a different issue). It is therefore not a sell-out to present us with technology not yet available, since we have all witnessed the growth of the Internet and technology in general, and military technology in particular. The claim therefore that Nolan is a hypocrite is unfounded because there is no way we can know what kind of technological advances await us in the future so I would not fault TDKR for some people's false assumption that TDKR is set in the present day. It taps into real issues that are probably getting ignored now that the GOP debates are such a nice distraction for so many of you out there. Plus, it might actually make more sense in the future than it does right now.
This is why I personally don't think that a faithful comicbook adaptation is enough to make a great comicbook film today because films like the Avengers or the Amazing Spiderman, which may be good and entertaining films, haven't given me any reason to believe that they are actually challenging the status quo or stand for something. Films like that are a product of their time, namely a product for mass consumption that does not aim high and does not take any risks on a philosophical or aesthetical level (as they don't want a political discussion about what, given the current cultural climate and contempt, our society might be like in the future because that only divides audiences and so they avoid taking a firm standpoint on any controversial issue and at the end of the day that's all you're left with), unlike the Marvel comics which sometimes delved into discussions about real issues set in an unrealistic context.
In conclusion, the criticism levelled against Chrisopher Nolan as a sell-out and hypocrite is not justified because he's never done anything other than making his films the way he wanted them to be. The 8 year gap may mean that TDKR might actually be more of a science fiction film. However, that could only be so if we were all ready to accept the idea that TDK is set in present day and that technology evolves extremely rapidly and so it should not be unusual for us to see technology like Bane's "instrument of liberation" or "The Bat" in Nolan's final batman film. While tastes differ I like the look of what we've been given because science influences fiction, and fiction inspires reality.
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