Heroes, Anti-Heroes and “The Dark Knight Rises”

17Apr12

I haven’t gone too long without talking/bitching about Batman, have I? Good.

The tentative title for the next Christopher Nolan directed Batman film was released recently, and it is “The Dark Knight Rises.” On the surface, it’s kind of a crappy title. Sounds more like a Pink Floyd album than a Batman movie. But then again, Nolan’s movies have felt more like Pink Floyd than Batman to begin with.

That doesn’t make any sense. But it made a lot of sense when I thought of it.

The point is that the title does evoke a sense of what I have personally been hoping for with this series: the confirmation of Batman as a hero.

I’m sick of anti-heroes.

The title “Dark Knight Rises” leads me to speculate that this third movie will be about raising (ha-HA!) and redeeming Batman from outlaw to semi-embraced hero. At least, a non-hunted-by-the-police hero. I had an inclination that this was where the series was heading, given that if things actually got worse for Batman from the end of “The Dark Knight,” then that’s bad news for Alfred and probably half of Gotham City.

I think I’m excited about this wild speculation because it’s what I’ve always wanted Batman to be, but apparently I’ve misinterpreted that. In a recent AV Club discussion, one writer listed Batman as his favorite antihero, going on to explain how messed up he is and how he follows his own moral code despite the desires of society around him. I can kind of see that, except I’ve always trusted — naively so, I admit — that Batman still acts on the side of justice. On the good side.  For all the shades of gray they’ve given him over the years, he is still one of the good guys.

This may have more to say about my own hang-ups than the Batman character. Or more about my childhood, when I was first exposed to Batman. I saw the Adam West show, the Keaton movies and the animated series. I read some comic books (especially the “See and Read” record-comics they had back then, like when Batman met with the Ghost of Sherlock Holmes, and fought Gorilla Grodd… anyway…), but I always assumed Batman was on the up and up. The AV Club article sites Frank Miller’s “Dark Knight Returns” as the cornerstone for this true anti-hero role, but I don’t see it quite the same way. It’s all a matter of context, and what Miller understood was that the Batman character can only be super dark if the setting and stakes around him are even darker.

In a way, Nolan has done a good job of this contextual handling as well. It’s just that I’m kind of tired of it. Maybe old age is making me simpler, but it’s still a guy in a cape, right? You don’t have to make it a simple win, but a clear win would be great once in a while for ol’ Bats, and that’s what it feels like “Rises” could provide.

I feel like the common fan holds the opinion that “Darker = better,” and that’s not necessarily true. Darker is just darker. Anti-heroes can be awesome, but they’re best in small doses. If everyone’s an anti-hero, then things just get depressing and stay there, and profess as the fanboys might, nobody really wants to be depressed for that long. One of the reasons people claim to love “Empire Strikes Back” so much is because it’s the darkest one, and while that may be true, doesn’t it also feel great to know that there’s some glimmer of hope in the end? We know, deep down, that our heroes will get out of this trouble. The fun comes from the execution of the escape.

Batman can take it. He can be the anti-hero and the hero, so why not do that? I’m just hoping he punches fewer dogs in the next one.  That’ll be a step toward hero land: no dog punches.

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