I’m no badass Milton scholar like John Rogers (whose lectures on his poetry are free, and awesome). But the things he taught me while I was in college have left me with a permanent interest in what it means when artists put compelling words in their villains’ mouths. And goodness is Christopher Nolan doing a lot of that in the first full-length trailer for The Dark Knight Rises:
I’m most interested in Selina Kyle’s dancefloor warning to Bruce Wayne that “You think you can last. There’s a storm coming, Mr. Wayne. You and your friends better batten down the hatches. Because when it hits, you’re all going to wonder how you could ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us.” This is what’s at the heart of the most convincing critique of Batman, isn’t it? The idea that he needs Gotham’s corruption for self-gratification more than he needs to eliminate it in the name of justice, that he’s used his wealth to purchase the capacity to engage successfully in endless conflict. But are we supposed to believe her?
If there’s a hallmark of Nolan’s exploration of the Batman legend it’s this: Bruce Wayne squares off with an intelligent foe who articulates an opposing worldview so Batman can vanquish them both philosophically and physically. In Batman Begins, Ra’s al Ghul is repeatedly shown to be wrong that crisis will deliver a cathartic shock to Gotham, leading people to support a revolutionary upheaval of society. And he dies in a train crash, an act that both obscures his own death among a larger tragedy, and that fails to achieve the kind of effect he’d hoped for. In The Dark Knight, Gotham City’s convicts prove the Joker wrong more than Batman does, actually. But even though it’s at great cost, Wayne and Commissioner Gordon manage to create a set of perceptions that keep the city’s residents faith with the government. Here, I’ll be curious to see if Bruce Wayne proves his genuine fidelity to Gotham City’s 99 percent.
And I’m intrigued by Bane launching his campaign on the city with an attack of the closest thing America has to a national church, professional football. (And please tell me the Wayne family owns the team and the movie riffs on bad owners. Please, Santa, I have been SO GOOD.) Of all years, coming after the Penn State scandals, the Times’ move from reporting on football and concussions to the role of enforcers in hockey, to the allegations that the NBA fired a male employee who spoke up for his female colleagues who were being sexually harassed, this would be an interesting time to rigorously interrogate sport’s role in our national life. Of course we won’t, and the attack on the stadium will just be proof that Bane is another combination of brain and brawn with a strong sense of symbolism. But it would be interesting to see Bruce Wayne acknowledge that one of his opponents is a little bit right. God may have blown off Satan’s critique once his former antagonist was in the pit. And look where that got him.