I was phenomenally impressed when I went to go see The Dark Knight Rises, but even before it was released I knew there would be complaints. While most complaints I heard focused on comparisons to Heath Ledger’s performance in the previous film, a few had legitimate merit. The movie is not perfect and to uncover what could have been done better I’ve been reading various reviews of the final installment of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy and came across one particular review in the New Yorker that struck me as sexist.
In the article, “Batman’s Bane“, writer Anthony Lane writes a scathing review that does nothing to critique the movie on its themes or plot or attempts. Instead, Lane only shows a sexist viewpoint that affects both the male and female characters of the film.
At the start of the review, Lane asks the audience:
“Be honest. How badly would you not want Bruce-or Batman-to show up at one of your parties?”
Lane describes a Bruce Wayne who is dull and worse yet, awkward in his playboy role, a Bruce Wayne who when he
“…enters a reception with a girl or two on his arm, he looks deeply uncomfortable”
This point is only made because Christopher Nolan’s version of Wayne does not fit the masculine stereotype. Because Bruce is not perfect at portraying the role of womanizer he loses points on his masculinity. The counterpoint is never brought up as to whether this awkwardness around sexualizing Bruce is either a character choice by Christian Bale or a directing choice by Nolan. Lane instead attributes it to Nolan’s own sense of shame over such scenes insinuating that Nolan too is un-masculine. The solution to this problem of Bruce’s dull nature is an either or notion. According to Lane, the best way to bring out Bruce’s masculinity is either for him to have kids to “pull him out of himself” or get drunk with Iron Man.
These points are filled with sexism against men. Lane believes the film is lacking because Bruce Wayne is not a strong enough contrast to Batman (an argument which could be made), but his reasoning behind this is an attack on Wayne’s character for not being a proper man. This attack becomes worse when the solutions are presented not only as jokes, but as harmful jokes that do little to address the issues being raised. It is meant to be amusing to imagine the stoic Bruce/Batman as a father figure and imagining this as a cure for his being a bore removes the legitimacy of fatherhood in child rearing. Getting drunk with Iron Man is an acceptable means of fun solely because the character is male and such action is excusable. Ironically, for all Lane argues that Bruce is the same exact character as his alter-ego, Batman’s sexual prowess and masculinity is never questioned. Batman is already masculine because he has gadgets (which Lane praises as a highlight of the film) and can beat people up.
Bruce’s emasculation at the hands of Nolan is brought up again when Lane voices the question as to who, or what, does the rising in The Dark Knight Rises. His answer is just as immature as one would expect and voices jokes I had been hearing ever since the title of this last installment of the series was made public. In a voice of extreme class, Lane argues:
“Carnally…[Bruce] seems about as risen as flatbread; over three films we waited for him to have Bat-core sex, hanging upside down from a rafter and emitting cries of sonar, and what has he given us? Not a squeak. “
It is apparently now a staple of good cinema to have extravagant sex scenes. This argument is no more impressive than the last one. In fact, Lane makes his stereotypes of masculinity quite plain and quite sexist. The film as a whole suffers in Lane’s eyes because Bruce’s one sex scene is “laughably chaste”, further diminishing him as a masculine character.
But I don’t disagree with Lane on all of his points. We both agree that Anne Hathaway was stunning as Cat Woman. Where we disagree is the reasons for her success. In a jab at Christopher Nolan, Lane makes the point:
“Christopher Nolan…wants to suck the comic out of comic books; Anne Hathaway wants to put it back in. Take your pick.”
I am thoroughly impressed that the parts of the review about Cat Woman were so tame, especially because it is all too easy to sexualize the character. What I take issue with is that nowhere does Lane give any hint that he knows comic books. As such he is using the term comic and the idea of comic books to mean less serious. By this interpretation, Cat Woman can save the film because, as a woman, her character can be less dark, less serious, and lead the audience away from the brooding canvas of Nolan’s Gotham City. It is accepted, that as a female character she will be seen as more comic booky, which although used as a compliment implies taken less seriously. This notion is entirely one of Lane’s as Nolan and his brother wrote a fantastic well rounded female character who was not sexist in the least. It is Lane who takes her character and fits her to female stereotypes to give the movie some credit as a film. Cat Woman is a fun foil for Batman, but it was not because she is a woman. Lane never talks about her witty dialogue exchanges with both Bruce and Batman or how complex her motivations and characterization were. To Lane, she is his version of a comic book: fun to look at and not as serious as other mediums of storytelling.
By Lane’s account, the movie was not good, though he never expressly says so despite almost all his comments being negative, because Bruce Wayne is not a proper man. But don’t worry, the movie was saved from total destruction because Cat Woman brought in the fun of a female fictional character.
This review is sexist to men, implying that real men have sex and are impressively confident about it, and that women are there to make up for the flaws of men as accessories. In response to Anthony Lane’s review, I tell him: either review without sexist points or don’t review at all. Take your pick.