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LOU'S VIEWS: On heroes and villains

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Lou Harry

My intention this week was to write about superheroes—comic-book characters with capes and cowls and webs and wonders who make the world safer for the rest of us.

It has been, cinematically, a summer with an abundance of them—with the big-screen releases of “The Avengers,” “The Amazing Spider-Man” and “The Dark Knight Rises” topping box office charts and expanding the fan base well beyond their core fans. Earlier this month, I was a guest speaker at a science fiction and fantasy convention where superheroes were a prime subject of conversation (along with the upcoming zombie apocalypse, of course).

But the subject of superheroes isn’t as playful as it was just a few days ago.

The mass murder in Colorado at a midnight screening of “The Dark Knight Rises” made sure of that. Even though the accused killer has been arrested, there’s a feeling, as I write this, that the world isn’t as safe as it was.

That seems to be the case whenever an attack happens at a place we didn’t expect it, whether that’s a high school, a federal building, a Manhattan landmark or a multiplex movie house. We sit stunned for a few hours, days or weeks, then try to find normalcy, inching back, cautiously reclaiming at least some of the territory that was ours.

This goes beyond a single, horrific incident, though. Even before the killing, sick fans made death threats against those daring to criticize their beloved film franchise. The anonymity of website feedback forms opened the door to either perverse retribution fantasies or frightening threats, depending on how seriously you take them. Even experienced pollsters couldn’t tell you if these are isolated crazies or reflective of a larger population that can’t see that threats aren’t jokes and that movies aren’t as important as human lives.

Yes, I’ve seen “The Dark Knight Rises.” I went the day after the shootings, but before I had been exposed to more than a headline about the massacre.

If this were a movie unattached to a tragedy, I’d go into detail about how the movie’s

positives—a good use of Catwoman, nice work from Michael Caine, and an avoidance of excess computer-generated effects—were dragged down by an uninteresting villain (who sounds annoyingly like Sean Connery voicing the fire-breather in “Dragonheart”), some impossible-to-buy action (the Gotham City cops apparently learned their fighting style from the redcoats), and a grimness that is admirable but often not entertaining.

I’d elaborate on how Christopher Nolan, the film’s driving force, certainly knows how to hold a not-very-fun funhouse mirror up to our world. But I’d follow with how I found less to engage with than in his previous two outings and had little investment in the outcomes of its characters. Seemingly endless fight scenes can have that effect.

It’s hard to write a sentence about “The Dark Knight Rises,” though, without thinking of the real-life murder victims and their families. It’s difficult to contemplate the movie without wondering what’s going on in the minds of people hooked on first-person-shooter games who see in this film a reflection of the world they see on their home screens. If you buy into a world where good citizens can quickly turn into marauding, morality-free monsters—if that’s the world you engage with more than the real one—then a pre-emptive strike might seem like a sensible action.

No, I don’t think the killings in Colorado can be blamed on superhero movies or video games. Too many people enjoy those forms of entertainment without committing unthinkable acts. But for those who have taken first-person-shooter video games from an entertaining distraction to a time-sucking lifestyle, it might be difficult to see the positive message in Nolan’s “Batman” saga.

For all its flaws, “The Dark Knight Rises” says that we all have the potential to be heroes.

Yes, it says life can be difficult and complicated and heroes can’t prevent every sick person from committing unthinkable acts. But it’s clear in its position that being numb to the pain of others is not a desirable quality.

Sadly, one young man didn’t get that message.

Like the rest of us helplessly reading horrific details out of Aurora, I hope his peers there and elsewhere do.•

__________

This column appears weekly. Send information on upcoming arts and entertainment events to lharry@ibj.com.
 

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