New York Times movie critics A.O. Scott and Manohla Dargis team up for next Sunday's edition (posted early online) to once again pour their peculiar brand of pretentiousness over the latest crop of innocent films: "Movies in the Age of Obama."
In the summer of 2011, Dargis lamented "the symbolic phallus" present in the form of a rifle in a Western. Last July she managed to make a villain out of President Reagan, while Scott chimed in by complaining that movie superheroes were "avatars of reaction" and that the last X-Men movie was insufficiently attentive to the civil rights movement.
Their latest team-up is slightly less obnoxious, as it's in the form of an opinionated article instead of a conversation, but their strained attempts to tease out Obama-related themes from sci-fi and superhero movies remains silly and politicized.
The big studios still shy away from openly taking on class, unless the issue comes swaddled in period rags and a comfortable historical distance, as in “Les Misérables” and even the last “Robin Hood” was more about the rights of the rich than the privations of the poor. When the big studios do notice bad times, it’s often with the cluelessness of people who whine about their money woes while driving a Lexus. That said, glimpses of class conflict emerged amid the shadows of “The Dark Knight Rises,” which riffs on the French Revolution, nods at the Occupy movement and glances back at the gangster movies of the 1930s, in which struggles for power and money were accompanied by the rat-a-tat of Tommy guns.
Of course, “The Dark Knight Rises” is also a WAR movie, and Mr. Obama has been (to cite his predecessor’s self-description) a wartime president. “The Dark Knight Rises” imagines a Hobbesian state of social chaos, a more complicated situation than pictured by its prequel, “The Dark Knight,” which is in some ways the central movie of the Bush years, with its sharply drawn lines of good and evil. Batman’s fight with the Joker was as personal and apocalyptic as Harry Potter’s epochal struggle with Voldemort, which came to an on-screen conclusion in the same year that Osama bin Laden, the prime evildoer of the Bush era, met his violent end.
Movie audiences tend to prefer symbolic, fantastical wars, with intergalactic robots (in the subliminally anti-Obama “Transformer” movies, the third of which lays waste to the president’s adopted hometown, Chicago), alien life forms and futuristic settings. But those films have nuances of their own. Both James Cameron’s “Avatar” and Rupert Wyatt’s “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” scramble the usual good guy/bad guy dichotomy, suggesting that, as Pogo once observed, the enemy is us.