The Dark Knight Rises is one of the most overhyped movies of all time. And it lives up to every word of that hype. The characterization is first-rate. It is plotted beautifully. The action is spectacular. It ties up the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy – in fact, it ties up virtually every loose end. There is virtually nothing wrong with this movie. Katie Holmes and Maggie Gyllenhaal aren’t even anywhere nearby to screw this one up.
It is also a magnificently conservative film – probably the most conservative film of all time. It makes the conservatism of The Dark Knight look like the politics of Battleship Potemkin. It explodes leftist meme after leftist meme. Spoiler Alert! Spoiler Alert! Spoiler Alert!
(1) Occupy Wall Street: The entire film is an ode to traditional capitalism. Bane leads an attack on the Gotham stock market – and a stock market executive explains to a cop, clearly unhappy about having to risk life and limb for the fat cats, how investment makes his savings more valuable. Selina Kyle – aka Catwoman – starts off as an anti-capitalism warrior, explaining to billionaire Bruce Wayne, “Do you think this is gonna last? There's a storm coming, Mr. Wayne. You and your friends better batten down the hatches, because when it hits, you're all gonna wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us." By the time Bane takes over the city with his communist-fascist regime, she’s looking on in horror at the anti-capitalist show trials (straight from the French Revolution, including summary sentencing) and destruction of private property. When she walks into an upscale house and sees how it’s been destroyed, she says that the house used to be beautiful. Her friend replies, “Now it’s everybody’s house.” In other words, communism destroys rather than building. The totalitarianism of equality is just that: totalitarianism.
(2) Leftist Populism: When Barack Obama talks constantly about returning the power to the people, all the while monopolizing true power, he sounds an awful lot like Bane, who threatens the city with utter destruction while simultaneously informing them that they, the citizens, are in control.
(3) Criminality: In the world of The Dark Knight Rises, thousands of criminals have been put away under the new Harvey Dent Act, dedicated to the district attorney killed by Batman at the end of The Dark Knight. The Act was passed on the heels of Dent’s death because Bruce Wayne and Commissioner Gordon conspired to play Dent as a hero rather than telling the truth. Bane reveals the truth – that Dent tried to murder Gordon’s son – and tells the population to release these wrongly imprisoned criminals. The population largely complies. And the city ends up in ruins.
(4) Appeasement: The President of the United States has a choice to make with regard to Bane: keep sending food into Gotham, acknowledging the whole time that Bane is holding the city under the threat of nuclear destruction, or try to infiltrate and fight back. The President appeases, with disastrous results. And yes, the word appeasement is used.
(5) Poverty: Poverty is seen as a sort of virtue by many people on the left. Not so in The Dark Knight Rises, where those who grow up poor are held to the same moral standard as those who grow up rich. Furthermore, while we learn that Bane spent time in poverty in a prison – and that it toughened him up – Bruce Wayne can get just as tough, though he grew up with tremendous wealth. Wayne is the most self-sacrificing character in the film, even though he’s also the richest. Wealth is not an automatic moral failing in TDKR. It’s a tool to be used for good or evil. And Batman uses it for good.
(6) Guns: One of Batman’s rules is that he will not use firearms, since his parents were killed by gunshot. At one point, Kyle has to save him by using guns – and she tells him that she disagrees with his rule. It’s hard for the audience to disagree, seeing as all the bad guys have guns – and in one scene in which thousands of cops charge the Occupy Army of Bane, the Occupy Army blows the underarmed cops away.
(7) Public-Private Partnerships: Bane is able to bring the city to its knees by trapping its police force thanks to the government granting subsidies to a private company for which Bane labors. Corporatism does not go well in the world of The Dark Knight Rises.
(8) Green Energy: Bruce Wayne nearly goes bankrupt thanks to a green energy project he funds. And he also recognizes the dangers of green energy projects that are not fully ready – if the world isn’t ready for them, he says, they can’t be used. Solyndra, anyone?
(9) Law and Order: The great moral arc of the film belongs to Catwoman, who transitions from a thief – she sees herself as Robin Hood, and hilariously tells Bruce Wayne that she does more for the poor than he does – to a defender of the cops. She allies with Bruce Wayne to help take down the Occupy Army after learning the evils of the communist/totalitarian Bane system.
(10) Humanity: Humanity in the Christopher Nolan world is capable of both “great and terrible things,” in the words of Ra’s Al Ghul from Batman Begins. And Nolan doesn’t shy away from either. But he clearly believes in human potential without losing the reality that when people are incentivized to do bad things, they do them. We saw shades of this in Batman Begins and a heavy dose of it in The Dark Knight, but we get the heaviest dose of realism in The Dark Knight Rises.
This is a fantastic film, the end of probably the greatest movie trilogy in film history. It is a pure joy to watch for entertainment reasons. It’s a joy to watch for moral reasons, too. If culture is upstream of politics, we can only hope that the lessons of The Dark Knight Returns seep down to the politics of its viewers.