Bob Kane, David Goyer, Jonathan Nolan, and Christopher Nolan, 2012
#47, 2012 Skandies
When I wrote about The Dark Knight lo these many years ago, I noted that it seemed to be a little out of step with the times: it was preoccupied with questions of how to deal with the incapacitating ravages of street crime at a time when crime rates had been plunging for fifteen years, and of how to deal with the existential threat of terrorism at a time when it had become clear that the main power terrorists held was the ability to dupe the easily panicked into viewing them as an existential threat. It seemed like the more pressing concern was that the financial sector was bringing down the economy. As the just-underway Obama administration made its first moves to try to contain the collapse, I wrote:
I wonder whether the move in comics away from bank robbers and toward deranged sadists might not be a form of wishful thinking. Because, sure, there are psychopaths in the world, imprisoning their inbred children in basements and what have you. But on a systemic level, they don't do as much harm as the much more banal evil we face today. The evil we face today is a class of people who don't mind the tent cities springing up in places like Sacramento so long as they get to live on leafy estates in New Canaan; who shrug at the news of food stamp enrollments reaching new records as they book their reservations at Masa; who react to IMF warnings of depression-fueled unrest overseas by moving their vacations from Aruba to Aspen; I could rattle off as many stereotypes as you like and they'd all be true.
The Dark Knight Rises evinces an awareness that this issue exists — as Selina Kyle warns Bruce Wayne at a gala for the haves and the have-mores, "You think all this can last? There's a storm coming, Mr. Wayne. You and your friends better batten down the hatches, 'cause 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." But look at how the movie actually presents the issue. The speaker of these words is a baddie, whose journey to heroism will involve seeing her prediction come to pass and being revolted by the sight of commoners wrecking the home of a wealthy family. The person to whom she's sneering that "I think I do more to help someone than most of the people in this room — than you," unbeknownst to her, is the goddamn Batman, the billionaire who saved the world and died for our sins or something. To be more specific, in the The Dark Knight he let himself be framed for Two-Face's crimes, which led to legislation that has now virtually eliminated crime by locking up a thousand bad guys without parole (because to these filmmakers it apparently goes without saying that mass incarceration is an effective and unproblematic solution to crime). Enter Bane, a sort of white Jamaican Cobra Commander, who is said to be too extreme even for Batman Begins bad guy Ra's al Ghul. Bane's goal is to accomplish what Ra's al Ghul could not, by destroying Gotham City with a nuclear weapon he has obtained. But rather than just do that, he holds off for several months; in the interim, he upends the social order — trapping the police underground, freeing the prison population, and turning the wealth of the top 1% over to the masses — in order to make Batman sad. (He breaks Batman's back "Knightfall"-style, throws him in a pit, and makes him watch it all on TV.) We only get a fragmentary picture of the new Gotham — this is a three-hour movie that feels like it wanted to be a season of a TV series — but it involves ridiculous kangaroo courts in which the Job Creators™ are sentenced to icy deaths. The film doesn't say, but strongly implies, that this is what you inevitably get when you monkey with the status quo. Probably the biggest sign that this movie was not aimed at me, or really at anyone I know, was the bit around the 130-minute mark when an army of cops marches on Gotham and it's supposed to be this triumphant moment. Look, I'm no anarchist. Quite the opposite. I'm politically inclined towards big government and temperamentally averse to disorder. I recognize that for a society of this scale to function, cops are an unfortunate necessity. But in my experience, when you see armies of cops, it's because they've been summoned to crack the heads of peaceful protesters. Black Lives Matter, Occupy Wall Street, the UC tuition hike protests, the Battle in Seattle — if you want to see supervillainy in real life, look at the thugs in blue turning truncheons and chemical weapons against English professors and teenage girls. Note to Nolan and company: in actual showdowns between police and crowds of scruffy-looking people, the scruffy-looking people are not the ones using the tanks.
All in all, I have to say that I find the basic outlook of this whole generation of Batman movies highly dubious. And since Patrick Leahy apparently supports it enough to do a cameo, I guess it's a good thing that it's the other Vermont senator who's running for president.