Comic book movies have never been too overtly political. Sure, every movie is political and the very idea of superheroes brings about ideas of facism/authoritarianism. But on the whole, the movies we have gotten during this big boom of comic book movies never aimed to reflect the world. We’ve only really been dealing with these movies consistently for 17 years, since X-Men came out in 2000. Recently, the last two Captain America movies (2014/2016) are the only ones to have gotten political and we wouldn’t even have them if not for the work Christopher Nolan did in his last two Batman movies.
In 2008, we were still reeling from the aftermath of 9/11. Terrorism was still a massive threat looming in the national subconscious, Bin Laden was still alive, and we were still fighting pointless wars in the Middle East. It was a dark time. Movies about the then political reality rarely worked in those days. So it was a risk for Nolan to make a movie that reflected the then current political landscape, especially a sequel to a really apolitical movie in Batman Begins (2005). But he offset that risk by hiding it in a masterful blockbuster.
Nolan’s aim with The Dark Knight was to attack the conservatives focus on terrorism and their willingness to forfeit the rights of the citizens for safety. To do so, he needed to create a villain that is as unknowing and fear inducing as the Taliban was. That’s where The Joker comes in. Nolan and Heath Ledgers portrayal of The Joker is elemental, a force of nature that is more idea than he is man. This Joker rolls in to Gotham after the rise of the Batman to fight an ideological battle, going with the series wide theme of escalation. Not too dissimilar to Bin Laden’s attacks on the West. After continuously failing to stop The Joker, Batman has only one option left. Use a piece of technology he created that allows him to spy on the entire city to find anyone, Joker in this case. It’s a last ditch effort, but one that is rightfully criticized by Lucius Fox. He uses it just the once and destroys it. This seems like it was a good thing, as he caught Joker, but something goes unsaid in the movie. Batman fails. He may have captured the Joker, but Joker’s main goal succeeds. Gotham golden boy Harvey Dent is broken and turned into a murderer, proving Jokers point that madness is like gravity. By focusing so completely on the one means of stopping the Joker, he is blinded to what Harvey is doing. What good is a means of protection if it actually doesn’t protect?
With his return to the Batman franchise in 2012 with The Dark Knight Rises, Nolan wanted to take a look at the other side of the coin. Extreme liberal politics. As if he was attuned to the movements of the universe, he managed to start filming around the time of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Even better, he was able to film around the Occupy movement for his climactic battle sequence. His plot here has Bane infiltrate the entirety of Gotham to shut it down from within, to show how corrupt the system actually is. When the time is right, he closes off Gotham to the world and turns a good portion of the city to his side. His means of this is to attack the elite, showing how little they actually care for the working man. The ultimate trump card is a letter from Commissioner Gordon, admitting that Batman took the fall of Dent and that the law that took down organized crime was built on the lie of an elites moral authority. It all culminates in the figurehead being exposed as a fraud.
In attempting to show how easily the left can be duped into following a corrupt figurehead if they espouse enough anti capitalist rhetoric, Nolan accidentally stumbled onto something that has grown more relevant today. Because the US has just shown that liberals aren’t the ones that will fall in line behind a fascistic fraud, but conservatives. When one really gets down to it, Bane and Trump aren’t too dissimilar in broad strokes. Their rises to power are built on the back of the working class that have felt abandoned by the elites. A false narrative about their humble beginnings are important parts of their respective runs. Theatricality is a main component to their successes. Both have absolutely ridiculous voices, although Bane is at least has a better than 3rd grade grasp on the English language. Also both are unrepentant liars are important parts of their personalities. Their cult of personalities allow them to be more to their followers, becoming messianic figures where anyone who disagrees with them is the enemy. The amount of supporters that are totally ok with all the bad being done in support of such “noble” goals proves how successful they both are at tapping into the uglier aspects of society. Finally, both are revealed in the end to be the puppets of a much more sinister foreign entity that is looking to finish unfinished business from the past. Hell, Trump was accused of copying a Bane speech during his inauguration. And the alt reich supporters don’t really understand that being similar to Bane is a bad thing. Sadly, populism was a easily ignited fire in both cases.
There’s a theory in politics called “the horseshoe theory”. It posits that the extremes of each side of the spectrum are closer in ideology to each other than they are to the more moderate members. With Nolan’s attempt to explore the political landscape of the times in the guise of a blockbuster, he accidentally made the best cinematic examples of the horseshoe theory. By trying to be bipartisan in his attacks on extremist politics, he showed off how tenuous labels in the politics game is. Because by attacking the left, time has turned it into an attack on the right. And while things may be dark these days, his movie at least has a hopeful edge. Nolan shows the importance of people rising up and fighting back against the darkness. Without the citizens of Gotham, Batman would have failed to stop Bane. With every passing day, a new low hits the Country. But in response, so does a new high. The country isn’t resting on it’s laurels. People are fighting back. So while the alt reich tries it’s best to tear this country apart, it’s good to know that a fight will be waiting. And regardless of quality, Nolan’s last two Batman movies are gonna last a good deal longer than the second Spider-Man reboot.