Rush Limbaugh recently suggested that the makers of the new Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises, were pushing a liberal political agenda by giving their villain the same name as Bain Capital, Mitt Romney’s infamous firm. Rush should have watched the movie before criticizing it, because The Dark Knight Rises is anything but liberal.
For one thing, the name “Bane” is no snipe at Mitt Romney. Bane is a well-known character from the Batman comic universe. He was created 20 years ago. The similarity is pure coincidence.
For another, Bane is a brutal dictator whose support for ending economic inequality is merely a cover for his true goal: the destruction of civilization.
The politics of Occupy Wall Street are on display for the first part of the film, where an acrobatic burglar named Catwoman is seen as having legitimate gripes against Gotham City’s wealthy elite. Some of the most powerful businessmen are indeed portrayed as wicked exploiters, and they orchestrate a stock market heist to steal more power and influence for themselves. The film is sympathetic to the concerns of the poor, and points out that some who achieve wealth don’t earn it legitimately.
But these themes disappear as soon as the hulking terrorist Bane takes over Gotham City. All criminals are released. Rich people are executed in sham trials headed by Bane’s lunatic friends. Government officials and police officers are killed or captured. Bane claims that he is solving inequality by leveling the playing field, but his true plan is to perpetrate mass murder by setting off a nuclear bomb.
In this way, viewers see a familiar story unfold — one that is reminiscent of communist and fascist revolutions in Russia, Germany, Cambodia, and North Korea. No matter how legitimate criticisms of the economic, political, and social order may be, any revolution that shatters the rule of law or eliminates the market entirely will necessarily result in greater inequality, suffering, and death. Like the communist parties of real authoritarian states, Bane and his cohorts represent a new ruling class that pretends to care about equality and liberation, but in practice resorts to oppression and extreme violence.
The film’s good guys are Batman and the police officers of Gotham, who bravely go to war to prevent Bane’s genocide. Portraying an army of police officers as heroes hardly seems like the choice of a director with a left-wing axe to grind.
If the political message of The Dark Knight Rises seems muddled, it’s because real-life problems can’t be solved with Batman. There is no well-funded superhero with a glut of fancy gadgets and moral incorruptibility, nor are there villains in America as damaging and transparently evil as Bane. The film doesn’t offer much of a practical answer for what to do about inequality, social unrest, or terrorism.
Ultimately, The Dark Knight Rises has little to say about Mitt Romney and President Obama. Call its politics complicated, neutral, or even unclear. But don’t call them liberal.