FOLKS, THIS POST CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS FOR THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS. I'LL TRY TO KEEP THEM MINOR & VAGUE, BUT IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THE FILM YET, YOU DON'T WANT TO BE READING THIS!!!
REALLY REALLY LAST WARNING!!
Folks, are you tired of idiots (of any political stripe) trying to tell you what The Dark Knight Rises was "really" about?
Well, then hang around, because there are myriad OTHER ways to frame and discuss this film, ways that are far more productive (and far less likely to devolve into really stupid arguments).
#1) Nolan's Batman Movies As A Modern Take On The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance:
What? You haven't seen this classic? You mean I've got to spoil another movie?
Let's just put forth, then, that this John Ford/Jimmy Stewart/John Wayne/Lee Marvin western deals quite heavily with the themes of how to bring civil society to a lawless society; when and how violence is justified in such a quest; when (and if) a big lie is necessary to preserve that society; and who is really a hero.
No, it's not like Nolan was doing a scene-by-scene remake. But thematically, his Bat movies and Liberty Valance are so close, I'd be stunned if he wasn't at least subconsciously channeling it.
So go rent or buy Liberty Valance (you'll be glad you did, trust me), watch it, and when someone tries to go all poli-sci dissertation on TDKR, drop this on them.
Plus, Lee Marvin would have made a great Batman villain...
#2) The Dark Knight Returns As A Two Hour And Forty Minute Argument Between Lucius Fox and Alfred:
Unlike the other two movies, in TDKR, Alfred & Lucius have completely opposite goals and philosophies, and Bruce Wayne is trapped between them.
Alfred wants Bruce to give up being the Bat, as he's no longer needed. Fox wants him to keep it up, going so far as to tempt him with new toys.
Alfred wants Bruce to give his crime-fighting tech to the police, so they can use it. Fox (repeating his position from TDK) is afraid of this kind of thing "falling into the wrong hands" and "being turned into a weapon."
Of course, they're both right, in part--Gotham would have been destroyed had Bruce not returned to the cowl, and (maybe) this whole mess could have been averted has he (and Fox) been less paranoid.
Nonetheless, it's still a fascinating move by Nolan, to have Bruce become a pawn in an intellectual/philosophical battle between the two good mentors from the previous films.
#3) Compare And Contrast--Movie Tony Stark & Movie Bruce Wayne
Two billionaires, different approaches to alternative energy.
In the Iron Man and Avengers films, Tony Stark invents a new, clean power source. And even though it can be misused, he goes public with it, powers huge skyscrapers with his "arc reactor" technology, and wants to spread it.
Bruce Wayne, in TDKR, invents a fusion reactor, but decides that it could be used as a weapon, so he (literally) buries it, and ends the project, even at the cost of his own fortune.
Of course, that's just the tip of Bruce's paranoia in the movie. He won't share his crime-fighting tech with the police (even Gordon!), because it "might be turned into a weapon." He buys up software companies just so one program they're working on "might fall into the wrong hands." His mentor, Fox, is gathering and burying all of Wayne Enterprises defense contract equipment and hiding it, to "keep it out of the wrong hands."
Movie Tony Stark vs. movie Bruce Wayne. Tony sees everything as a tool, Bruce see everything as a weapon. Discuss.
#4) Gotham City--Worst Urban Planning Ever?!?
OK, this falls more into the category of nitpicking, I know...
But Gotham put Blackgate Prison, which they boast as filled with violent criminals, right in the middle of downtown?!?
And it opens right onto the street?
Here's the opposite view...Blackgate is right across from what looks to be some school or library or government building??
Yes, I know...Nolan couldn't put it on an island or outside of the city because he blew up access. Still, you don't see maximum security prisons set, say, in Wall Street, or The Loop.
Speaking of access...you remember in TDK when Joker bluffs about blowing up the bridges and tunnels (oh, Nolan, you foreshadowing madman...)? And everybody hops on of Gotham's many ferries to get out of town?
Uhhh...what happened to those ferries? Wouldn't that have been a pretty decent way to evacuate some folks?
One line from Bane or henchman is all that would be needed to deal with this, and given the prominence the ferries played in the last movie, Nolan certainly should have given us that line...
#5) The Dark Knight Returns And The World Is Not Enough:
Again, spoiler territory, but both of the movies feature the exact same plot twist. Discuss.
#6) Sports In A Super-Hero Universe:
If you've seen the trailer, you know there's a scene at a football game, and we're introduced to Gotham City's NFL franchise:
Guys, if you're trying to clean up the city, maybe that's not the team name and mascot you want to go with. I'm just saying.
Still we now have lots of new merchandise for us to buy--hats, jerseys, etc, all emblazoned with the Gotham Rogues logo. Too bad about that godawful color scheme (sorry, Pittsburgh Steeler fans. Not sorry, Iowa Hawkeye fans...).
This gives us lots of opportunity for discussion as to how pro sports might work in a super-hero universe. If, you know, hypothetically, two teams are killed in a super-villain-caused earthquake, and one city is locked off for several months, how does the league continue? Does it? What are the rules if your game is interrupted by super-heroes or villains (ahem, Superman Returns...)?
But, more importantly, here was the PERFECT opportunity to get in a sly reference to another DC city, to ever-so-slightly start the universe building you need for a Justice League movie. So whom are the Gotham Rogues playing?
The Rapid City Monuments?!? Rapid City?!? And they're called The Monuments?!?!
Hey, nothing against Rapid City. Maybe in the DC Universe (or at least the Nolan Batman Universe), Rapid City is large enough to have an NFL franchise.
But c'mon, guys...couldn't you have had them play Central City? Or Metropolis? Or Opal? Or Midway (the Midway Monsters..heh heh)? Just to throw us the tiniest bone of "there's a larger universe out there" fan service to us?
So there you have it...if you want to talk TDKR but want to avoid squalid political issues or tragic real-life events, I've given you some other ways to frame the conversation. You're welcome.