The Most Controversial Batman Movie Is Rising The Ranks On Netflix

All Batman movies have some controversy, but the biggest one of them all is currently one of the most-watched movies on Netflix.

By Nathan Kamal | Published

It should have been a grand slam. It should have been a hole in one. After years of increasingly poor Batman sequels, director Christopher Nolan’s adaptation of the Caped Crusader had brought respect and enormous box-office grosses back to the character. After 2005’s Batman Begins had proved there was still creative life in the franchise (not to mention $373 million at the box office), The Dark Knight was a sensation. Largely on the strength of Heath Ledger’s game-changing portrayal of the Joker and Nolan’s vision of Batman as a symbol for society, it was almost instantly regarded as one of the best comic book adaptations of all time. A sequel was a no-brainer, but then controversy became part of the DNA of the film. That movie is 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises and it is currently #3 among the most-watched movies on Netflix. 

the dark knight rises

The first tragic event that affected The Dark Knight Rises was the untimely death of Heath Ledger. Though Christian Bale had been roundly praised for his portrayal of the titular character, The Dark Knight was largely perceived to have achieved greatness in Ledger’s chaotic, grotesque performance as the Joker. Heath Ledger’s death at 28 was not only a tragedy, it threw a wrench into any plans for the third movie to involve a character that was very clearly set up as a part of the next installment. Christopher Nolan reportedly was reluctant to return for another Batman, feeling that he needed a story that would emotionally engage him or there would be no point. Working together with screenwriter David S. Goyer and his brother Jonathan, Christopher Nolan eventually found the story in The Dark Knight Rises

From the beginning, the choice of Bane (Tom Hardy) as the central villain of The Dark Knight Rises was going to be controversial. While the character was a fan favorite among comic readers, his only cinematic portrayal had been in 1997’s disastrous Batman & Robin, the less of which is said, the better. Warner Bros executives wanted Leonardo DiCaprio as the Riddler, hoping to harness some of that Joker energy. When it turned out that the Nolan brothers had re-imagined the hulking, luchador-masked Doc Savage knock-off into a militant revolutionary and Gotham City into a dark shadow of the then-current Occupy Wall Street movement, things must have turned very tense in the WB boardroom. 

To make The Dark Knight Rises, David S. Goyer and the Nolans stitched together elements of three well-regarded Batman comic storylines, The Dark Knight Returns (in which the Dark Knight, uh, returns), No Man’s Land (in which Gotham City is isolated from the rest of the world and becomes a fiefdom of various supervillains), and Knightfall (in which Batman has his back broken by and is replaced by a more violent, brutal antihero). Within the continuity of the trilogy, nearly a decade after The Dark Knight, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale, clearly prepared for his last journey in the Batsuit) has become a recluse, Gotham City is at peace, but the economic gap has apparently never been higher. While Batman and the Dent Act passed in the wake of Aaron Eckhart’s Two-Face’s death have essentially eradicated crime, the problem with Gotham was never just that people were really into crime, but poverty and the failing infrastructure of the city. 

the dark knight rises

As it turns out, Bane and the remnants of the League of Shadows from the first movie have been building an army in the literal underworld of Gotham and harnessing the frustrations and anger of the city’s most desperate to overthrow the status quo. However, Bane’s plan is actually to completely annihilate the city rather than create a revolution; it would not entirely be fair to say that his idea of social change is a lie (in his own mind), but that the destruction of Gotham is not an end, but a means to the League’s dark vision of a changed world. 

As one might expect, The Dark Knight Rises use of the imagery of a proletariat revolution turning violent made various people across the political spectrum fairly unhappy. The late radio host/negotiator with the State of Florida to have his drug-related charges dropped via monetary settlement Rush Limbaugh bizarrely claimed that the name “Bane” was somehow discrediting the Republican Party’s current Presidential candidate. There was a mass shooting in a Colorado movie theater at a showing of The Dark Knight Rises. Deranged fans of the Dark Knight Trilogy issued death threats towards critics who gave the film any negative criticism. For a movie that should have been a triumphant wrap on the revitalization of a franchise, The Dark Knight Rises could not win at any turn. But a decade later, perhaps audiences on Netflix can watch it with clearer eyes and less controversy.