Here’s something you might not know about me: I love comic books, Batman in particular. So in 2008 when The Dark Knight was released, I’d spent the past 3 years eagerly anticipating its release. I’d seen the leaked images of Heath Ledger as the Joker before most people did. I was psyched for The Dark Knight (TDK) to come out. I saw it multiple times in theaters. That’s significant because I don’t watch movies in theaters. I’m a bit of a penny-pincher, and prefer to pick up a flick on Red Box or for free at the library. That to say that going to the movie theater and forking out $7 multiple times in a few months was a big thing for me. I didn’t see another film in theaters until The Book Of Eli came out. With all that in mind, I’ve been pretty anxious for this summer’s movie releases since last November/December.
What I want to share here isn’t necessarily a big secret about me or anything. I just wanted to express a theory about the completion to the Chris Nolan Batman trilogy, in the crazy unlikelihood that it ends up being anywhere close to true. I believe when it’s all said and done, and The Dark Knight Rises has been seen and reviewed by all the big and little critics, the complete trilogy will rank up there with The Godfather, Lord Of The Rings, and the original Star Wars series as one of the best trilogies in film. TDK is personally my favorite movie. Past the comic-book aspects, it’s a brilliantly conceived, written, and detailed crime thriller. It’s story driven, with twists and turns galore so that, like Batman, you’re never really sure what the next twist in the tale will bring. Nolan not only changed the genre of comic-book films, but redefined what makes successful film. This is a guy who doesn’t follow trends, doesn’t care what is popular (hey that sounds like me, no wonder I like this guy!), openly has stated Hollywood takes shortcuts and won’t do a movie unless the story is killer. I believe that’s why not only the best actors seek him out to work with him, but they’re willing to keep his story secrets until the movie is released. That’s a power all its own.
It’s been rumored that Nolan will kill Batman in the upcoming film to conclude the trilogy. People speculate that because it will be Nolan’s last Batman film, as well as Christian Bale’s last time behind the cape and cowl. Warner Bros. have said they’re going to reboot the franchise again when this series is over. I think that’s the dumbest ass thing I’ve ever heard. They (WB) should note how poorly The Amazing Spider-man will do not only at the box office this July, but also in messing up the franchise for Sony for the foreseeable future. Learn the lessons of other people’s failures. While I understand the speculation on Batman being killed (after all, Bane is the main villain and in the comics Bane breaks Batman’s back), I don’t think that’s the kind of end Nolan has in store. That’s too easy, and this is a guy who doesn’t do predictable stories, nor easy ones. Just watch Memento and tell me you saw that ending coming.
For these reasons, I think that Nolan is not telling a trilogy of the rise and fall of Batman as a man, but his inner character. Each leg of the journey thus far has showcased the evolution of the mind and drive of Bruce Wayne in dealing with a fury that won’t die. In Batman Begins, he finds that vengeance alone won’t silence the pain in his heart concerning the murder of his parents. So he sets out on a journey to the far east, learning combat skills and philosophies that change his course. I think that journey to the realm of Ras Al Ghul is a poetic expression of the overall trilogy story. When Bruce returned to Gotham and created the Batman persona, his journey of self-discovery and processing of who he really is wasn’t truly discovered. The physical manifestation is the Batman. But the inner revelation of what and who the Batman is has been the driving subtext of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. The Dark Knight Rises (in my opinion) will be the culmination of the completing of that discover process for Bruce, in truly facing a villain that stretches him way beyond his limits to see how powerful the legend of the Dark Knight truly is.
I believe that the conclusion to the trilogy will take Bruce to places he thought he’d conquered and reveal he had only beaten one level of it. The Scarecrow (in Begins) represented the psychological aspect of overcoming his worst fears, and that being not being able to save his city from the fate his parents suffered. The Joker (in TDK) took his highly held principles and solidarity and tried to overturn them. The Batman/Joker face-off has always represented order versus chaos. This film version perfectly captured that duel in a way no other representation on film has (sorry Jack, Heath’s Joker rules). This time, Batman faces someone who is not only a potential equal intellectually and strategically, but better than him physically. He’s single-handedly taken down the mob, and beaten men with his combat and martial arts skills. He’s used his prowess and planning to instill fear in criminals. But Bane is a terrorist threat unlike anything he’s ever dreamed of. And he will break the Bat.
But like in the comics, the breaking of Batman’s body led to a different kind of self-discovery, one that Bruce hasn’t yet achieved. I’m not exactly sure what it will be either, and I think that’s the real secret that’s being kept under wraps that we’ll discover July 20th. I think that potentially Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character could be a film version of either a Robin-like character, or possibly Azrael (read the Knightfall book by Dennis O’Neil or the comics series of the mid 90’s for info). But he’s a temporary fill in until Batman rises.
In the first film, Bruce tries to convince himself and his love Rachel Dawes (played by Katie Holmes) that the Batman is a temporary fix to the crime problem in Gotham, and after he restores order and has the criminals on the run he can leave the persona and be a regular guy again. In this fantasy, he will put the cape and cowl away and settle down with her to live a normal life. That’s still his underlying hope in TDK, illustrated with he tells Rachel (this time played by Maggie Gyllenhaal) at the fundraiser for DA Harvey Dent that Harvey is the answer to the problem and Bruce will soon be able to put Batman away and settle down with her. But Rachel knows that’s not the case, stating that Bruce never really returned from the east, dismissing his hopes. When that film concludes we know that in practical terms, Bruce will never be able to be with Rachel. But it’s concluded that Batman will be the fall guy for all that broke down in trying to bring down the Joker. Harvey Dent was the white knight. Batman is the dark knight. But Bruce still thinks he can save the city so that it won’t need Batman.
I believe the conclusion to the trilogy will come as Bruce Wayne truly realizes and discovers that Gotham can’t be saved without him. Bane will take him to places that Bruce Wayne can’t go. Something in him will have to come to light and stay that way for Gotham to truly have hope. There will always be a need for Batman. So Bruce Wayne the internal person has to die, and Batman the internal reality has to rise and take his rightful place in Gotham as the one immoveable force of good that cannot be shaken. I believe this will bring the evolution of the discovery and beginning of Batman the character to completion, leaving the door open for a subsequent film-maker to take this foundation and build on it. *Note more great Batman fan art can be found here.
Both in comics and in film, story-tellers are constantly recreating characters, rebooting them to appeal to a younger generation. But what does Batman look like as a crime-fighter in his mid-30s or 40s? Someone who has experienced that much carnage and brutal combat would have to alter the way they operate in confronting villains, just because you typically slow down as you age (although Bernard Hopkins, Fly Mayweather Jr and others are exceptions to this rule). Nolan is right that Hollywood takes too many shortcuts and doesn’t spend the time in telling a complete story. I think the reality is that the trilogy completes a 3 film origin story of the character of Batman. And we’ll discover together with the characters who is truly is, and how great the legend of the Dark Knight is.
That’s my thought on the final film. I’m not going to say that it will beat the box office numbers of The Avengers (which is an awesome film!), just because that’s a different type of movie. The Avengers is a fun, summer popcorn movie that kids and adults can enjoy because it has the quips, one-liners, and action to keep you entertained, as well as an overall well-written story. TDKR is not that kind of film, it’s a story-driven crime drama that teens and older will understand but young kids probably not. Dramas don’t always garner the financial success that popcorn flicks do, although the Dark Knight made $1 billion worldwide. We’ll see. I don’t care how much money it makes, I just know it’s going to be amazing storytelling. And I hope that I haven’t figured out the underlying story before I watch it. I hope there’s still some surprises in there. But in any chance that my objective perspective is right, I wanted to post this and at least open it up for discussion. What do you think?