It’s undoubtedly going to be the biggest film of the year, and after what has seemed like eons of teasers and trailers, we’re now just days away from finally getting closure on Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy.
Perhaps the biggest complement that you can pay Nolan is that he’s managed to make us forget Clooney’s Bat-nipples and Arnie’s take on Victor Fries, which remains chilling for all the wrong reasons. Now we’ll get closure on Nolan’s story and on one of the great modern trilogies.
But what to expect? The plot has been a closely guarded secret, and we’ve only seen fleeting glimpses of what seems to be an apocalyptic Gotham. We know we’re going to get Tom Hardy’s take on Bane, which can only be an improvement on the green luchador (played by World Championship Wrestling’s unfortunately named The Final Solution) depicted in Batman and Robin. On the other hand, Anne Hathaway has quite a task to live up to Michelle Pfieffer’s scene-stealing embodiment in Batman Returns.
Aside from that, what should we expect? We know that Nolan has done his homework, and meticulously studied the comic source material in the writing of both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. The former was heavily based on Frank Miller’s now-legendary Batman: Year One, while the latter borrowed a fair bit of its source material from Jeph Loeb’s The Long Halloween. Based on a hunch, as all of this is, Nolan’s likely to find his inspiration in the comic books. Here we try and look at what that might be.
Just as a wee aside, this might contain spoilers. Technically it is guess-work, but it’s educated guesswork, based on tales from the comics and things hinted at in previous films. It might be entirely off the mark, but there’s some advance warning.
Also, it contains a hell of a lot of comic spoilers. This is maybe something to be more aware of.
So, after that rather expansive pre-amble, what are we to expect from The Dark Knight Rises?
The Breaking of the Bat
The decision to use Bane as the main antagonist served a couple of purposes. Not only does it exorcise the demons of the aforementioned cinematic version, but it brings to the screen one of the great modern Batman villains.
The male contingent of Batman’s rogues gallery falls into two distinctive categories. They’re either criminally insane super-brains (The Joker, The Riddler, Two-Face, Penguin, Victor Fries, Hugo Strange, Scarecrow, Hush) or freakish monstrosities of nature, capable of out-muscling the hero (Killer Croc, Clayface, Solomon Grundy, Amygdala, Blockbuster). Where Bane is different is that he embodies both. He’s capable of physically and mentally defeating Batman, and is one of very few who comprehensively has.
Anyone who is familiar with Bane’s backstory will know one important detail about him; he broke The Bat. To cut a long story short, during the Knightfall story-arc of 1993-94, Bane psychologically tortured Batman, only to finally confront him, and break his back, leaving him a paraplegic in Batman #497.
This is the single most significant and important event in Bane’s comic book existence. Not making reference to it would be like rewriting the Batman saga without the death of his parents. In short, if they’re going to have Bane then they’re going to have to break The Bat.
The Dark Knight falls
Presumably this will be tied to the above event, but if – as the title suggests – The Dark Knight rises, then first of all he must fall.
The obvious thing to do would be to have Batman psychologically traumatised by Bane, then beaten to within an inch of death (or perhaps to a “death” visible by the residents of Gotham). Because this is Nolan’s last hurrah with Batman, then we’re going to have to see him really up the stakes.
Batman, by his very nature, is a tortured character. At different points in the comics he has seen his parents murdered, assorted friends desert him often to return as enemies, been sent through time, “died”, had his mind corrupted by a rabid religious cult, seen two Robins bumped off, been forced to endure the torture of Barbara Gordon and more recently watched helplessly as several of his exes were offed by a murderous former-flame. In short, the man has it tough.
What makes Batman work is that he overcomes all of these things. In the films so far he has overcome the death of his parents and his first friend. Where else for Nolan to push things other than for the Dark Knight to overcome death itself?
Again, because this is the final part in Nolan’s trilogy, we’re not going to get some The Empire Strikes Back/Godfather II ending, we’re going to get something uplifting to conclude Nolan’s reign and miss it when it’s gone. What better way to do that than having Batman return from “death” to return Gotham to some form of safety?
Someone else takes on the cowl
This point is a bit more abstract and certainly less certain than the previous points, but it makes sense.
If Nolan is going to be using Knightfall as the basis for his final Batman story, and have Batman “fall”, then it stands to reason that he’ll also have someone coming in to take over the cowl for a while.
In Knightfall it offered the opportunity for writers to road-test their right-wing, take-no-shit, Punisher-esque replacement, Jean-Paul Valley, or Azrael. He takes over the role of Batman after Bane’s defeat of Wayne’s original, and brings his own version of vigilante justice to Gotham.
This isn’t going to happen in Nolan’s realist take on Batman, but the element of someone else carrying on Batman’s work while he is indisposed might. The question is, who?
On one side we’re likely to have a morally grey Catwoman character, who could well fill in as a protagonist in the wake of Batman’s “fall”. However, there’s scope for it to be someone else who actually takes on the cowl.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt has been cast as the somewhat mysterious “John Blake”, of whom we know very little, other than his inclusion in a very brief Joker story. However, it would seem ridiculous to cast such a well-known leading actor in an insignificant role. It would fit with Nolan’s ethos if Blake, a Gotham cop, had to take on the role of Batman for a period, even if it were just to keep up the appearance of Batman’s continued existence while the man himself is out of action.
Not only would this fit with some of the ideas explored in the Knightsend story-line, but it would appeal to those who want a “Robin” style character; someone who wouldn’t ever have fitted in to the Nolan mythology.
Someone is going to die. Properly.
As any great drama knows, it’s all about jeopardy. If your main character isn’t in trouble then we’re not going to be that interested in him. This holds doubly true for a character like Batman.
As we’ve already said, Batman is a tortured soul, and we expect him to have everything going wrong before he gets one thing to go right. The morality of the whole series is based on whether the decision Bruce Wayne made to avenge his parent’s death by fighting crime is the right one. For every good deed he does, more bad things happen to him.
Now we’ve already speculated that Batman will “die”, but we’re not going to get to the credits with Batman out of the picture. Leaving aside the fact that Warner Bros will want a few more films (without having to open the next one by explaining what a Lazarus pit is), it just doesn’t make sense nor fit with previous Nolan work for him to leave Wayne in the ground. Nolan likes asking questions, but he also likes having things fairly neatly tied up. See also: The Prestige, Memento, Insomnia.
Again, we’ve already pointed out that Bane will attempt to break the Bat mentally before he physically gets in about, and to do this Batman is going to need seriously riled.
In the Knightfall story-arc this is done by pitting Batman against a series of his old-foes, one after the other. This is obviously not going to happen. Instead he needs to find another way of psychologically traumatising Batman, forcing him to face Bane directly. The obvious thing to do would be to place someone Bruce Wayne cares for in danger.
Now, if this were a Schumacher version, this person would be kidnapped and that would be enough to draw Batman into a trap. Nolan’s vision is far more brutal, and so it would make sense that someone is going to die. The question is, who?
We can almost (almost?) categorically rule out Commissioner Gordon, as it’d be far too much of a re-writing of the rules for him to get him bumped off. He acts as a the moral compass for the whole Batman series; the everyman in a world where there aren’t every men. Alfred? Lucius Fox? While killing off Batman’s sole “family” would fulfil the remit, something doesn’t quite sit right.
The most likely person to be wearing the metaphorical Star Trek red jumper is Marion Cotillard’s Miranda Tate. Cotillard has denied that her character is actually Talia al Ghul, which would have given her as much of a guarantee of longevity as is possible, and so she remains an unknown quantity in the final instalment.
It would fit if she was a romantic lead for Wayne, perhaps even a fiancée? His family and friend have been killed, so where left to go but for the love life? While providing the jeopardy that would be needed to make the Bane story work, having a firm romantic lead would also give Selina Kyle/Catwoman the opportunity to show her own seductive capabilities. What better way than to ramp up the drama than to have Bruce Wayne obviously taken with her infront of his betrothed? Perhaps this attraction could even play a part in her ultimate fate, further exasperating his mental trauma?
Ra’s al Ghul will complete the circle
As we’ve mentioned previously, Christopher Nolan likes messing with our heads, but he likes to tie things up in relatively neat bundles. He’ll obviously aim to do the same in the final Batman instalment.
We know that Liam Neeson will be returning, at least for a cameo, as the mysterious Ra’s al Ghul. We also know that in Nolan’s chronology it was he who was at least partially responsible for creating the Batman as we know it.
From the comic books we know that Ra’s al Ghul is a self-serving, duplicitous character, who has his own moral code. He serves as both an antagonist and occasionally as a wise Yoda-like character who provides sage, if barbed, advice.
Again from the comics, we also know that he can constantly regenerate himself with the aid of Lazarus pits, which not only heal him, but provide a convenient plot tie should writers want to bring back a character they killed off in previous works. As we’ve discussed, there’s no way that Nolan’s hyper-real take could have something as far-fetched as a Lazarus pit, but that doesn’t mean he can’t find a way of recreating the same ends with different means.
Assuming some of the leaps of logic above, it would make sense if it were Ra’s al Ghul who returns Batman (Bruce Wayne) to the role of Gotham’s protector. Whether this is through some sort of mystical healing process, or through a recuperation montage, it would fit with his role as partial creator of the Bat if he were to remould it.
In the KnightsEnd story-arc, a recently recovered Bruce Wayne attempts to regain his poise and confidence after his traumatic defeat at the hands of Bane. He calls on the help of fabled assassin, Lady Shiva, to help him sharpen up his game, aiming to wrest control of the Batman mantle from the now-insane Jean-Paul Valley.
Again, it’s highly unlikely that we’re going to suddenly have Nolan break his own rules and introduce a hitherto unknown super-ninja. However, Ra’s al Ghul would fit this same archetype.