The trailer for The Dark Knight Rises has been doing the rounds on-line, as Warner Brothers try to keep it under wraps. Originally supposed to premiere before Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II, I reckon it’s a matter of time before the studio officially releases it on-line. When they do, I’ll post it up here, but let’s actually talk a bit about the teaser and what it tells us – especially about this instalment as opposed to the previous two entries in Nolan’s superhero franchise.
Every hero has a journey…
Every journey has an end…
Let’s ignore the fact that the intro text is rather cliché. This little snippet of text, overlayed against the backdrop of footage from Bruce’s transformation into Batman in Batman Begins, suggests that Nolan is hoping to close the circle. Not only are we talking about affording Batman “an end” – something comic book heroes rarely enjoy in either their parent medium or the film or television adaptation – but we’re juxtaposing that against the very beginning of Batman.
I don’t believe we’ll see Nolan directing the inevitable next Batman movie (whatever form that may take), and I think it’s a smart move on the part of Warner Brothers to allow this particular series to definitively end, rather than treating this as just another chapter in an on-going narrative waiting for another director to substitute in. I don’t think we’ve ever seen a superhero’s journey “end”, and I think that Batman is a complex and tragic enough character for this to really work. Superman can’t really die at the end of his story, because he’s the very embodiment of optimism and hope. However, Batman is a more cynical creation, so there’s an implicit threat to the character in that promise. At least, if you ask me.
I also like the use of Ra’s Al-Ghul’s narrative from the very first film. It’s funny, I was actually discussing that very quote a week or two ago, and making it clear how essential that single line is to Nolan’s vision (essentially, in Nolan’s vision, “the idea of Batman” is infinitely stronger and more perfect than Bruce can ever actually be). For those yet to see the trailer:
If you make yourself more than just a man, if you devote yourself to an ideal and if they can’t stop you, you become something else entirely – a legend, Mister Wayne.
The dialogue in the trailer repeats the word “legend” at the end (which the original quote doesn’t), which might be significant, or it might be a red herring. We’ll return to that shortly.
Then there’s the Bat motif, as seen in the rather wonderful teaser poster. It’s a clever design, but there are a few things to note about it. The first thing to note is that a lot of people are making the connection between No Man’s Land and this story. It was a nineties storyline, which came a few years after Bane first appeared amid a string of terrible things to happen to Gotham. In essence, the city was hit by an earthquake and cut off from the rest of the US – forsaken by the authorities, Batman holds the town together through sheer force of will (and with help from his allies). Personally, given the events we’ve heard leaked (and the cast list), I’d be more likely to invest my faith in a telling of the story that preceded that one, Contagion, in which Ra’s infected Gotham with a deadly virus. yep, the nineties were a crap time to live in Gotham. If the League of Shadows return, I think biological warfare is more plausible than a convenient earthquake as Bane confronts Batman. But I don’t necessarily bank on either nineties plot playing into it. I suspect the buildings are crumbling representing the institutional collapse of Gotham under threat from Bane.
The second – and, I’d argue, more important – thing to note about the logo is the contrast between the one here and the one used for the rather brilliant (and, I think, slightly stronger) teaser for The Dark Knight. There the Batman logo was a solid object against a clear background, and it fell apart under the Joker’s pressure. Here, in contrast, the Batman logo is a space of empty space formed by cracks in the structure of Gotham apart. If The Dark Knight was about Batman going to pieces, I suspect that this movie might be about Batman keeping Gotham from doing the same. I think that Gotham is the real target here, as we’ll get to momentarily.
Anyway, now we get to the meat of the teaser, actual footage. I don’t know. I’d almost rather just the dialogue, to be honest. No context. You can tell Commissioner Gordon is in trouble from Gary Oldman’s voice, rather than needing to see him in a hospital bed. Now I’m going to spend the movie expecting that. Although, it could come in the first ten minutes, or it could not appear at all. Any way, Gordon has in many ways been the voice of the mortal human being in this epic saga, and I’d argue he’s the real hero of Nolan’s Batman stories. He’s the man who anchors Bruce, who can keep his secrets, he’s the cop who makes the decision to trust the psychotic dressed up like a giant bat, and he’s the one who carries the weight of the decision on his shoulders. As such, he’s been the movies’ stand-in for Gotham’s soul – the one decent cop who believes that the city could be a good place to live.
So I think seeing Gordon like that is worrying omen for Gotham itself. It has been suggested that Bane broke Gordon’s back, like he did to Bruce in the comic.though, to be honest, I see it as a nice little reference to the way the Gordon is treated as the whipping boy of the Batman comic books. Seriously, whenever anybody wants a go at Batman, they’ll make a shortcut for Gordon, with the Joker trying to drive Gordon mad “to prove a point” in The Killing Joke, the recent hubbub over his son in Detective Comics, the murder of his wife and his own attempted murder and ten-minute retirement before Infinite Crisis.
And then there’s the content of the exchange between Gordon and Bruce:
We were in this together, and then you were gone. Now this evil rises. The Batman has to come back.
What if he doesn’t exist anymore?
He must, he must.
I like that this sort of implies Gordon knows who Batman is. I love the portrayal of a Commissioner Gordon who is smart enough to know who Bruce is, but has to play dumb to preserve his integrity as a police officer. I think we got hints of that in The Dark Knight, at least with Oldman’s delivery of, “That was a very brave thing you did.” Even if Bruce tried to fob it off, I suspect Gordon’s Bat-radar was beeping.
However, here is where we see Bane. In small flashes. And then in a small flash at the end. There’s no dialogue from the character, unlike Heath Ledger’s Joker. Part of me suspects that Bane is going to play a much smaller role here than the Joker did in the film prior. While Bane proves an interesting philosophical counterpoint to Bruce, but I think that we’re going to see a film that will focus a lot more on Bruce than on the villains. And, given the rumours of Liam Neeson appearing (despite a younger actor being cast for flashbacks), I wouldn’t be too surprised to see the League of Shadows as villains. And a completely insane twist would make a resurrected Ra’s Al-Ghul their leader – though I wonder if Nolan’s verisimilitude could withstand it. It would be one fantastic way of pulling the rug out from under us, though?
More than that, though, I like the idea that this is a movie in which Batman has already retired. Possibly in the wake of his failure in The Dark Knight. It evokes Miller’s classic The Dark Knight Returns, which clearly inspired the title. Given how heavy an influence Year One was on Batman Begins (despite the protests from Goyer and Nolan, it’s clear to see), I think it’s quite fitting. Obviously Bruce won’t be quite so old, but the idea of Bruce being literally unable to stop being Batman even though he wants to is a great angle. Val “I’m Batman because I choose to be” Kilmer’s take on the character can suck on it. I imagine – and it might be a bit off the mark – that Bane is trying to draw Batman out of retirement. Or, perhaps, he sends Batman into retirement, but it seems like lot to cram into a single movie.
But this is all speculation. But hey, it’s fun, right?
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