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Should Harvey Dent Return in Batman 3?

I’m having what might be termed ‘a Batman day’. I finally managed too tear open and read my copy of Absolute Batman: The Long Halloween and I’m a little giddy about it – and the fact Batman was just named Britain’s favourite superhero. In fact, it reminds me of just how much I want a sequel to The Dark Knight to at least be announced officially – the steady stream of increasingly inane rumours (Eddie Murphy, Megan Fox, yeesh) aren’t quite satiating my thirst. There’s been (understandably) a lot of discussion about the villains in the new film. I honestly don’t know who Nolan will pick (though my money is on Catwoman if only to adjust the gender ratio), but I am fascinated by the on-line discussion surrounding whether the characters of Harvey Dent and The Joker will (or should) return. My opinion of the Joker is simply: if he does, he does. Heath Ledger won an Oscar and gave us a fantastic portrayal of the character. If Nolan wants to bring him back recast, I’m cool. On Dent, I’m more sure: I don’t want to see him again.

Bringing back Harvey is a half-brained idea...

Bringing back Harvey is a half-brained idea...

It may sound like I’m being harsh. I’m not. Aaron Eckhart was great, although he was overshadowed somewhat by Heath Ledger, who had the more showy role. The character of Harvey Dent and his transformation into Two Face was told as poignently as it has ever been told – perhaps even more emotionally than in The Long Halloween. I’ll admit that the movie had a lot to cram in, even with it’s two-and-a-half hour runtime. When it was first announced that the movie would introduce the character of Dent, I expected that it would be the first in a two-part saga: the first following the decline of Dent and the second following the rise of Two Face. Fortunately, that isn’t the way that Nolan works, and he created a grandiose sweeping tragedy around the man.

Yes, I used the word ‘tragedy’. And that’s why the character shouldn’t return.

Now in the world of film – as well as the world of comics – the fall of grace from Harvey Dent represents Batman’s greatest failure. And The Dark Knight is steeped in failures for the hero. He loses the love of his life. He frames himself for murder. He ends up isolated, alone and on the run. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out he got home to discover Alfred had died of a stroke. In the world of comics, its acceptable to have Harvey come back time and time again as a taunting reminder to Bruce that he is in a way responsible for the loss of Gotham’s true hero, but Nolan isn’t making comic books. Harvey being alive would create hope – hope that one day the loss may somehow be rectified, if Harvey can be restored to a morally upright citizen. Such hope is a cheat when it comes to the ending of The Dark Knight.

I'm pretty sure the decision would split the audience down the middle...

I'm pretty sure the decision would split the audience down the middle...

I’ve found that one of the major weaknesses of mainstream comic books is that they lack closure and finality – they never end. And popular characters never die, because they’re popular. And if they do die, they’re brought back. Death is cheap. That’s understandable in the world of comic books, but it robs what should be emotional moments of real emotions. There will never be a truly definitive loss of hope with regard to Harvey in the comic books, because he’ll always remain alive.

The movies have an advantage, because they can be definitive. They can kill off these long running recurring villains and you do believe that they won’t be back. In fact, most comic book films have the opposite problem – you suspect no villain will make the end credits alive. It’s to Nolan’s credit that he undermines this expectation – we don’t know who is going to die because many survive. That way when Harvey does die, his death has some meaning and some weight. It gets the audience thinking about justice in a world where the Joker is alive at the end, but Harvey ends up lying dead at a bomb site.

I mentioned above that the movie ends on a pretty bleak note. That’s not to say that there isn’t hope. But that hope needs to come from Bruce himself – that he will endure, to quote Alfred, that he can survive this – not from some outside source. To reveal that the blackness at the end of The Dark Knight was a con undermines all the work that Nolan has put in and diminishes the journey of the central character.

And that is why Harvey Dent should remain dead. A ghost will haunt Batman’s conscience much more effectively than a person – even a hideously disfigured one.

One Response

  1. Great post, and I absolutely agree that Harvey Dent should not be resurrected. It would be the easy choice, the chump move that would ruin the bleakly hopeful tone we’re left with at the close of “The Dark Knight.” Let Harvey rest in peace.

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