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Back to Begins: Is Nolan Bringing The Dark Knight Rises a Full Circle?

As The Dark Knight Rises draws closer and closer to filming, the rumours are just going to grow more and more intense. The latest rumour de jour (succeeding in a long line of debunked suggestions like the Riddler or Robin Williams as Hugo Strange) suggests that the League of Shadows will return to take on the Dark Knight in the final part of the trilogy, led by the daughter of Ra’s Al Ghul and her lover Bane. I was initially skeptical of the rumours, perhaps because they so neatly dove-tail back into the first film of the trilogy, Batman Begins.

The birth of Batman...

It’s certainly not a bad storyline. Talia Al Ghul has a legitimate claim to being the love of Bruce Wayne’s life (even if it’s an even more volatile love/hate relationship than with Selina Kyle) and the relationship between Bane and Talia has some basis in the comics, with Bane at one time hoping to serve as heir to her father. It wasn’t a great story, but Nolan and Goyer have a fondness for the original stories (The Dark Knight simultaneously being inspired by Batman #1 and The Long Halloween, for example). Plus it gives us a nice little dynamic which seems organic – rather than the result of a superhero movie needing a bad guy for the good guy to fight.

There are other reasons the storyline might appeal to Nolan (and to fans). At the weekend, I pondered a bit about trilogies and our fascination with them. I speculated that the way they represented a three-act structure on a grander scale might appeal to us on some level – and suggested that the key to a good final instalment is closure. Including the League of Shadows, who trained Bruce in the way of the ninja, would bring events a full circle. It would reference the way that Nolan kicked off events in the first film, a film which has – perhaps understandably – been overshadowed by its sequel.

Perhaps I was too Ra's in dismissing these rumours...

Which perhaps brings me to the root of my skepticism. If this is true, then the trilogy will begin and end with films about Batman confronting a shadow organisation trying to control and destroy Gotham, while in the central film the hero represented the forces of order against the forces of anarchy. The Dark Knight will seem like a very strange second act to the grand trilogy – with the focus shifting from ninjas to mobsters back to ninjas. The Dark Knight was about how much Batman had changed Gotham and how “there’s no going back.” And yet this pitch feels strangely like a trip home.

Of course, Heath Ledger’s passing dramatically shook the plans for a third Batman film. I’ve read it confirmed on-line, and it seems logical, that Ledger would have returned for the final act of the series. I believe the rumour was that the third film would follow the trial of the Joker and the ensuing chaos it caused in Gotham – all indicating that Batman had pushed things in Gotham well past the point of no return. It fits with the end of The Dark Knight, as the mob lies broken and the “freaks” seem ready to creep out of the corner (the Scarecrow selling his fear gas as a narcotic thanks to Batman’s defeat of various mob dealers, the Joker escalated from “ripping off” the gangs to a fully fledged terrorist).

It's no Joker...

There’s no denying that the third film has changed significantly from how Nolan may have originally envisaged it. For a while, it seemed uncertain that he would return to the franchise – and, in fairness, I don’t think any of us would have blamed him. Nolan is a consummate professional – we’ll probably never hear how his story changed or how much of his original idea remains, but it is safe to say that some changes were made. I wonder if these changes are as simple as shifting a few characters, or if they apply to things as central as themes and ideas.

There’s been the suggestion thrown around on-line that the movie will adapt some of Knightfall, that iconic 1990s Batman story in which Bane famously broke Batman’s back. I’d be interested to see it make it to screen – I am sure that Nolan can cover as much or as little of it as he wants in the time he has. After all, The Dark Knight managed to fit a phenomenal amount into its two-and-a-half hour running time. There is the rumour that the movie will simply “break” or “kill” Batman, drawing a line underneath Nolan’s saga and making it next to impossible for Warners to “pull a Schumacher” by getting another director to pick up the story or anything like that.

The future looks bleak for Batman...

I’m not convinced. I’ve said it before, but I suspect that the theme of the third instalment will be one of “acceptance.” The first movie was about “fear”, the second about “escalation.” It seems that, if the theme of the trilogy is Batman creating his world (becoming Batman in the first film, replacing the mob with the freaks in the second), then perhaps the best ending for the third movie is one that says “this is how it is now.” Batman comes to terms with the world he’s shaped and his role in it. It’s not a happy ending – it would be a betrayal to ever let Batman be happy (hence why I hate that “I’m Batman because I choose to be” line in Batman Forever), but I think Batman is too “young” to die in these films.

Don’t get me wrong. Batman will likely die in his tights – but it’ll probably be from a heart attack when he is too stubborn to acknowledge he’s too old. I see Batman growing old alone and isolated – it would be sad, but he’d never see it himself. It just seems strange for a barely-emerged Batman (who will have been around for two, maybe three, years at the start of the next film) to die. But hey, what do I know?

Batman wanders with all the mad men...

It’ll be fascinating to see if The Dark Knight Rises ties back into Batman Begins. The Dark Knight made a shedload more money and – despite the fact the original is really good – almost reduced Nolan’s first Batman film to a footnote. I wonder what audiences coming from The Dark Knight’s gritty urban realism will make of a secret cult of ninja assassins run by Liam Neeson’s previously-unseen daughter and a steroid-abuser in a gimp mask.

It’s even stranger that this will effectively make The Dark Knight the “odd one out” of the franchise, despite being a huge film in its own right and one with a far greater pop culture impact. It’ll end up, perhaps, seemingly like a deviation from the original plan. Which, I suppose, the Joker would love.

I just hope Nolan's franchise can glide to a fitting end...

Of course, all of this is idle speculation. None of this is confirmed. Of course, even if it is, Nolan is a skilled enough film maker that he can undoubtedly still tie the film to its direct predecessor and form a unity of theme among the three films. None of this should be taken to cast any doubt on my faith in Nolan as a film maker. Hell, this rumour intrigues me far more than anything I’ve heard about The Avengers, for example.

So, what do you think? Would you be happy to see a third film more closely related to Batman Begins than The Dark Knight? Or does that feel like going backwards? I know it’s far too early to be thinking about any of this, but it’s still quite fun.

11 Responses

  1. One of the great things about watching the two movies back to back is noticing how both movies compliment each other. When Bruce Wayne says to Alfred in The Dark Knight “Criminals aren’t complicated”, doesn’t that sound an awful lot like Ducard/Ra’as in Batman Begins?

    I think the last movie has resolve the problem of Batman being perhaps just a less extreme version of the League of Shadows. He has to truly become a symbol for justice that inspires Gotham citizens to take their city back. In a weird way, he has to become a Superman-esque figure that “lights the way”. How Nolan actually solves the problem of escalation is a difficult task, though. Maybe there isn’t an answer.

    • I think you’ve hit the nail on the head there and actually spotted a fairly strong link I can’t believe I missed. I suppose having him confront the League is a way of sort of “setting right his course” after the moral uncertainty of The Dark Knight – which reminds me of Grant Morrison’s concept of “the Three Ghosts of Batman” (the three things Batman feared he would become, based on the compromises of his early career – a killer Batman with a gun, a bestial Batman, and a Batman who sold his soul to the devil and destroyed Gotham).

  2. I hope Talia is the love interest of Bruce Wayne this time and no Selina again.

    • I don’t know, I think Selina and Bruce have an interesting dynamic which has never really been handled properly (though I did like Burton’s freaky love story in Batman Returns – “does this mean we have to start fighting again?”).

      I think Bruce is attracted to the basic goodness in Selina – the fact she robs from the rich and shares a decent percentage with the poor – and admires that she worked her way up from the slums, without his means or luxury. I think Batman is attracted to Catwoman because of the darkness she represents – she’s just as broken as he is, and is “forbidden” due to her own criminal career.

      Talia doesn’t have that duality thing going on, I think. I think she’s purely a fascination to Batman – in that she’s a match for him in everyway possible, physically, emotionally, financially. But I don’t see anything that Bruce might like in her – with Selina, I think, there’s the fantasy that Bruce and Selina might settle down together and live a “normal” life (whatever that means). Batman won’t let it happen, but I reckon Bruce kinda wants it. There’s no possibility of that normal life with Talia.

      • Bruce/Batman and Selina/Catwoman never would end together in the movie.
        They never would have a life together.
        I´m not saying that.
        Bruce and Talia the same thing.
        They may love each other but they will not stay together at the end.
        But now, in TDKR,I´d rather to see Talia as his love interest and not Selina Kyle again,understand?
        I don´t want to see another Batman Returns.

  3. I personally would love to see Batman die in the last chapter of the trilogy. There wouldn’t be any more powerful way to end it. Now I realize this is quite unlikely, given that he is “too young” as you put it but wouldn’t it be something?

    • It would certainly draw a line under it and would give the trilogy a sense of closure which is (easily) the must frustrating thing about comics and comic book movies. It would jolt us all uprigth and make sure we’re awake. I love the idea of killing Batman “in the line of duty”, if only because it’s the logical end to his career – he’s too stubborn to realise when he can’t do it anymore. And, if he is going to die, Nolan is certainly the one to do it.

      On the other hand, I think killing him here would seem a bit… strange, if only because (as The Dark Knight made clear) he’s not “fully formed” yet. Peter Parker was fully realsied as Spider-Man by the end of Raimi’s first film, Superman by the end of Donner’s first act. Nolan’s Batman, on the other hand, seems to be constantly evolving, as if he’s yet to fully realise himself – if that makes sense. Not that I’m sugegsting Batman will ever feel “complete” or “zen” or anything, I just mean he feels like he still has a lot to learn and define.

      Either way, whatever Nolan decides, I’m onboard with. Hell, if he dumped Bale and re-hired West, I’d still be on board.

  4. I don’t see Batman being killed in the 3 rd act (though it’s plausible given the Knightfall story arc.) If anything, I suspect Batman/Bruce will be injured possibly paving the way for a new batman or Azrael…who know. This is all speculation anyways.

    • Yep, all fun and games. Still, I can’t wait to see what Nolan’s doing. I’ve given up trying to be unspoiled.

  5. I loved a take someone wrote where Batman dies during a catastrophe and tells Gordon that he was always the light Gotham needed.

    BUT I don’t know if WB would let Nolan do that. Of course the Batman series can always be rebooted. So letting Nolan conclude his series his way could work.

    • Yep, I think Nolan has a get-out-of-jail-free card with Warner, because they know he’s not coming back and audiences know enough about reboots to know that it isn’t the end of Batman movies for the foreseeable future. It just provides closure.

      That is, if it goes that way.

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