Comic-Con is behind us and we’ve reached one of the final weeks of the summer of the geek, but it looks like they’ve saved the best for last. After nearly 9 hours of Batman awesomeness, Christopher Nolan’s take on the Dark Knight saga will come to a close. The big question on everyone’s mind: how will it end? I mean…they couldn’t really kill off The Batman. Right? While the plot has leaked online already thanks to some of the fine folks fortunate enough to catch one of the press screenings, let’s just assume (like me) that you haven’t caved in and read it. I’ve stayed pretty much as spoiler free as I can be aside from trailers and a few articles here and there (I even missed out on the prologue) but while most of this article is purely speculation, there may be some minor spoilerage.
The Nolan Factor
When you think about it, it’s no surprise why Christopher Nolan who was known for a few smaller budgeted, tightly knitted psychological thrillers would direct for such a large scale commercial franchise. Looking at Nolan’s catalogue it’s clear that he is attracted to mind effing stories that feature tragic situations. Batnipples notwithstanding, this is basically The Caped Crusader in a nutshell.
Here’s a spoilerific mini breakdown of Nolan’s non-Batman films and how they end.
|Year||Flick||Main Character(s) fate||Morale of the Story|
|1998||Following||The Young Man gets conned and framed for a murder. The con man that duped him disappears into a crowd.||Nolan’s first film has the least ambiguous ending as the bad guy just wins (though he does so in a very clever, almost Usual Suspects kind of way).|
|2000||Memento||Guy Pierce decides to trap himself in his goldfish memory world by killing off the only man who can help him.||In my opinion, this is the most tragic of the endings. Pierce abuses his own shattered condition by rejecting help so he can give his life a twisted purpose.|
|2002||Insomnia||The old Detective kills the killer, but not before taking a fatal shot himself. Before he dies, he tells the up and coming Hilary Swank to not make the same ethically immoral mistakes he did.||You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain. Unlike Pierce, Pacino dies a hero by protecting Swank from destroying her own future at the cost of his reputation.|
|2006||The Prestige||One Christian Bale twin is wrongfully executed. The other gets revenge by killing Hugh Jackman.||The obsessive war between these rivals has tragic consequences for both sides. The “good guy” wins. But just barely.|
|2010||Inception||Leo is either reunited with his kids or unknowingly stuck in the dream world for I don’t know; let’s say eternity.||Based on your interpretation, this could be an ending similar to Memento: trapped in a lie without realizing it.|
Nolan is pretty true to form with his endings though the only “hero” who outright dies is Al Pacino in Insomnia. Interestingly enough this is actually the only movie on this list that Nolan didn’t receive screenplay credit. Now does this give any indication on whether or not Nolan will kill Batman? Maybe/maybe not. But it does seem likely that there will be some sort of tragedy that fuels the series’ ending. Sacrifice and choice are common themes in Nolan’s films and given how this trilogy has shaped up, it would make sense for Nolan’s Batman to choose to make the ultimate sacrifice. After all, he has already chosen to sacrifice his reputation at the end of Dark Knight to preserve Dent’s. And then there’s Batman saying in the trailer that he hasn’t given everything for the city. Not yet.
But would Warner Bros. really kill the Batman? Traditionally studios want a happy ending, as people typically go to a cinema for some good ol’ fashioned escapism, not to see something dark and depressing. You go to see something fun and up-beat like The Avengers. Sure there are plenty of dark movies out there that are very successful, but the safe route more often than not means the happy route.
However, Warner Bros. has an interesting relationship with Christopher Nolan in that he has a whole lot of control. When the studio suggested jumping on the 3-D bandwagon for TDKR, Nolan decided to stick with 2-D even though a 3-D film basically guarantees money. Even films like The Last Airbender and Clash of the Titans made well more than they should have despite being bad movies with bad 3-D. Sure WB will get boosted returns from the use of IMAX, but 3-D would’ve generated even more. (Come to think of it, this may be one of the last if not THE last major summer tent pole to ever be released in non 3-D). When WB wanted Leonardo DiCaprio as the Riddler, Nolan was not only able to convince them to go away from a big name actor, but also to cast a relatively small named villain. Even Sam Raimi was “talked into” throwing Venom into Spider-Man 3 despite the successes of 1 and 2.
Speaking of the Web Head, there was a recent outcry when Sony released The Amazing Spider-Man. People declared that it was just too soon. Something similar happened with the X-Men franchise when First Class came around. But with it being abundantly clear thanks to a very strong a very successful marketing push that this is Nolan’s last trip to Gotham, why not kill Batman?
1. Nolan has proven that he is your prize horse so let him run freely and
2. Killing the Batman would actually make rebooting “too soon” not as big of a deal.
Part of the fan outcry over the reboots was that there were still stories left to tell within those universes. If this is truly Nolan’s final trip to Gotham, closure means you have nowhere to go but back to the beginning. Harry Potter is gone, Green Lantern was a dud, and no one knows what’ll happen with Superman next year. Warner Bros. would love to see a franchise like the Dark Knight return sooner rather than later.
The Source Material vs. Nolan’s Gotham
And it’s not like it hasn’t happened before. Like most comic characters, Batman has died his fair share of times and come back in one form or another. In fact, The Dark Knight Returns, which has been said to be an influence to The Dark Knight Rises, features an older Bruce Wayne “dying” of a heart attack at its conclusion. (In actuality he fakes his death, but the world thinks he dies (sort of like Jason Bourne in Ultimatum)).
More recently Nolan has stated that Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities served as a literary influence to TDKR. While much of that influence most likely relates to Victorian era class warfare compared to modern day Occupy-esque movements, it should be noted that one of the main characters dies at the end of the novel. Furthermore, the death is actually an execution where one character sacrifices himself to save the life of a man who looks just like him. The ambiguity surrounding the characters’ fates in these influential properties could make sense for TDKR especially when you consider a character like John Blake.
As a character completely original to Nolan’s Gotham, Blake is essentially a blank slate that isn’t bogged down by decades of comic continuity. Many have already began to speculate that Blake will somehow take over as Batman or become Nightwing or something similar. While I don’t necessarily agree with an original character taking on such a large role in any Batman mythos, something along these lines could make sense with this trilogy. From the very beginning, Bruce Wayne wanted to become a symbol: something that could never truly be killed. Harvey Dent was already an example of someone Bruce Wayne was willing to pass the torch to in Nolan’s Gotham. Going back to the comics, in current continuity the Batman has spent some serious time globetrotting to set up a network of allies around the world. Could Nolan have been influenced by current continuity? Would Blake and for that matter Selina Kyle join Alfred and Lucius Fox as Batman’s allies? Or would they outright replace him?
If you’re still reading this shoddily written fanboy article and are hoping for some closure, you’ve been Prestiged because I really don’t have an honest clue to the real ending of The Dark Knight Rises. While I do think that something truly tragic will happen like Gordon pulling an Agent Coulson or something, I also believe there will be a hopeful yet finite tone at the end of the film. Bruce may die with “Batman” living or visa versa. Maybe there will simply be no need for a Batman at all. Or Hell, maybe Henry Cavill’s Man of Steel will fly in at the last moment to save the day. I hope he brings Sam Jackson with him so it really hits the fan. Guess we’ll just have to wait a few more short but very long days to find out. Feel free to contribute some thoughts and speculation below.