It’s been a dark, wet day, but my mood has been lifted by watching the new trailer for The Dark Knight Rises!
Well, not really. The film looks amazing, but it certainly doesn’t look fun. While The Avengers has marketed itself on a bunch of punch-the-air moments, TDKR has taken the opposite path – trading on the idea that this will be the last Nolan/Bale bat-movie, there’s a sense of impending doom and imminent devastation around the trailer – the end is coming, for Batman, for his allies, for Gotham itself.
This is a clever way of doing things, because while the Nolan films have been dark, they haven’t been hopeless – for my money, there’s actually more of a sense of Batman achieving something than there was in the Burton/Schumacher movies. In Batman Begins, Bruce Wayne starts to bring hope back to a despairing Gotham; in The Dark Knight, the Joker’s plans are foiled by a prisoner making the moral decision to not play the bad guys games and refusing to kill innocents. The battle is long and hard fought, but while the question is raised as to whether the presence of Batman actually makes things worse, the films ultimately come down on the side of Bruce’s aching heroism. Before Batman you get the impression that very few people even bothered to ask why Gotham was such a hellhole.
“I haven’t given everything. Not yet,” Bruce says in the trailer, and that’s key to the character. He may be the biggest badass in town, but a part of him is still a kid, kneeling between the bodies of his parents. He dedicates his life to stopping the bad guys, but for him it’s never enough, he’ll never give enough. His dying thought will be regret over not saving just one more person, and it’s tragic but even if it makes you angry at the guy, it makes you love him too. He needs to give himself a break, but he never will, and if he does he stops being Batman and horrible things happen. Gotham needs Batman.
Now, whether or not that Batman will be Bruce Wayne at the end of all this is up for grabs, and I don’t know what to think at the moment. Part of me thinks he’ll win and continue with his mission (for me, Batman eventually dies as an older man, saving one little old lady from a mugger who gets off a lucky shot); another part of me wonders why Joseph Gordon-Levitt is getting so much exposure in the trailer – he’s not officially playing anyone we know, and yet he gets more screen time than Commissioner Gordon or Alfred. I’m convinced something’s going on there.
(Okay, I’ll admit it – I have a theory. I’m out of touch with online speculation, so this is probably completely unoriginal, but what if Gordon-Levitt is actually playing Richard Grayson? I know Nolan has sworn not to do Robin, but Grayson was only Robin as a kid – as an adult he’s a cop and heir apparent to the Batman legacy. And in TDKR, we have a mysterious cop and encroaching doom for Bruce Wayne. Maybe Bruce dies but Batman carries on? For what it’s worth, it certainly ties in with the last few years’ worth of comics…)
It’s just hit me that I haven’t mentioned the bad guys in all this (although I’m guessing Catwoman will walk an ambiguous path rather than being an outright villain); they look good, they’re played by good actors, but this feels like Batman’s story more than anything, with Gotham’s fate tied directly to what happens to Bruce. That’s how it should be – this is a Batman film, after all (something Burton and Schumacher often forgot), the last in a series. It should focus on Bruce. This is his story, and it’s what the Marvel films have got right – fun as the villains may be, the heroes are at the heart of the story and they’re interesting enough to carry things.
(Okay, you could argue that the Joker overshadowed things in The Dark Knight, but part of that was due to off-screen events and part of it was due to the Joker’s role in the mythos, an agent of chaos who screws around with how everything works in a Batman story – after all, it was the Joker who killed the second Robin and crippled Batgirl. The other character who pulled that off – once – is Bane, who of course is the Big Bad in TDKR.)
That said, building up the villains is a good thing, because it emphasises Batman’s badassery. Yes, the trailer is going for a doom-laden sense of hopelessness, but it can do that because we all know how cool Batman is. Maybe I’m informed more by the comics than anything else, but this is the guy who once figured out how to take down the biggest bad in the universe using a bow and arrow and a guy who can shrink. Sure the trailer seems downbeat – it’s so that the film itself can have its moment of triumph, one that’s possibly harder won than anything in The Avengers, but just as satisfying in its own way. If Bruce Wayne is going to fall, then we can be certain of one thing.
A Dark Knight will rise.