Warning: major “Dark Knight Rises” spoilers ahead!
Oh, come on. You didn’t really think Nolan was going to kill him off, did you?
Well, maybe you did. I sure did. When shaking the Magic 8-Ball that was the “Dark Knight Rises” marketing campaign, all signs pointed to a very serious, very grim “yes” regarding the question of whether or not Christopher Nolan planned to send Batman six feet under. Rumors had been bubbling about Bruce Wayne’s imminent demise since well before production on “Rises” even began, with many pointing back to the whole “a man can be destroyed, but a symbol is everlasting” logic established in “Batman Begins.”
Besides, this is Christopher Nolan we’re talking about. The very same man who brought the Caped Crusader back from the brink of death by way of fluorescence and nipples and all other things “Batman & Robin.” The very same man who turned an action movie about dreams within dreams within dreams within more dreams into an unlikely critical darling and box-office juggernaut. If Nolan wanted to kill Batman, guess what? He could have killed Batman. After gifting Warner Bros. with three instant-classics, Nolan had every right to close out his “Dark Knight” trilogy however he saw fit.
But he didn’t kill Batman. He gave the crime-fighter the happy ending that so many of us thought he’d never see. As a result, I’ve spent the days since my initial “Rises” viewing feasting on crow, as I was positive that Nolan’s final go at Gotham would end in the great sacrifice of Bruce as a man while Batman the symbol lived on through John Blake and others. In the end, Nolan, like all others who have tried and failed before, could not kill the Batman.
And honestly? I’m glad.
My colleague, The Weekly Rising columnist Kevin P. Sullivan, pointed out something in his “Dark Knight” trilogy review that I can’t believe I hadn’t considered before. How quickly I forgot Harvey Dent’s speech in “The Dark Knight,” when all of Gotham came calling for the unmasking of the Batman, a desperate attempt to stop the maniacal Joker by condemning their greatest champion.
“The night is darkest just before the dawn,” Dent said to the gathered crowd — us, apparently, included. “And I promise you, the dawn is coming.”
Looking back, despite its moody atmosphere, “Batman Begins” stands out as one of the most optimistic comic book movies of all time. No need to rehash where the Batman film franchise stood prior to Nolan’s takeover; I think you got the gist with “fluorescence and nipples” earlier. “Begins” was a fist-in-the-air, go-get-’em return to form for one of comics’ greatest characters. And all of that came crashing down in “The Dark Knight.” Bruce’s whole life crumbled around him. He hit a low point where he had “nothing to do with all [his] strength” — nothing, that is, except to take the literal and metaphorical bullet for Harvey Dent, allowing Batman to be damned forever for the killing of Gotham’s true white knight. It was a morose, brooding ending to a morose, brooding movie.
Cue the dawn with “Rises,” a movie that not only circles back to “Begins” in its plot, but also in its imbuing of optimism. The movie is Batman superheroics at its finest. Bruce begins weaker than ever and finishes stronger than ever. Like many of you, I expected Nolan to drag us deeper into the darkness and despair that Batman always seemed destined for. Instead, the filmmaker sucker-punched us with a happy ending. Not only did Bruce ride off into the sunrise, he did so with an impossibly beautiful ex-con at his side. Against all odds, he got the girl. He got his life back. As Dent promised, the dawn arrived, for us as fans, for Batman as a symbol, and for Bruce as a man. I saw his death coming miles away. But his rebirth? Never. On that, I was blind as a bat.
To put it another, more familiar way … Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy doesn’t have the happy Hollywood ending we deserved. But it sure as sunshine has the happy Hollywood ending we needed.
Do you think Nolan should have killed Batman? Tell us why or why not in the comments section below, or let me know on Twitter @roundhoward!