In a few weeks, we will all get to see a six minute prologue of the much-anticipated The Dark Knight Rises, which will be attached to the less-anticipated Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. Several months after that, we will get to see the final installment in Christopher Nolan's Batman Trilogy. However, I can already tell you what will (or should) happen in the film ...
SPOILER AND OFFENSIVE LANGUAGE ALERT: Batman goddamn dies.
Of course, that probably won't be the only thing that happens, but it will be what everyone is trying to not talk about in front of people who haven't seen it yet. As an expert in Advanced Batman Theory (and with a cursory knowledge of Quantum Batman Theory), I can tell you without seeing a single minute of the movie that this is how it has to go down. Nolan has said time and time again that he will not return to the Batman franchise. He is telling his own Batman story and when Rises hits theaters, that's the end of it. Christian Bale has made similar claims. But that's only a small fraction of why I think -- nay, why I know -- that the Dark Knight must die. Here's why ...
Before we start, it's important that you know two things: 1) I might be insane, and 2) I really hope Christopher Nolan is a genius. Here is proof of both.
After making Batman Begins (part 1 in The Dark Knight Trilogy), Nolan made The Prestige, a film about magicians and David Bowie. In it, Nolan gave us the three steps to performing an illusion: The Pledge, The Turn and The Prestige. The Pledge is the setup. It presents to you something ordinary that is most likely not ordinary at all. The Turn takes that ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Something unexpected. And then there's The Prestige, which basically just blows your fucking mind. It takes the unexpected something from The Turn and turns it on its head, making you believe in magic.
Disturbing, terrible magic ...
What I'm getting at, and what I suspect about Nolan, is that he is currently on the tail end of finishing two separate trilogies. When he was done with part one of the Dark Knight Trilogy, he made part one of his other trilogy, which was The Prestige. I will call this his Prestige Trilogy, because that was the movie in which he told us exactly what he was going to do to us. In The Prestige, Nolan told us all about The Pledge, Turn and Prestige. We saw journals within journals and stories within stories. In Inception, Nolan gave us The Turn: He took that ordinary idea of stories within stories, and he turned it on its head and made it something extraordinary. Whatever film Nolan makes after The Dark Knight Rises will be The Prestige of that trilogy. Inception was The Turn and The Prestige was The Pledge.
So what does this have to do with Batman? Well, first, I just want to be clear about the kind of storyteller I think we're dealing with: the insane and awesome kind. But it also establishes a pattern. Christopher Nolan tells us what he's going to do to us years before he makes the movie that actually does it. And Nolan has already told us in his previous Batman movies what he's going to do to us with the third. We just need to connect the dots. With Batmath.
The love interest in the first two films was Rachel Dawes and she's (spoiler alert) fucking dead now. Rachel (Katie Holmes/Maggie Gyllenhaal) was the last connection Bruce had to his former self, before his parents died, before The Batman (BTB). She told him as much at the end of Begins:
"No, *this* is your mask. Your real face is the one that criminals now fear. The man I loved -- the man who vanished -- he never came back at all [from BTB]. But maybe he's still out there, somewhere. Maybe some day, when Gotham no longer needs Batman, I'll see him again."
And she saw him again, briefly, in Dark Knight. She was right, kind of. Except then she (SPOILER ALERT) fucking died, and the last bit of the Bruce she remembered died with her. Now let's Turn the faces, or flip the coin, or at least look at this picture again.
On the other side of the faces we have Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), the White Knight of Gotham. The White Knight that The Joker (AND KIND OF BATMAN A LITTLE) eventually turned into Two-Face (Aaron Eckhart). Oh and then? He fucking died. Rachel and Harvey, sittin' in a tree, b-e-i-n-g d-e-a-d. Their deaths were huge turns for a Batman Trilogy to take. Aside from some Robins every now and then, nobody dies. This meant that anyone could die. The Batman, in all his glorious Batmannery, couldn't save the good guy OR his love interest. Batman may have proven The Joker wrong with the two bombed boats at the end of Dark Knight, but Joker proved Bruce Wayne wrong with Two-Face and Rachel. See, that's the joke.
With each death, a piece of Bruce died, and a piece of Nolan's Batman Prestige was being placed. By the end of The Dark Knight, Bruce is metaphorically pretty fucking dead already. Alfred keeps him hanging on a bit with his "so we can pick ourselves back up" talk, but he knows he's not saying it to Bruce anymore. He's saying it to The Goddamn Batman. A Batman that now only has one goal: Hardcore Batmannery. In terms of story within a Batman Trilogy, that's ... well, that's close to the end of the line. All that's left is a bunch of episodes of Batman being Batman, fighting villains as Batman. But that's not what Nolan's in for. He's making a Trilogy. This is the end of the line. So who do we turn to but ...
If you're a fan of the comic book, you know that Bane is most famous for breaking Batman's back. If you're a fan of the other Batman movies, then you think he's most famous for having neon blood.
Don't be mad, Bane. You'll be cool in a decade or two.
But mostly he's known for breaking the Batman's back. It's the one thing you do when Bane's involved, unless you want to be Bruce Lame about it. But ALSO unless you're Christopher Nolan, because Nolan isn't about recreating moments from Batman comics. He's about reinventing ideas from Batman comics. He's about creating his Batman. And in his Batman, things are grittier. The stakes are higher. Things break harder.
Bruce The Batman can be broken until he's dead because Nolan's Batverse is real, or at least it's the realist. Aside from the fact that there are Batmen, Nolan tries really hard to keep his Batverse within the realm of possibility. And death, as he has shown us already, is very possible. Don't feel bad for Bruce, though, because if you turn to page 2 you'll know that above all else, Nolan's Batman is ...
"People need dramatic examples to shake them out of apathy and I can't do that as Bruce Wayne. As a man I'm flesh and blood. I can be ignored. I can be destroyed. But as a symbol ... as a symbol I can be incorruptible. I can be everlasting." -- Bruce Wayne, duh.
Batman can survive Nolan's version of Gotham City, because Batman has to survive Gotham City. But Bruce Wayne can't, doesn't and won't survive it. Bruce Wayne is just flesh and blood. He can and will be destroyed, because Nolan isn't telling a bunch of Batman and Bruce Wayne stories. Nolan is telling the Batman and Bruce Wayne story. In short:
"Bruce Wayne creates a symbol of fear and justice, Batman; Bruce Wayne becomes Batman; Batman just Batmans the fuck out of Gotham City; Batman becomes more of an ideal/symbol than a bat/man; Bruce Wayne dies; Batman lives on as others don the cowl." -- Me, hi!
That's the story we've been watching in this trilogy. Nolan has even recently said, "It's really all about finishing Batman and Bruce Wayne's story ... Perhaps surprisingly for some people, our story picks up quite a bit later, eight years after The Dark Knight."
No, that's not surprising at all. Eight years is enough time for Batman to solidify his place in Gotham as The Goddamn Batman. Eight years is enough time for Bruce Wayne to solidify Batman as the Legend of the Dark Knight we know. If I can briefly quote The Sandlot (I can and am about to): "Heroes get remembered; legends never die." This Hero's Journey may end with the death of Bruce Wayne, but the Legend doesn't stop after that. When the Dark Knight falls, the Dark Knight must also rise ...
It could be argued that if -- I mean when -- Bruce Wayne dies, he will just come back thanks to a Lazarus Pit, which you may know from the Batman comics. Used by Ra's Al Ghul (Liam Neeson in Begins), a Lazarus Pit can breathe new life into the dead. However, aside from there being no indication of their existence in either films, the mere idea of them is far too magical for the world Nolan has constructed. And the film is called The Dark Knight Rises, not The Dark Knight Rises Just Like Jesus With Magic Because We Don't Get Enough Jesus Imagery In Films But Seriously Magic Sounds Great And As We All Know, Christopher Nolan Is Terrible At Movies. Catchy title, sure, but not likely.
Batman was awesome for your sins.
Alfred (Michael Caine) often talks to "Master Wayne" about how "we fall... [for the sole purpose of picking]... ourselves back up." Like, he says it a lot. And it rings even truer when Alfred is no longer talking to a man, but a symbol. Bruce Wayne sacrifices himself and The Dark Knight picks itself back up. But who will rise as the Dark Knight? Someone has to, because even though this Batman Universe is over, it can't just have Bruce die and then a title card that says "Then everyone was bummed forever. The end." Nolan has said that he will never include Robin in his Batman films. Robin, after all, isn't necessary for the Dark Knight Legend. But if there's no Robin, who will put on the cowl? He's brought us this far, there's got to be someone who's up for the job, and it had better not be some 12-year-old acrobat or some Chris O'Donnell-aged acrobat. Oh, here he is.
This officer's name is John Blake, and not much is known about him. He's "a Gotham City beat cop assigned to special duty under the command of Commissioner Gordon". He's played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. He's a brand new character in the Batman Universe, created by Nolan for this film. Except that John Blake has actually shown up, just once, in a single page of a Batman coloring book:
It's already been pointed out that Nolan potentially incepted the idea for Inception from an old Donald Duck comic. It appears that once again he is a sneaky bastard. No, the kid's parents didn't die, but that's not a requirement for Batmannery; it's just the origin of it. Here we have a beat cop named John Blake. He's tough, he has a heart of gold and he's committed to justice. He's tight with Commissioner Gordon, who had a close relationship with the currently-dead Batman. And Gotham still needs someone to its Batmanning. The Prestige ends here, but the legend of the Dark Knight has just begun to rise.
Or Bruce will come back from the dead thanks to a magical Lazarus Pit because a Prestige is supposed to make you believe in magic so I guess the best way to accomplish that is to basically say "Yup, magic."
Maybe that's the joke.
Cody Johnston is the columnist Gotham both deserves and needs right now. He frequents Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook because that's just how things are these days for people who work on the internet. He also has a Fake Twitter, Fake Tumblr, and Fake Facebook because that's just how things are for him.
For more from Cody, check out How to Make Jokeless Comedy: Studying the 'Epic Movie' Guys and Most Horrifying Writers Room Ever.