‘The Dark Knight Rises’ Discussion: Theories, Predictions & Expectations

The anticipation for a film might never have been as high as it is for The Dark Knight Rises hitting theaters tomorrow at midnight (or tonight, depending on your interpretation). If you plan to see it, or are waiting until next week, we hope you enjoy reading our theories, predictions and expectations

It’s undeniable that Nolan has redefined the superhero genre, even if the revolution hasn’t completely taken place (as Jordan Poast pointed out on Monday). The idea of a “gritty reboot,” while wildly popular, has become derisive praise. Do you have any concerns that Nolan—the man who couldn’t fit one single joke into Inception—might “out-Nolan” himself and that The Dark Knight Rises will be a kind of self-parody?

Ricky Spenner: I’m secretly afraid of this. Not to take anything away from Jordan’s fantastic piece, but the idea of Nolanizing everything can and will wear out its welcome. There are some comic book characters that could greatly benefit from it, but I hope we can find a steady balance. My secret fear with DKR is that Nolan will try to make it as epic as possible without giving much structure or story behind it. I can totally see Nolan losing himself in this one. Hell, if anyone can out-Nolan Nolan, it’s Nolan. Question is, does he have the balls to break the Bat?

Jon Heacock: Judging the progression from Batman Begins to The Dark Knight, Nolan has only learned from his mistakes. Begins had a bit of a typical villainous plot in that someone else is again just trying to destroy Gotham. Many people were also very vocal about the whip-pan style camera work and editing during the fight scenes. The results were that Dark Knight had better fight scenes by far and a villain who was driven not by plans but by pure chaos.

In Batman Begins, Nolan strayed away from mainstream, household name villains—loosely, Joker, Catwoman, Riddler, and Penguin, since they’re the rogues who appeared in the 90s movies/toy commercial films and who graced the 1966 film. In The Dark Knight, we got a Joker taken to his logical dark conclusion—a sociopath who thought it was “good sport” to “watch the world burn” (Alfred’s words). We also got fascinating, vengeance-obsessed Two-Face who was more anarchist than criminal mastermind.

What are your expectations for the kind of role Catwoman will play? And how much do you expect Bane to have in common with the Knightfall version?

Ricky: I hope Catwoman is the counterbalance to Bane’s total anarchy and destruction.I think she’s going to be the real surprise in this one. There’s been a lot of hate thrown her way, but I trust Nolan on this one. From what I’ve seen in the trailers, she has a very captivating way of speaking. I’m looking forward to it.

I’m hoping Bane is portrayed as the intelligent brute force from Knightfall. As long as he’s nothing like the mindless clod in Batman & Robin, I’m good. Bane has always been one of my favorite villains. I love the direction Nolan seems to be taking him in . . . very cold, cunning, and destructive (chaotic? should’ve gone with chaotic).

Jon: It seems like what Nolan has borrowed from the comics so far have been general ideas and motivations. The Killing Joke was an influence because it saw the Joker trying to break someone down psychologically. The Knightfall version of Bane will be an influence because he will be causing Batman physical suffering in the way that no other villain has done. The back breaking moment might not happen but as Bane says, “your punishment must be more severe.” Catwoman will of course be the free agent that she’s always been. Less of a criminal mastermind and more of someone who capitalizes on any opportunity she can take advantage of. And maybe she’ll end up having a sweet spot for Bruce.

Since this is probably the last we will see of Nolan’s Batman universe, who are you disappointed we didn’t get to see? Or, who would you like to see in future installments once it is rebooted? Will that all depend on who takes on the franchise?

Mike Mierendorf: The Riddler would have been great under Nolan’s guidance. Less silly and more manically evil seems like it would have been the approach. He would have been the intellectual superior to Batman. Test the detective aspect and not the brute force of The Bat.

Ricky: The Riddler would have been cool, but probably a bit of overkill after the Joker. I was really hoping for Black Mask in The Dark Knight Rises. I thought that would have gone well with Nolan’s Gotham. I’d still like to see Clayface and Killer Croc in a movie. Both could be absolutely terrifying if done correctly. Croc couldn’t look like a Goomba like The Lizard did, though.

Chris Corlew: I’ll agree with Mike’s point that the Riddler would’ve been a fun take. The risk is that he’s too similar to the Joker, but that could have been circumvented and might have made the character more interesting.

No one will lament the loss of sci-fi goofs like Poison Ivy, Mr. Freeze, Killer Croc, or Man-Bat, nor will any message board posts be made about how much worse off the franchise is for not including cheap, PSYCH 101 villains from the Law and Order: SVU scrapheap like The Ventriloquist, Calendar Man, or Victor Zsasz (who did warrant brief mention in Batman Begins and could have been cool). All of those villains were just too campy for Nolan’s universe, and that’s totally fine. The Joker says Gotham deserves a better class of criminal, well, Batman deserves a better class of villain. “Better” here means less two-dimensional, more believable, more interesting, and more real-world terrifying.

My top three hopes for villains are as follows:

1. Riddler: Thought he could’ve upped the ante by being more “intellectual” and less chaotic than Joker, but just as menacing. A Johnny Depp portrayal would have been enticing, but would’ve also risked going over-the-top.

2. Black Mask: With his high society breeding and phony, thoughtless parents, Black Mask is set up as a not-so-subtle foil to Bruce Wayne, much the same way the Joker is a philosophical foil to Batman. Black Mask, with his love for the Mob and cosplay, would have been a very interesting choice. Since Falcone and Maroni have already been taken out, I can understand why Nolan opted for a different direction.

3a. Bane: Yo, this is actually happening. I was close.

3b. Penguin: Surprise, y’all. Batman’s campiest, most Frank-from-It’s-Always-Sunny bad guy would’ve been a cool villain in Nolan’s hands. “A better class of criminal”? How about Abner in a tuxedo, insisting on Downton Abbey/Robert’s Rules of Order-like decorum from Gotham’s scum whilst keeping calm and carrying on mowing down Gotham’s citizens with a Tommy? Would’ve been cool. He doesn’t even need to be deformed or abandoned or anything ridiculous like that. Just a gentleman of crime, a perverted exaggeration of Lane Pryce who’s as calmly sociopathic as Hannibal Lecter (cannibalism optional).

Ricky: Zsasz would have been very cool, but that’s where we’re starting to get into some of the B-Level villains (C-Level?), and could alienate some fans. I still think Riddler would have been too similar to Joker in Nolan’s Universe. I would like to see him done right, but I’m glad he wasn’t featured here. I’m all for Black Mask in a future film. Hugo Strange would be cool, too.

Jon: I think the only glaring omission in these lists so far is Deadshot. I would have loved to see Nolan’s Batman go up against a world class marksman in a real world sense. The Gotham Knight animated shorts took a good look at how it might have played out. They also tried tying in many other villains into the Nolan universe, strangely enough including Killer Croc. The explanation was that he had a rare skin condition and had filed his teeth down into fangs. That would not have worked in The Dark Knight trilogy, but it was interesting in animated form.

Ricky: Oh man, I would have LOVED Deadshot!

Nolan said recently that The Dark Knight Rises  has more to do with A Tale Of Two Cities than the Knightfall saga. If that’s the case, what parts of Knightfall make the cut? And any guesses for the Two Cities connection?

Chris: While I haven’t read A Tale of Two Cities, I know it has a lot to do with the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror. There have been class warfare/OWS gestures in the trailers so far, and Nolan has shown he’s not afraid to inject some socio-political commentary into the Batman mythos (part of what propels the films into the realm of highbrow art).

It’s hard to watch Batman Begins or The Dark Knight without thinking that charity work and widespread social reform might be a more effective way of eliminating crime in Gotham. In Batman Begins, the defense’s case for Joe Chill was that he was rendered desperate by an economic depression. Immediately after the hearing, Rachel Dawes explicitly states that mob boss Carmine Falcone’s corruption of every facet of Gotham’s infrastructure “[creates] new Joe Chills every day.” In TDK, the parallels between Batman and the Bush administration’s disregard for the Bill of Rights are undeniable. Furthermore, both are fighting entities, rather than people. Just like a war on “Terror” will probably never end, a war on “Gotham’s criminals” will be infinite.

Which brings me back to Knightfall vs. A Tale of Two Cities. In Knightfall, Bane leads the assault on Gotham because it reminds him of his prison. He wants to break Batman simply because he can. That’s a little reminiscent of the Joker, right? As in, that was the Joker’s entire motivation in TKD? In the trailer, we see Catwoman (a burglar who infiltrates high society so she can take its money) warning Bruce about “a storm coming,” and we see Bane leading an uprising of people chanting “rise” in a language I don’t recognize. It’s not unreasonable to assume there will be plenty of classist overtones in this film.

Batman is a self-appointed keeper of justice in Gotham. Yes, Bruce lived as a poor criminal for a while in BB, but can you really understand desperation when you know you’ve got billions and an empire waiting for you? Batman’s policy is to beat, punish, and incarcerate—that’s not a recipe for societal change. There will be a reckoning for Bruce as a member of the one percent, Batman as a self-appointed guardian, and for the philosophy that one highly-trained ninja with limitless resources can single-handedly stop crime in the worst city this side of Se7en.

Ricky: ‎Chris, you’re becoming one of my favorite people.

Chris: Haha thanks, Ricky.

Mike: It seems likely that the only elements Nolan and Jonathan Nolan may take from Knightfall is Bane’s attempts to breakdown Batman before he confronts him. It also seems likely that Bane will indeed “break the Bat” and the mantle of Batman will be passed on to John Blake, just like was done in Knightfall.

Drew Morton: I haven’t read A Tale of Two Cities and I couldn’t finish Knightfall.

Mike: What didn’t you like about Knightfall, Drew?

Drew: I disliked the aspects of Knightfall that define most “cross-over,” “event” titles. There is a lean story inside of it that was excruciatingly stretched out to sell more books. The first handful of issues do not really include Bane, just Bane’s attempts to tire Batman so he can eventually break his spine. It’s a great concept but it implodes under its own weight . . . just like the Death of Superman (another 90s event title).

Mike: I can understand that. The concept of tiring him out seems like Bane didn’t want a challenge but Batman knew it was coming. It was the writers’ way of getting all the major villains into one storyline.

Drew: That too. But Batman was already pretty tuckered out from the six issue arc that preceded it. The entire run brought in more than three monthly titles over a period of almost three years. There’s a lot of fat that can be trimmed from that story arc.

Ricky: Looking back at it now, it is an underwhelming and drawn-out story. But when it was released, it blew me away. I was also around 10 at the time, so seeing a comic book idol broken and defeated like that was pretty incredible. Same can be said for the Death of Superman.

Mike: I bought the Knightfall volume and didn’t read it when it was current. It’s an epic collection, over 500 pages. There are plenty of parts that could have been eliminated.

Will this film end Nolan’s batman universe? Or will the universe live on without Nolan?

Jon: First of all, we have to see if there even is a Batman by the end of it. It seems like Bruce Wayne may either die or not be able to carry on by the film’s end. We’ve already seen him with a cane. Although, it really would be great to see someone tackle Dark Knight Returns somewhere down the line.

Chris: Given Nolan’s reluctance to even do a third film and Bale’s insistence that he won’t do a film without Nolan, it seems this will end Nolan’s universe. For me, this is almost a relief. I know it’s ridiculous to put so much stock in film franchises (i.e. Sam Raimi’s first two Spiderman films still have value despite the horrid third installment), but it would be nice to see Nolan’s Batman finish in a neat trilogy.

My sense of the films is that they’re really about Gotham, not Batman. In BB, the central antagonist is Ra’s al Ghul, who wants to destroy Gotham, but Bruce still believes in this city, even if it means destroying his father’s house and monorail system. In TDK, the central conflict is the battle for Gotham’s soul. The climax happens when convicts and citizens both decide that each other’s human worth is more valuable than their own lives. The denouement is entirely about preserving Harvey Dent’s image as morally incorruptible.

All that said, it seems that Bane will lead some sort of huge criminal uprising, much will be made of how much Batman/Bruce has/hasn’t given Gotham, and the ending won’t have us thinking, “what will Batman do next?” or “what does this mean for future Batman films?” but rather “what did it mean for this city (and by extension, our non-movie world) that this man/myth (and by extension, our sense of morality and right/wrong) existed? Did he help stop crime and improve citizen morale, or did he create a city of lunatics?” My guess is that Bruce Wayne will be dead, but the audience won’t care about it as much as they’ll care about what his legacy means.

Drew: I think this is the end of Nolan’s direct universe, if that makes sense. I can foresee three possibilities here, as DC and Warner Brothers will not let the property die off. First, they may try to cross-walk Nolan’s Batman over to Snyder’s Superman film for a team-up venture, which Nolan is also producing. Secondly, The Dark Knight Rises could see Nolan “killing” off (literally or metaphorically) Christian Bale/Bruce Wayne as Batman and replace him with a young replacement (it has been predicted that Joseph Gordon-Levitt may fill that role). Third, Nolan and Bale walk away for about ten years and come back to Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns. This third possibility is a probably out of realm of likelihood, as Nolan has avoided direct adaptations of story arcs in the past. Still . . . I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

Ricky: I really hope this ends Nolan’s universe. It’s far better to leave us wanting more and to leave it as a stellar trilogy than to give us Jar Jar Binks. Nolan has totally changed how CBMs are done and the demand for “Nolanized” CBMs has become the norm.

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