It’s hard to believe that it’s been three years since Chris Nolan unleashed his Batman-sequel, The Dark Knight, upon unsuspecting audiences. Cleaning up both critically and commercially, it set a benchmark of quality for modern superhero movies that has yet to be equalled or bettered.
However, all that may change with the release of Nolan’s third and final Bat-movie, The Dark Knight Rises.
With the first, and very effective, teaser trailer now online, what does it tell us about the famously gnomic Nolan’s final appointment in Gotham City?
Back to the beginning
It’s clear from the opening of the trailer, with its reuse of both footage and dialogue from Batman Begins, that this final film is just as much a sequel to Nolan’s first Bat picture as it is to The Dark Knight.
This is further reinforced with the image of (one assumes) Bruce Wayne climbing up and out of the well in the grounds of Wayne Manor. In Batman Begins, Bruce fell into that well as a child and then later explored it as an adult. Now he’s climbing out? Interesting.
The reuse of Ra’s Al Ghul’s dialogue is another point worth discussing. It’s long been rumoured that Ra’s, his daughter, Talia, and their League of Shadows organisation would play a part in the third movie. Is Ra’s’ vocal encore, therefore, a hint towards that rumour having some kernel of truth to it?
Falling and rising
Throughout the films, a common image that’s recurred is this ideas of Bruce Wayne/Batman falling. As mentioned above, Bruce’s descent into the well is the key image for this, but the falling motif was used again, albeit more subtly, at the end of The Dark Knight.
Cast your minds back to that final scene where Batman has to kill Harvey Dent to save Gordon’s son. After saving the boy and pushing Dent over the edge, Batman is literally hanging on by his fingers tips, and then falls further than he’s ever fallen before.
As a counterpoint to the classic falling imagery, this time out we seem to be seeing the reverse. Those swooping shots up into the collapsing city skyline, the brief snatches of Wayne climbing up out of the well, and the final image of the white light of the Bat-symbol rising up over the city. Is this story all about the hero rising again after his fall, or something else?
What’s in a name
The Dark Knight Rises isn’t just a random title, but one that has greater significance in terms of the movie’s plot and theme. Last time out ‘The Dark Knight’ was, on one level, an obvious reference to Batman, but on another it also referred to ‘the dark night’ that had descended over Gotham during the Joker’s reign of terror.
Now, assuming Harvey Dent’s prosecutions have stuck, perhaps it’s safe to assume that Gotham may actually be on the brink of some form of civic salvation as a result of Batman becoming the scapegoat at the end of The Dark Knight.
Wasn’t it also Ra’s Al Ghul’s plan, back in the first movie, to destroy the corrupt and decadent Gotham City? Perhaps this evil that Gordon is referring to in the trailer is threatening the city’s salvation, and all the work Batman and Gordon have put into it? For the dark night to lift over Gotham, the Dark Knight has to rise again.
Bane of existence
Famous for breaking Batman’s back in the Knightfall story and infamous for appearing as a mute henchman in a pink Gorilla suit in Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin, fans were understandably sceptical as to the choice of Bane as the villain for the new movie.
All fears seem to be cast aside by the brief glimpses we get of him in the trailer. Tom Hardy looks truly unsettling with his shaved head, S&M-style mask and Bronson-style physique.
However, despite his headline appearance in the teaser, it’s entirely possible that Hardy’s Bane is merely the muscle for the real villain of this film, in the same way that Scarecrow was a hired hand for Ra’s Al Ghul in Batman Begins.
That said, this version of Bane appears to be much more of a credible threat to Batman in his own right than the Scarecrow ever was, and in terms of visuals, well, it would appear that he has more in common with the Mutant Leader from Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns than his own comic book counterpart.
It all goes back to Frank
Bane’s similarities to the Mutant Leader only reinforce just how much of Nolan’s take on Batman is taken from Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One and The Dark Knight Returns comic books. From the design of the Batmobile, to the way the character of the Joker was portrayed, all the way down to Batman and Gordon’s awkward working relationship, the shadow of Miller’s work haunts every nook and cranny of Nolan’s films.
Certainly, the notion of a retired Batman coming back for one last case is lifted straight from Miller’s magnum opus. But what if the similarities don’t end there? What if the ending of The Dark Knight Returns is actually a signpost to where Nolan will leave Bruce Wayne at the conclusion of his story?
I’m not saying that’s what will happen, but it wouldn’t be a massive surprise if, by the end of this final big-screen adventure, we saw the character transcend his local setting and rise to a position of power somewhere else. Maybe.
The devil’s in the details
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. After all, there are a whole bunch of characters that are clearly major players in the film that aren’t even alluded to in the teaser.
Where is Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle/Catwoman? What role will Marion Cotillard’s mysterious Miranda Tate play? Is Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Gotham cop, John Blake, really as minor a role as it sounds? And is Josh Pence really appearing as a young Ra’s Al Ghul, as has been rumoured in certain industry magazines?
Time will, of course, tell, but with the arrival of this trailer the countdown to next summer has truly begun.