The Dark Knight has risen.
It's finally here – the conclusion (or is it? No, of course it is) of Christopher Nolan's Batman Trilogy, and it's stuffed to the gills with callbacks to Batman Begins, the film most people kinda forgot about after the perfect storm that was The Dark Knight. It's an epic movie with a truly ambitious reach that at times exceeds its grasp, but it still comes down with a hell of a lot of plot in its grubby mitts, even if it includes a surprisingly small amount of actual Batman. And even though they inexplicably Good Will Huntinged Alfred (even Community knew that was awful). And even though all of Bane's dialog sounded like it was coming from a guy with a bullhorn three rows behind you instead of from that masked dude in the movie. But I digress.
The script, penned by Nolan and his brother Jonathan from a story aided by David S. Goyer, seems to draw considerably from Batman comics, although very much in a massive mash-up sort of way. So let's take a look at five comic book beats The Dark Knight Rises incorporated in order to bring an end to the series that brought superhero movies to the next level.
It goes without saying that Here There Be Spoylers.
1. THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS
It's been close to a decade since anyone in Gotham CIty has seen the Batman, and Bruce Wayne is a world-weary, broken down man seemingly incapable of doing the job anymore. However, when push comes to shove and things start going down the toilet in his city, he finds a way to don the cowl once again and go back out into the streets to crack some heads. Sound familiar? Well, it should – it's the set-up for perhaps the most famous Batman comic of all time, Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns. Sure, Christian Bale isn't playing a 55-year-old man, and there's no epic smackdown of Superman at the end, but the resonance of a Batman far past his prime is very much present in The Dark Knight Rises. Hell, you can almost tell that the filmmakers wanted to use Miller's title, but couldn't because everyone would expect Carrie Kelley as Robin and the Joker getting killed, and there was no way that was going to happen. However, Miller's story IS getting the animated film treatment soon, so there was no need for Nolan to be redundant on that score.
As soon as Bane was announced as the antagonist for The Dark Knight Rises, every nerd worth his salt knew Batman was going to get his back broken. For as much as the character has grown beyond his initial steroidal savage beginnings (might I recommend reading as much of Gail Simone's Secret Six as you can), the fact remains that the only reason Bane is famous is because he actually beat Batman one-on-one and put him out of action for months with a well-placed knee to the spine. The one time Bruce Wayne's mortality caught up to him – and The Dark Knight Rises is all about Bruce Wayne's mortality. Also in this storyline, Bane releases and arms the dangerous minds of Arkham Asylum and sics them on Gotham City, much like he does with Blackgate Prison's inmates in the film.
I think we can all be glad, however, that Batman didn't have a stand-in who was also a religious wing-nut killer with a hideous version of a Batsuit.
3. NO MAN'S LAND
In 1999, Gotham City was hit by a devastating earthquake, and the fallout from that Cataclysm completely reordered Batman comics for the whole year. In the wake of massive destruction, society within the city collapses entirely, and the villains run amok, dividing up the wreckage of the city into their own territories complete with all sorts of turf wars, while the Bat-family and the cops have to struggle to maintain order in a lawless wasteland. The situation is so dire that the American government sealed off the city and declared it… well, no man's land.
The reign of Bane and the League of Shadows in The Dark Knight Rises is highly reminiscent of this massive story arc, although somewhat in reverse. True, there were the bombs and the destruction at the stadium where Bane made his point to the world, allowing for the criminal rampage that engulfed Gotham City for three months, but the rolling nuclear bomb was essentially the threat of the true cataclysm that would render all others moot. Jim Gordon and all his cops in hiding, the savagery of the criminals in charge – especially the Scarecrow as a magistrate passing judgment on unfortunate defendants with no hope of survival – are all elements played to the hilt in No Man's Land. If only we could've gotten somebody suiting up as Batgirl by the end of the movie…
4. BANE OF THE DEMON
While the turn of Miranda Tate at the end of The Dark Knight Rises, revealing herself to be the daughter of R'as Al Ghul with a longstanding connection to Bane – an outcast from the League of Shadows – may have been surprising, it is not an entirely without precedent. In the late 1990s miniseries Bane of the Demon, we see the first meeting between Bane and Talia Al Ghul and the League, but it didn't take place in a miserable prison. Instead, they cross paths when Talia is robbing the Order of St. Dumas for an ancient text which will allow her father to create a plague to wipe out most of humanity, while Bane is there searching for the truth about his own parentage.
The result is a big ugly bunch of deceptions. Talia is initially somewhat taken with The Man Who Broke The Bat, given that "The Detective" is the only man she's deemed worthy, but eventually turns on Bane due to his complete lack of grace – but not before they've had a dalliance that hooks Bane. It's something she lies about to her father, but the big genius bruiser eventually proves his mettle through various brutal tests, and R'as Al Ghul actually deems him a worthy mate for Talia – and she's still has enough of the devoted mindset to defer to her father's judgment. Bane, however, has every intention of killing R'as and taking his immortality-granting Lazarus Pits and the entire League of Shadows for himself. It's not good when bad guys get together.
5. OH YEAH, CATWOMAN EXISTS
Obviously, Catwoman was present in The Dark Knight Rises, but one of its significant drawbacks was that we didn't get enough of her to really pinpoint a story from which her role was drawn. We could say that elements of Batman: Year One (and Catwoman: Year One for that matter) are there, at least in the form of her initial donning of the catsuit and the blonde girl she seems to protect, who is likely meant to be Holly "Go-Nightly" Robinson. The movie just seemed to give us the basic gist, though – she's a thief, she's sexy and clever, and she has a heart of gold (or at least tarnished bronze), which slowly turns her into a sucker for Batman's brand of heroism, even if she never completely devotes herself to it. Anne Hathaway was great with what she had, and thankfully she doesn't do any of the obnoxious purring or feline-related punning. However, we don't even see what prompts her to start wearing cat ears – the implication, one supposes, is Bat-inspiration, but it's a very matter-of-fact moment when we go 'oh, I guess she has a costume now, too.' Perhaps the general lack of her is by design, to give fertile ground for a spinoff film, or maybe it was just pared down due to the sheer amount of other stuff being crammed into the movie. If nothing else, it gives us a more recent cinematic Catwoman than Halle Berry.
And, since there's no real direct Catwoman story to reference, we'll just tell you to read Ed Brubaker's take on Selina Kyle. It just might be the best she's been written – and when it sports Darwyn Cooke art, all the better.
That's a lot of ground for one film to cover, but The Dark Knight Rises made a reasonably satisfying epic conclusion to a saga which hit amazing heights. Yes, we all knew it wouldn't match its predecessor and it's not without its flaws, but it was certainly a very noble effort. Will Nolan ever return? Well, we can't ever say never, but given the amount of real-life tragedy that has surrounded his trilogy, one has to imagine he'd really, really like to move on. So it's perhaps for the best that we try to do the same.
Check out Crave Online's B-Movies crew to figure out just how we go about rebooting from here.