DARK KNIGHT RISES: I’ve seen it. I loved it. There’s my review.
In this piece, I’m only going to talk about the ending and how it pertains to the concept of the hero’s journey and storyworlds.
SPOILERS ahead (you’ve been warned)
Still here? Good.
In chapter eight of COMICS FOR FILM, GAMES AND ANIMATION, I write of the underlying tragedy inherent to the superhero concept:
A hero may have several journeys throughout their career, and indeed, such is the way with the comic book superheroes. There is, however, an underlying level of tragedy to their journeys. For icons like Batman and Superman, their journeys never end. Batman’s ultimate tragedy is that he himself is the elixir to restore the world; the self-made man who will stop at nothing to prevent what happened to him from happening to others.
Batman’s journey will never end. He will always be The Batman, perpetually fighting the ills that gave birth to him. Similarly, Superman also carries a layer of tragedy to his hero’s journey. He cannot return to his world. As told in the famous origin by Siegel and Shuster, Superman was the last surviving member of his planet. Rocketed away as an infant in the last moments of the planet Krypton’s existence, he was taken in by a “kindly couple” in Smallville, Kansas (the parallels to the Moses story are evident). He was sent on a journey not of his own volition, but carried away. He can never return. He will always be here. This is the tragic beating heart of the mythological underpinnings of comic book storytelling. For stories to endure, their journey can never end.
A key line in the above excerpt is “for stories to endure, their journey can never end.” Comics is a serialized medium; in that medium, Batman’s journey can never end. If it does, what stories are left? To that end, Batman is the perfect comic book character –– rather, icon –– with a character-defining trait –– monastic, unyielding obsession –– birthed from the needs of the medium in which he was created.
Christopher Nolan’s DARK KNIGHT trilogy is not about Batman. It is about Bruce Wayne creating a symbol (Batman), being consumed by that symbol, and eventually, leaving the symbol behind for another to assume when he has grown past it. In the conclusion of THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, Nolan satisfied two needs: the need of his character to grow (had Bruce Wayne actually died saving the city, that wouldn’t have been growth; he already gave himself to the city when he first became Batman and channeled his rage into the Bat-symbol) and the need for the legend of The Batman to endure.
With THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, Nolan successfully created a Bruce Wayne of the film medium and turned one of the key tenets of comics storytelling on its head, truly adapting from one medium to another. Batman was the elixir, yes, but he was the elixir Bruce Wayne needed to save Gotham and himself.
But what about storyworld?
With the powerful final shot of Joseph Gordon Leavitt’s (Robin) John Blake “rising” in the Batcave, Nolan accomplished one final feat of paramount import: he concluded his Batman story and allowed for his storyworld to continue in the imaginations of fans. Will Nolan’s Gotham ever be revisited in film? Highly doubtful (indeed, rumors abound that we will have a reboot in 2016). But will it be revisited in fan fiction and by other means? You bet. The possibilities are endless, and in storytelling of any medium, THAT is the most important legacy to leave behind.