Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises has proven to be a divisive finale for the thousands upon thousands of fans that experienced it this past weekend. I’ve read reactions ranging from “epic” to “boring,” from “best in the series” to “worst in the series,” and virtually every venomous argument and heavenly praise in between.
One point where fans have reached a majority agreement is that the closing minutes are a fitting wrap for Nolan’s Batman story. They service not only the series as a whole, but fans of the vast multi-generational Batman lore.
From this point forward I will be discussing my thoughts on the closing moments of The Dark Knight Rises. It goes without saying that spoilers will be flowing freely from here on out. If you have not yet seen The Dark Knight Rises then I highly recommend turning back now. I also recommend looking up the closest IMAX cinema near you and getting a ticket asap.
The first topic of discussion amongst the passengers in my car on the way home from The Dark Knight Rises was whether Bruce Wayne/Batman really survived his apparent sacrifice to save Gotham City from a nuclear detonation. Christopher Nolan lead us into an endless debate with the parting shot in Inception, so was he playing the ambiguity card yet again in Batman’s finale? I don’t think so.
The first clue that Nolan was shooting straight with us came when Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) discovered that Bruce Wayne had fixed the autopilot on The Bat via a software update six months prior to his sacrifice. The look in Fox’s eyes in the revelation that his friend has fooled everyone was priceless.
Out over Gotham City Bay, the countdown clock (I hated the clock, for what it’s worth) on the device showed only five seconds left at the same time that Batman was shown still in the cockpit. My interpretation of this scene is that even if Batman was still in The Bat at the five second mark, he could have ejected in some submersible pod headed in the opposite direction and managed to escape the six-mile blast radius. If the Tumbler had a Bat-Pod hiding inside it, I find it hard to believe The Bat didn’t have some equally cool and inventive “ejection seat” considering it was likely developed by the same folks.
Or, the shot of Batman at the “five seconds to detonation” mark could have been after he ejected in a pod and we would have been none the wiser. Maybe The Dark Knight Rises Blu-ray and DVD commentary will clear this up.
We last see Alfred (beautifully played by Michael Caine) visiting the Italian cafe again, only this time he spots Bruce and Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) and exchanges nothing more than a nod of acknowledgement, fulfilling Alfred’s desire to see Bruce escape Gotham and find a purpose in life. This scene not only completes the journey of Alfred and Bruce, but also of Selina and Bruce. They both have wiped their slates (and identities) clean and come together on a common ground rather than spar as a poor criminal and a rich crime fighter.
The most discussion generated by The Dark Knight Rises has not been about the fate of Bruce Wayne, but rather the future of “Robin” John Blake. Is he the new Batman? Will he become Robin? Or Nightwing?
My analysis of John Blake’s arc is that he was unofficially Batman’s sidekick “Robin” throughout the entire second half of the film. He helped Batman and upheld his ideals, even when staring death in the face. The “Robin” name drop was both to acknowledge his efforts and to throw a bone to the comic fans.
Blake is given the Bat Cave in Bruce Wayne’s will and the coordinates to find it behind the waterfall. Upon entering the cave, the platform below Blake rises and he vanished off the screen, thus ending the film.
When Batman Begins ended, Batman swooped into the screen thus “beginning” the character’s journey and affirming the film’s title. At the conclusion of The Dark Knight, Gordon’s (Gary Oldman) voiceover anoints Batman as “The Dark Knight” just before the screen cuts to lack. Again, the final shot affirms the film’s title.
Taking this logic into The Dark Knight Rises, Blake is on the platform in the Bat Cave as it “rises” off the screen. In this context, Blake is the new Batman and not Robin or Nightwing. He has taken over the symbol that protects Gotham and rises as the new Dark Knight. Bruce effectively prepared him for this moment when he told him to wear a mask in order to protect those close to him.
Bruce Wayne has been hammering the point home since Batman Begins; Batman is not a man that can be corrupted. As a symbol, Batman is incorruptible. He can be any man. As Jim Gordon says when Blake asks who The Batman is, “he’s The Batman.” The new Bat Signal awaits the Dark Knight’s return when Gotham needs him most.
The big question remaining is now what? Nolan has stated that he’s done with his Batman story. Christian Bale has signed off as well. That leaves Warner Bros. with a few options based on how The Dark Knight Rises ended: they can continue the story with Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Batman; they can reboot in 5-10 years; or they can take elements from the Nolan-verse and incorporate it into The Justice League project that is slowly brewing.
Personally I’d like to see Nolan pass the torch to a new creative team and let Joseph Gordon-Levitt take on the starring role. It would be a brave new Gotham without Bruce Wayne or any chance that Christian Bale would return. Maybe that’s what the franchise needs. Maybe that’s what Gotham needs. Maybe that’s what we need.
What did you all think about how The Dark Knight Rises ended? Sound off with your own ideas about the ending in the comments section below.
– Dan Bradley