Several of my friends expect Bruce Wayne to kick the oxygen habit in "The Dark Knight Rises," the final installment in Christopher Nolan’s trilogy of Batman movies. And when you think about it, it makes sense.
"Batman Begins" presents the idea that Bruce needs to transcend mere humanity because only a legend possesses the power to achieve his ambitious crime-busting goals.
"The Dark Knight" returns to this theme in its depiction of crusading district attorney Harvey Dent. Harvey is such an inspiration to the beleaguered citizens of Gotham City that when the Joker turns him into a murderous madman, Batman becomes a hunted pariah to cover up the horrifying truth.
So, in the last chapter of the tale, it would arguably be fitting if Bruce falls in battle, but the legend of Batman lives on when someone else (Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s cop character is the likely candidate) assumes the hero’s identity.
Why not? The death of a beloved hero makes for good drama, and after this film, Nolan and Christian Bale are done with Batman anyway. And we all recognize that their movies, good as they are, are simply one interpretation of a character who’s been battling evil in comics, radio, television and movies since 1939. No one will find himself bewildered or upset when the Batman movies reboot like the Spider-Man franchise just did.
Still, I hope Bale’s incarnation of Bruce doesn’t end up taking a dirt nap.
Partly because it seems like we see his martyrdom coming up Fifth Avenue. (Or the Gotham equivalent thereof. Kane Avenue, maybe, or Finger Street.) And I don’t want the story to go where I expected it very well might. I want it to surprise me.
Beyond that, though, there’s more to the idea of Batman than a guy who cloaks himself in a mystique. What’s really interesting is how he’s able to it.
The costume and menacing demeanor only work because he’s trained himself to physical and mental perfection. In fact, he’s so resourceful and indomitable that nothing can defeat him. Perhaps above all others, these stories make the case:
In "Knightfall," Bane (the main villain in "The Dark Knight Rises") breaks Batman’s back, paralyzing him. Our hero finds a way to recover and triumphs over his foe.
In "Batman RIP," Dr. Hurt drives Bruce insane and buries him alive. The Gotham Goliath bounces back from that, too.
In "Final Crisis" and "The Return of Bruce Wayne," Darkseid, a diabolical alien “god” more powerful than Superman himself and an opponent who ought to be way out of Batman's weight class, wipes the Caped Crusader’s memory and maroons him in the past. He also rigs it so that if Batman does somehow return to the present, the effect will be to destroy the Earth. None of that takes, either.
In comics, Batman is so formidable that even his superpowered comrades in the Justice League sometimes find themselves in awe. In the Nolan movies, he’s still larger than life, but not as large. It’s clear that, his martial arts and ninja skills notwithstanding, he couldn’t function without the high-tech equipment Lucius Fox provides.
This is a smart storytelling choice. Though these films are by no means realistic, it’s part of their magic that they almost seem that way while you’re watching. And they wouldn’t if the Darknight Detective did all the spectacular things in a live-action film that he does in comics.
Still, whatever the medium, I want him to have something of that quality. That’s Batman to me. I want him to kick the ass of any psychopath who dares to challenge him and live to answer the call of the Bat Signal another day.
So here’s hoping. In another few days, we can all find out together.
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