Warning: If that title wasn’t fair enough warning for you, please be assured that there will be heavily spoilerish discussion of the end of The Dark Knight Rises. Don’t want it spoiled? Don’t read on.
With The Dark Knight Rises now having spent its first two days in cinemas across the globe, and the expected hyperbole-laden reviews intermingled with some surprisingly unimpressed ones, it seems that not everyone was universally enchanted by Christopher Nolan’s trilogy-ender.
For my own part I was impressed with Nolan’s commitment to spectacle, and by a lot of his sequences, but there is no way I could bring myself to laud it with a flawless review – it was certainly good, and jaw-droppingly so at certain points, but something about the lack of finesse in some of the technical aspects (most notably the editing) and in how the story unfolded made Rises feel slightly undercooked.
But more specifically than that, on reflection the ending left something to be desired. At this stage I’m not talking about the debate regarding Bruce Wayne’s death and whether or not the scene in which Alfred saw Bruce Wayne alive and well was a dream sequence (it wasn’t) – I refer instead to what resolution the Rises script afforded its protagonist.
Now, people are saying that the end was the perfect and fitting cap on Nolan’s trilogy, offering a semi-definite way out for Bruce Wayne and enough space for the progression of the franchise on the same time-line thanks to the symbolic torch-passing during the final sequence, but I struggle to see how Bruce Wayne walking away from being Batman is a fitting end considering his beginning.
The idea that Wayne would be gripped by the all-encompassing urge to “start again” away from Gotham and his duties of protection, simply because he isn’t the only one who could do the job is a fairly major disservice to the character. Of course it is well within Nolan’s right as a film-maker to change the story, and the overcoming of his obsession with being Batman represents a conventional story progression (from cause to resolution), but Batman’s origin is a pillar of the character, and to ignore it is just wrong.
And The Dark Knight Rises does ignore that origin by failing to account for it in Batman’s decision to give up the cape and cowl. As a result the story doesn’t resolve all of the issues underlying Bruce Wayne’s decision to become Batman. Yes it explores what might happen if Bruce Wayne retired or passed the duties of Gotham’s protector on to someone else, and rather emotively offers him the revelation that anyone could be Batman, but that still doesn’t explain how he can so easily forget his own history.
What about Bruce Wayne’s inherent need to right wrongs and to protect the innocent from evil, as developed by the death of his parents? The script is very careful to distract from that emotional link between Bruce Wayne and Batman by replacing the death of his parents with Wayne’s desire not to emotionally devastate Alfred, but are the feelings of an old man really enough in that context? Not for me, they’re not.
Not only that, the end of the film asks us to accept that Bruce Wayne would happily turn a blind eye to the devastated Gotham, as well presumably as his inherent protective instincts, because he recognises those same instincts in John Blake and believes that the symbolic presence of the Batman in Gotham will be enough to keep it from splitting at the seams again.
First problem – that’s John Blake who has only police department training and minimal experience to go with his keys to the Batcave and a compelling backstory. And secondly, the assumption that everything will be fine as long as there’s someone there to watch over them, no matter who they are seems like an awfully un-Batman-like thing to accept, even in Nolan’s universe.
That’s not the Batman I know and love. It just isn’t.
So, how do I think it should have ended? Well, in short, Batman should have died. Because the only way Bruce Wayne would ever turn his back on his duty to Gotham – especially one completely destroyed and still suffering from the underlying problems that made Bane’s rabble-rousing work so well – would be death or debilitation.
With Bruce Wayne dead, we wouldn’t have to question how he so easily forgot the reason he became Batman, well before the reasons he continued being Batman even cropped up. And we wouldn’t be left with the preposterous suggestion that all Bruce Wayne needed to get over the ghosts of his traumatic past was the right woman and a clean slate.
What do you think? Should Batman have died? Were you happy with the final shots of the film? Or do you wish Nolan had left that answer as unanswered as the spinning top question at the end of Inception? Let us know via our handy poll below:
And now that’s over and done with you can click Next to go through my 12-point Spoilers and Secrets review, exploring all of the major story-telling decisions in depth.