How to end on a high note

by Conner Schwerdtfeger

We can all agree that Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy represents one of the most airtight trifectas in cinematic history. Batman Begins expertly showcased Batman as a terrifying wraith in the eyes of criminals – as well as a pitch-perfect adaptation of “Batman: Year One.” The Dark Knight brought the comic book genre as a whole to a new, much more cerebral place by introducing Heath Ledger’s iconic Joker to the world.

For everything it did right, the final installment, The Dark Knight Rises, certainly represents the low point of the trilogy. The consummate nerds that we are, I have taken it upon myself to compile a list of ways to improve The Dark Knight Rises while still maintaining the overall arc and thematic ideas present. That means nothing like “recast The Joker;” these are just simple alterations to the existing narrative that could have resulted in an overall tighter film.

Spoilers Ahead… Obviously.


1. Enter The Arrow

No one could have anticipated the phenomenon that The CW’s Arrow would become. The show consistently gets phenomenal ratings, made a bonafide star out of Stephen Amell, and has paved the way for a DC TV Universe with The Flash, and the upcoming Legends of Tomorrow. Oliver Queen has a rich history of his own, and strong connection to Batman, especially in The Dark Knight Returns– from which the film borrows liberally.

Green Arrow’s defining characteristic — arguably his biggest distinction from Batman — comes from his progressive, left-leaning ideology. He doesn’t just look like Robin Hood; he legitimately fights for the little guy. Much of Arrow’s first season revolves around Queen’s war on the corrupt one-percent.

From a thematic point of view, the film borrows heavily from the last recession, vilifying the upper class’ neglect of the impoverished. For that reason alone he could have replaced Selina Kyle; a hero manipulated by Bane into bankrupting Wayne enterprises under false pretenses, only to realize his mistake and switch sides to make things right once he discovers the truth. These reasons would seem much more thematically relevant than a thief just looking to disappear. This doesn’t even require eliminating Catwoman from the narrative. Perhaps she still steals Bruce’s fingerprints at the beginning of the film (more or less a cameo), but Arrow assists Bane in the attack on the stock exchange, only to realize the mistake he’s made once he sees Bane’s brutality.


2. Batman/Bane Dynamic

We won’t pretend that we didn’t enjoy Tom Hardy’s Bane. His physicality – along with the sheer menace behind his eyes – made him made him terrifying. More than that that, Hardy imbued the character with a certain distinguished charisma that often out-shined Bale’s decidedly drab portrayal of Batman.

Ever since his introduction in the comics, Bane has represented everything that makes Batman great, but without the moral compass. A master strategist, genius intellect, and Olympic level athlete, Bane has the distinction of being one of the few Batman Rogues to ever uncover who the Dark Knight really is.

While the Joker represents the polar opposite of Batman, Bane represents a distorted, evil reflection. However, in TDKR, it feels like so much effort went into making sure that Bane “broke the Bat” (as he did in the classic Knightfall arc) that the rich relationship between the characters did not receive thorough enough exploration.

Bane’s physical superiority to Batman never really comes into question throughout the film; he easily overpowers Batman in their first encounter, and that I am fine with. I even liked the slight altercation of replacing Venom for a pain subduing anesthetic (although they could have explored Bane’s addiction problems more throughout the film). Bruce’s lack of will to live, combined with Bane’s clearly superior physicality conjures up memories of The Dark Knight Returns.

Sadly, by the end of the movie, despite suffering grave injury, and imprisonment for months, Batman somehow comes back and simply outmuscles Bane in a blow for blow rematch. In my opinion, the film should have kept the finale from The Dark Knight Returns. In that book (and also the cartoon adaptation), Batman showcases his strategic skills in his rematch with the Mutant leader. Knowing he cannot win an even fight, Bruce lures the Leader into a knee high mud pit where his speed will count for nothing, then uses strategic hits to slowly immobilize, and finally (as well as brutally) dispatch his opponent. The Dark Knight Rises relies too much on a brute force confrontation and ultimately doesn’t really give us a solid payoff in the final fight between the two.

Also, while making Bane a member of the League of Shadows nicely ties up many loose ends, and provides a suitable motive for him to come to Gotham, it also creates problems. As previously mentioned, figuring out who Batman really is under the cowl represents one of Bane’s biggest accomplishments and is what separates him from many of the other rogues. He may be as physically imposing as someone like Killer Croc, but he has an intellect to rival the Riddler. As a member of the League, the movie more or less implies that Bane knows Batman’s identity via that association. Having this knowledge inherited rather than earned does a disservice to the character in the long run. And don’t even get us started on the fact that he ultimately ended up being a henchman for Talia.


3. Do Away With The Romance

Sometimes they work — see: the relatable high school love between Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy — but most often they just take time away from the action and excitement that we all paid to see. Batman represents one of the heroes who seldom needs a traditional love story. Interpretations vary, but to many: Bruce Wayne is the Dark Knight first, and his public persona second. Christopher Nolan always seemed to have his version of the Dark Knight fall into that category. He does not have the luxury of friends, he will never not need Batman… except until the third installment.

Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes/Maggie Gyllenhaal) represented a suitable love interest for Bruce at the beginning of his Batman career. She shared his passion for justice, and more importantly, they shared a childhood together before the death of his parents. She knows him; she understands him. Her death should have represented the death of Bruce’s last hope for a normal life. By the second film, it had become abundantly clear to her that Bruce had no intention of giving up the cowl, and would leave him for Harvey Dent. That decision, as well as Alfred’s decision to never tell Bruce, should have been the cap on his love life through the saga. Alfred’s decision to tell Bruce the truth, and for Bruce to then allow himself to be seduced by Talia pointlessly negates the poignancy of Rachel’s decision to cut Bruce off romantically. Bruce died in the alleyway with his parents and has been on a collision course with the cowl since he was an 8-year-old.


4. Simple, We Kill The Batman

He was inside the cockpit. He flew the Bat out over the bay. You can play with the logic all you want; whether he bailed out in that explosion, or maybe Superman saved him, paving the way for Man of Steel, but the fact of the matter is they showed him inside the cockpit moments before the nuke went off. You can kill Batman without killing Bruce Wayne (and the other way around); Nolan predicates much of the series on that notion. However, you cannot flat out lie to your audience.

Our version? Basically the same: Batman seemingly flies the bomb out over the bay, bomb goes off, everyone breathes a sigh of relief and mourns the Dark Knight’s ultimate sacrifice. John Blake inherits the Batcave and swings in through the waterfall only to find someone waiting for him: Bruce. Leaning on his cane, John Blake asks if he is sure about this, Bruce replies that he has spent the last eight years looking for a good death, but training Blake will be “a good life… good enough”. Boom. Mic drop. Screen goes black, The Dark Knight Rises. This ending invokes ideas from the ending of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and stays faithful to the character.

Obviously some things still need to be tweaked. Find a way to provide closure between Bruce and Alfred that doesn’t involve a little sojourn to Florence. Alfred always seemed a bit underused anyway, and for him to have been used as a sacrificial lamb. To be murdered protecting Bruce, severing Batman’s last ties to his old life, and galvanizing our hero into wanting to win, would be a perfect send off. Essentially, find a way for Bruce to let go of ”Bruce Wayne” and commit to his new life. What ultimately makes the “good life” ending work so well in the graphic novel is that it has the balls to address that Bruce’s idea of a perfect life is not something we aspire to. His mission is never over, and he knows that the responsibility falls upon him to groom the future protectors of Gotham. This ending combines classic elements from the comics, and even some Batman Beyond while still remaining true to Nolan’s tone.

What else do you think could have been changed? Are you a fan of The Dark Knight Rises? Leave a comment in the section below.

More links that may interest you:

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6 Awful Things About Star Wars

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The 10 Best Superhero Films of All Time

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