Has The Dark Knight Returned with TDKR?

The author would like to share his theory about Nolan's batman films actually telling the story of The Dark Knight Returns since Batman Begins.

With TDKR coming out in just one month it is time to look at the whole trilogy in retrospect to see where the story is likely to go. The author believes that since Batman Begins Nolan has chosen to tell the story of The Dark Knight Returns.

First of all, the villains of this whole trilogy need to be adressed. As far as scarecrow and ra’s al Ghul are concerned they are not in The Dark Knight Returns but they set a nice stage for the primal element that is needed : fear . In The Dark Knight Returns Bruce Wayne is just so old and disillusioned that he doubts that he could even instill fear in these young, new types of criminals that are taking over the streets even if he wanted to. Then the bat crashes in again and we are reminded of how close The Dark Knight Returns and Batman Year One are connected, in that batman is secondary to Bruce Wayne. Nolan understands that batman is both a tool and a personality of its own but the desire to fight cime is Bruce Wayne’s . He created batman and as such batman is not to be the focus of the conflict, bruce wayne is becaue both Frank miller and Christopher Nolan approach the question again and again : why would a person like Bruce wayne choose not only to become batman but return to being him after successfully abandoning that endeavour ? Batman Begins heavily drawing from the style and elements of Year One it is hard not to instantly think about the ending of the series using Frank Miller’s other big batman story, The Dark Knight Returns.

The Dark Knight Returns also marks the return of Batman’s two most dangerous enemies : the Joker and Two-face. In case of the former we got a phenomenal performance by Heath Ledger playing the Joker like he was envisioned in The dark Knight Returns : an emotionally cold, calculating psychopath who toys with batman and wants him to kill him in the end. While that certainly does not happen in Nolan’s film, batman ends up killing the other big bad wolf of the series : Two-face. In The Dark Knight Returns we hear Bruce Wayne express his hopes for Harvey Dent’s recovery because he wants to overcome his own demons as well and would like to see Harvey Dent become the knight in shining armour he once was, whereas the «I believe in Harvey Dent» line in Nolan’s films expresses that hope differntly : namely that batman can cease to exist if only Dent were to become the official face of justice. In both cases the disappointment is great and it hurts both viewers and readers to find that Dent prefers to indulge his own suffering and take it out on others. His death, just like the Joker’s in The Dark Knight Returns, marks the point at which batman can no longer be considered a vigilante but a criminal, even if Nolan’s film leaves him the back door of self-defense to justify Dent’s death. In both cases the police are eager to pursue and catch him in order to bring him to justice.

Now a bigger similarity to The Dark Knight Returns can be found in Tom Hardy’s interpretation of Bane. The character certainly is a very interesting choice as a villain and shares some characteristics with one of The Dark Knight Return’s big villains, the Mutant Leader, who is both younger and stronger than batman (more so they’re both bald as an egg). The Mutant Leader, just as Nolan’s version of Bane, creates an army of young thugs and criminals in order to take Gotham. Bane’s motivation in Knightfall is not all that different, except that his need to prove himself in Nolan’s version seems to stem from the fact that Ra’s al Ghul viewed Bruce as his « greatest student », as opposed to Bane. It is not hard to see how No Man’s Land, Knightfall and The Dark Knight Returns can be mixed into one big and epic story because bane, at the end of the day, is tha typical dictator figure : he uses guerrila warfare and big revolutionary ideas only as long as they’re useful to him. He’s a big narcissist and from what we’ve seen it seems like Nolan’s bane has both the strength and cunning to fill the role of the Mutant Leader (even though the latter is not very smart in the comic). The other big antagonist (?) is Selina Kyle, a.k.a catwoman. While she does not make an appearance as the latter in The Dark Knight Returns, she is abused by the Joker in a way that makes us question Frank Miller’s view of women. While I cannot see someting similar happening in a PG-13 movie it is not hard to imagine Bane being a big brute with EVERYONE he considers a loose canon, especially since both ceators of the character have mentioned his uneasy relationship with women. She is the unknown quantity of this last film but it certainly is a nice way of exploring the idea of Batman emotionally crippling Bruce Wayne to the point that a fulfilling romantic relationship is no longer conceivable.

Other characters, especially Gary Oldman as Jim Gordon, seem like they are directly taken from Frank Miller’s comics. In Batman Year One James Gordon is a weary cop who sees hope for the city once batman comes into the picture and goes back to being disillusioned once batman becomes old and grumpy (well...more grumpy than usual). From what we know the same thing happens with Gary Oldman’s version and we have to at least admit that other batman movies have NEVER tried to make him a 3-dimensional character. We also are likely to see him grow estranged from his wife. After all, it’s not easy to live with a man whose choices led to a furious madman threatening the lives of your children. Juno Temple is the other secret character, a «smart-ass Gotham street girl». While Nolan has made it clear the NO Robin will ever be introduced in his batman films i cannot help but wonder at the secrecy surrounding her role in this film. Some people have suggested Holly Robinson and that would certainly be a great addition to Nolan’s universe but we have no OFFICIAL confirmation on this so we’ll just have to wait one more month.

As far as story elements go, The Dark Knight Returns looms over this film even more. Batman using an EMP gun and Bane’s «instrument of liberation» are reminiscent of the nuclear strike that happens at the end of The Dark Knight Returns, in which nuclear missiles are fired at Gotham City. As Bane says : «when Gotham is ashes you have my permission to die». Obviously batman coming out of retirement, confronting the Joker, two-face and an army of criminals and their leader is all straight from The dark Knight Returns. Perhaps the biggest elment is the possibility of batman’s death (or at least Bruce Wayne’s). While DC and WB would not allow this in any other circumstance I wonder why we had a confirmation of a reboot before the film even had a chance to come out (cynics and haters will say «well, because they know that the film sucks» but I think the fact that Nolan is such a successful filmmaker would make it impossible for the quality of this series to be guaranteed were it allowed to continue and of course the other possible reason could be that batman does not make it out alive). The moral compromises that batman has to make in the Dark Knight can be found in The dark Knight Retruns at least when he decides he ill not tolerate the Joker anymore and obviously the inevitable consequences that come with it. Of course the batman spying on everybody is something that the fascist batman from The dark Knight Retruns would have no hesitation of doing and Lucius Fox steps in for the audience and says what we all think but Nolan himself takes the outside view and presents us with what batman becomes over the course of the years : an uncomprmising supporter of the police state where prevention of crime justifies ANY violation of privacy.

In the end, the great thing about Nolan’s version is that we can see these references and more because Nolan does not do a 1 :1 adaptation of the comics and that’s why artistic license and freedom in the direction of these films is so important. While some of us may be mad at Nolan for changing the characters around it actually helps squeeze in all these references that actually help enrich Batman’s world. Nobody is saying that Burton did not build the foundations but nolan finished the job very nicely and we can now look forward to other interpretations in the future, knowing that the greatest batman stories have already been alluded to, for others to use and reinvent as they see fit.
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