This weekend the conclusion to Christopher Nolan’s epic Dark Knight Trilogy was released. His was a new Batman, one that took place within the confines of our world rather than some dark/campy alternate. Nolan sought to not only retell the Batman story, but to elevate it from just a story to a legend. In telling the story of how man became myth, Nolan took each aspect of Bruce Wayne’s journey and centered a movie around it: overcoming fear, resisting evil, and ultimately embodying the legend.
“To conquer fear, you must become fear,” Bruce Wayne is told by R’as al Ghul in Batman Begins. It was Wayne’s childhood fear of bats that led to his parents’ death, and it’s this fear that he uses to wage his war on crime. The atmosphere in Begins is drenched in fear, whether it be Gotham’s citizens’ fear of the mob bosses who run the city or the villain of the film: Jonathan Crane, the Scarecrow, whose weapon is fear itself. Crane (and the League of Shadows) want to destroy Gotham by amplifying the population’s fears until they tear themselves apart. It is his mastery of fear that allows Batman to defeat Crane and R’as al Ghul. Wayne triumphs over his personal demons to become the Batman. Now what?
The Joker appears inexplicably in The Dark Knight. He has no name and no origin; he simply is the Joker, an agent of chaos. He is the antithesis of Batman: where the Dark Knight stands for order and justice, the Clown Prince of Crime is the embodiment of anarchy and lawlessness. Batman’s struggle against crime is paralleled by Harvey Dent. They are the supposed saviors of Gotham: one through law and legislation and the other through vigilantism. Both are forced to the breaking point by the Joker and both make a choice. Harvey Dent chooses objective chance and Wayne remains an idealist. Batman withstands his temptation and remains incorruptible, going so far as to take the fall for the crime of the ruined Harvey Dent as his own.The Dark Knight was Batman’s test of character; the answer to the question of whether he would die a hero or live long enough to become a villain is a simple no. After it all he is still a hero; the hero Gotham needs.
In Rises, the age of Batman ended with the legacy of Harvey Dent. The Dark Knight disappeared into the shadows, and Wayne retired from the public life. Enter Bane, a man who wants to undo the newfound order and destroy Gotham in not only city but spirit too. He intends to break Gotham and its icons: Batman, Harvey Dent, and the police. As Gotham begins to crumble it falls to Batman to rise from the ashes and rally people around him. His insignia becomes the symbol for the resistance and the unquenchable hope that one day the Batman will prevail and topple Bane and restore Gotham to its glory. But in order for this to happen, Wayne must once again conquer his fear and never give up if he is to finally become more than just a man in a suit, So the Dark Knight finally rises to a legend, a symbol of justice and hope that cannot be killed.
Gotham is the fantasy setting for this legend. It’s not Spider-Man’s Manhattan. In Dark Knight the city seems to be Chicago, in Rises it looks like New York. Where it is is unimportant as Gotham is no one city: it’s every city. It’s a myth that could happen anywhere, just as Batman could be anyone: a cop putting a jacket on a scared kid’s shoulders or the man who throws a detonator overboard. As the Dark Knight Trilogy comes to an end, no longer does it matter who is behind Batman’s cowl, what matters is who he is: the ultimate fearless paragon.
These are our legends, and this is how they end.