I appreciate Christopher Nolan for capping his most profitable cash cow for the sake of integrity for himself and the story.
Also, unless anyone can disprove this claim, Nolan was the first person to give Batman a happy ending. The Dark Knight series was the first Batman story to completely absolve Bruce Wayne of his guilt and obsession, the first to reward him for his sacrifices without any catches.
Now, on to the subject of John Blake:
Public opinion towards the character eludes me, but the stigma surrounding "Robin, the Boy Wonder" in mainstream society justifies the blatant absence of Dick Grayson. Here, John Blake functions in the same capacity, sans garish colors and bare legs, in order to underscore the importance of Robin in the ol' Bat-mythology. The first film was a noir-y origin story, more sophisticated than most of its peers and predecessors, but not quite groundbreaking. The second film was successful noir, a crime epic littered with corruption and the devaluation of the heroic sacrifice.
The third film pitter-patters on a brighter, airy ground, largely attributable to John Blake. I have written a few posts on Dick Grayson and his importance in balancing the moral/tonal dynamic of Batman alongside Joker. Essentially:
- Batman was murderous, pulp-y adventurer for ten issues before DC created Robin to serve as a colorful audience surrogate for readers to see their youth and optimism reflected on-panel; from there on, Batman was a superhero.
- The Joker was conceived a month later as the personification of the horrific evils present in the pulp and noir genres, balancing out Batman after the addition of Robin.
Still, The Dark Knight proceeded forward without a Robin, leaving Batman vulnerable to the malicious-romantic affections of Joker sans a cushion or safety net. Now, The Dark Knight Rises succeeds on its own strengths due to embracing the best qualities of the Boy Wonder. His natural intelligence, his optimism, his value of human life, his desire to do good in the face of any and all adversity, even his own mortality, shine through John Blake. John Blake was the one to rouse Batman back into action, the person to remind Batman of his importance to Gotham and give him the courage to finish his mission. The misty-eyed association between Batman and the city of Gotham is long-lived, but mystique thins when a person notes that hero of the city cannot galvanize his city to make a stand against crime. Gotham will forever be corrupt, and there is nothing Batman can do about it, regardless of his best efforts. On the one hand, the dedication Batman commits to fighting crime in Gotham deserves admiration. On the other hand, the broad futility of his goals are somewhat deflating. Nolan, to his credit, actually alludes to this theme in the series ("Things are worse than ever!" "You built peace on a lie! Now you left your city in the hands of Bane!").
The Dark Knight trilogy achieves closure and validation for Batman, his closest associates, and the Gothamites, some hopeful, others embittered, many cynical and opportunistic. Gotham was saved, the morale of the city was restored, and Batman was indisputably recognized as a hero. Catwoman, another post-Robin character, finds complete redemption in the arms of Batman, who in turn finds peace in the arms of woman with whom can be completely open. Alfred, seen at his lowest ebb in the first act of The Dark Knight Rises, finds his prayers answered instead of focusing his efforts on various sidekicks. Nolan even pulls a Kingdom Come, portraying Bruce Wayne as following in the footsteps of his father Thomas (i.e. in this case, restoring the hope and vigor of Gotham) and succeeding in his efforts.
Is The Dark Knight Rises grandiose compared to its predecessors? Yes, unabashedly. The trilogy, for the most part, follows the thematic progression of Batman, from his debut, to his origin, to his earliest stories, to Robin, and in a miraculous show of execution, ends the story of Batman on a warmest of notes.
Can anyone top Nolan? Thoughts?
- A friend admitted that the revelation of "Robin" as the given first name of John Blake was jarring for him when Dick Grayson already enjoys a high level of recognition. In all fairness, "Robin" was a nickname Dick received from his parents as an infant. The idea of the nickname replacing "Richard" does not exactly scream "unrealistic". Also, Dick Grayson did have "John" as a middle name. On another a related note, "Blake" could either be the surname of his foster parents or his mother's maiden name.
- I find it fitting that Nolan matched Batman, the culmination of various pulp characters, such as Zorro and The Shadow, with Bane, an intended tribute to highly disciplined, biracial Doc Savage, for the final film.
- Even more interesting, though Internetgoers suspected this early, was the reveal of Miranda Tate as Talia in the final moments of the film, complimenting Ra's al Ghul, his "Ducard" persona, and use of a more flamboyant decoy (the faux-Ra's al-Ghul, as played by Ken Watanabe) to serve his agenda.
- Tom Hardy as Bane as Ubu made Ubu cool. No challenge.