"Without getting into specifics, the key thing that makes the third film a great possibility for us is that we want to finish our story. And in viewing it as the finishing of a story rather than infinitely blowing up the balloon and expanding the story... I'm very excited about the end of the film, the conclusion, and what we've done with the characters. My brother has come up with some pretty exciting stuff. Unlike the comics, these things don't go on forever in film and viewing it as a story with an end is useful. Viewing it as an ending, that sets you very much on the right track about the appropriate conclusion and the essence of what tale we're telling. And it hearkens back to that priority of trying to find the reality in these fantastic stories."
The same information is indicated by three taglines spread throughout the recently released trailer:
EVERY HERO HAS A JOURNEY
EVERY JOURNEY HAS AN END
THE EPIC CONCLUSION TO THE DARK KNIGHT LEGEND
The scenes in the trailer speak in particular to that last word... the trailer begins with the voice of Liam Neeson (portraying R'as al-Ghul) delivering the same soliloquy heard in the trailer for first Nolan Batman film, Batman Begins. In those lines, he tells a younger Bruce Wayne (at the time, al-Ghul's protege) that he can make himself into something more than a man -- a legend.
The whole business of epics, legends, journeys, and ends points to something bigger and more traditional than what "epic" has come to mean lately. Nolan is declaring here that he intends to make his series of three films a finite account of Batman's career with a beginning, middle, and end. This stands in contrast to earlier media. Batman has usually been presented as a serial, with the next comic book, news strip, or television episode guaranteed to begin more or less where the last one ended, leaving the status quo fundamentally unchanged when each episode ends.
The business, however, of ending the Batman story is not a new proposition. Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, which obviously lent its name nearly verbatim to this new film, rocked the comic book world for, among other reasons, depicting a late-career Batman who returns from retirement to a more decisive conclusion. While this was not completely original, it was much more vivid and mature than earlier stories. The momentous nature of what Miller had done was received with admiration by star comic book writer Alan Moore, who in proposing a never-published story of his own, commented:
"one of the things that prevents superhero stories from ever attaining the status of true modern myths or legends is that they are open ended. An essential quality of a legend is that the events in it are clearly defined in time... in order to meet the commercial demands of a continuing series, they can never have a resolution. Indeed, they find it difficult to embrace any of the changes in life that the passage of time brings about for these very same reasons, making them finally less than fully human as well as falling far short of true myth... providing a fitting and affective capstone to the Batman legend... makes it just that... a legend rather than an endlessly meandering continuity."
So that is what Nolan is doing. How will he go about it? It is not clear how much time or how many events elapse between the end of the last film, the monumentally successful The Dark Knight, and the action in this film (or, for that matter, this trailer). We see Commissioner Gordon badly ailing, probably from injuries suffered in the line of duty, speaking, it seems to a Bruce Wayne whose true identity Gordon knows. Perhaps Gordon's injuries are owing to the absence of Batman in the fields of urban combat. Perhaps he was injured specifically to bait Batman and draw him out.
That last interpretation works with the comic book backstory of the villain shown in this clip, the villain Bane who literally and figuratively "broke" Batman in the 1993-1994 story called Knightfall. Bane first exhausted Batman by forcing him to fight many smaller battles first, then took the weary caped crusader down in single combat. The trailer illustrates a fight between Batman and Bane when the exhaustion has already taken place. Note the body language of Batman in this clip, slowed down four times from the original:
In the first frame, Batman's body is angled oddly to our left. Then he teeters his way back to the vertical, bouncing as though he is trying to summon what is left of his last reserves of energy. His mouth is open, indicating that he is breathing hard. He is perhaps on a nonstable surface -- despite the low ceiling and confining spaces, the ropes to the sides also sway as the two men move. A chant in Bane's native Spanish seems to beg Bane to kill Batman:"Matalo, matalo, Bane, Bane." It should also be noted that a third figure appears in the distance, and it seems as though he is filming the fight, no doubt for Bane to use the film to disgrace his physically beaten foe, adding literally insult to injury. We can be sure that Batman will fall, and then rise.
It is unclear if the conversation we see between Gordon and Wayne takes place before or after Bane has taken Batman down -- probably after. The "pep talk" quality of the speech is unmistakably like that between R'as and Wayne in the first movie and trailer and between Alfred and Wayne in the Dark Knight trailer.
Gordon: We were in this together and then you were gone. And now this evil rising. The Batman must come back.
Wayne: But if he doesn't exist anymore...
Gordon: He must, he must.
All of these pep talks go to the first movie's theme, perhaps far too simple, that Batman's story is at its core the lesson, "Why do we fall? So we can learn to pick ourselves up." It also suggests countless other stories before The Dark Knight Returns in which a warrior who has left the battle rejoins it to avenge a fallen friend. In a story no less epic than the Iliad, Achilles returns to the battles to avenge the death of Patroclus, and Achilles sets off at once to kill the very same foe who killed his friend. In the end, all three are dead.
If Nolan really has the power to kill the franchise, he might have the power to kill Batman in the final minutes of the film, giving the hero the sort of Robin Hood ending that Moore described earlier, and that Neil Gaiman scripted in a recent comic book story which related the story of Batman's death. Then again, unlike Patroclus, Gordon seems to survive his victimization. If Patroclus lives in this retelling of Western Civilization's first great epic, then perhaps Achilles does too.