While many are talking today about the new poster released for the film, I thought to comment on something a little different; something that has been flapping around in my mind for weeks. Let me start out by saying that I have given much thought to the above-mentioned question before writing it as a headline. This is by all accounts me speculating on what role Joseph Gordon-Levitt will play in Christopher Nolan’s final Batman film. As a result, treat this purely as one man’s theory rather than as hard-nosed facts. Just like with all speculation, I feel I have some loose facts and clues to back this up.
Since word got out that the young and talented actor was going to have a role in The Dark Knight Rises, fans’ curiosity led them to suspect he would play a young member of the Falcone family, the Riddler, Dick Grayson (Robin) or a number of other meaningful characters that would play an integral part in the film. So you could almost hear the internet community’s collective sigh when they heard he would simply play a cop named John Blake. The official synopsis of the character reveals that he is “a Gotham City beat cop assigned to special duty under the command of Commissioner Gordon.” Even with the official word from the studio to what role he will be playing, the rumor mill still began to turn. If you consider some basic clues and info that is out there a number of these proposed rumors could be dismissed. First and foremost there was talks of him playing the Riddler or a number of other major villains. In a word . . . No . . . this won’t happen. I think Nolan has learned the lesson left behind by the Schumacher films that too many villains is indeed a bad idea. Next up is talk of him playing Dick Grayson/ Robin. Though this seems very plausible and even though physical resemblances could be made between the actor and Batman’s kid sidekick, Nolan has repeatedly stated that he isn’t even the slightest bit interested in including the character in his mythology. I can’t see a reason why he would lie about this. Some fans pointed to the fact that in the scene showing the Gotham football team in the trailer, a fan is shown in the background holding a sign with a giant “R” on it in the font traditionally associated with the Boy Wonder. Once again, this can be dismissed due to the fact that the crowd scene was an open-casting sequence where everyone involved supplied their own clothes and made their own signs. The final and another potentially realistic scenario many assume is that Gordon-Levitt would play the role of Alberto Falcone – the son of Carmine Falcone who later becomes the notorious “Holiday Killer” in the comic Batman: The Long Halloween. Again, the physical features are there, but it seems extremely unlikely in Nolan’s view of Gotham City that the son of a famous and well-known criminal would be able to so easily get a job and work for the Gotham Police Department. So, if none of these were any real possibilities could it be that Christopher Nolan simply cast the known actor in a less than prominent role? I think not.
After watching the three trailers for The Dark Knight Rises – two of which feature the actor briefly in only a handful of shots – one thing becomes very clear: Joseph Gordon-Levitt is the wildcard in this situation. Nothing says this more than in a few scenes in the most recent trailer that appeared online about three weeks ago. The first scene in question is at the 1:10 mark in the trailer and shows the actor sitting with a young boy while discussing whether or not Batman will come back to Gotham. “I don’t know,” is the cop’s response. It’s a tender scene that shows the impact of Batman’s disappearance while also hinting at how it may be affecting others in a more personal way. The inclusion of this scene in the trailer seems both specific and instrumental in how Nolan has given fans clues over the past couple of months regarding the plot without giving anything away. While this scene doesn’t seem nearly as insightful and can be read in many different ways, the next scene seems to paint a very interesting portrait of what we may expect from the character. At about the 1:40 mark in the third trailer Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character is seen amid darkness standing completely still in what can best be described as a concentrated state. He stands lifting his hands up into the air with his palms out and begins to close his eyes. One can say that he might be involved in a sequence where Bane or some other villain is holding him up or ready to overtake him. Yet, another subtlety indicates that there may be something else going on. If you watch closely, John Blake seems to be slightly shaking and seems to be focusing intently on something mentally. What I am getting at is that it looks like he is entering into a deep meditative state or is focusing “energy” for some purpose. Many times in religious circles or groups, members or followers can be seen in a similar pose with their hands in the air giving praise to a higher being. Whether it is in a form of worship or if he is channeling some sort of energy or spirit, it appears that Blake is acting like a follower or religious figure. The most important and known figure that exists as such in the Batman world is the character Azrael.
To give you a little back story of Azrael may help give my theory a bit more weight. Azrael is the name of a character that is an assassin/enforcer in the Order of St. Dumas. The group, though lethal, serves to enforce God’s will. The character has existed as several characters over the years beginning in medieval times, all of which are decked out with elaborate armor complete with large wrist cuffs that hold retractable flaming daggers. Sometimes the character can be seen wielding a flaming sword but this is all dependent on the current state of the Order of St. Dumas. Azrael has appeared most famously as Jean Paul-Valley, a recently graduated university student coping with his father’s death who was the former Azrael. Late on, he existed as Michael Lane, an ex-cop who ends up doing battle for a short while with Talia al Ghul. At this point it is worth noting that the name John (John Blake) is an English version of Jean and that the profession of a cop exists in the later form of Azrael. One could say that Nolan is combining the two iconic versions of the character in this new updated form. Not to mention the fact that it has long been rumored that Marion Cotillard will be playing a disguised Talia al Ghul through the duration of The Dark Knight Rises. That last part may just be hinted at in the film as an inside nod to fans of the comics. In the history of the character, the most significant event surrounding Azrael is what occurred in Knightfall. This is not only one of the most important storylines in the Batman universe, but it seems to share many similarities with Nolan’s upcoming final chapter in the film series. In the comic series, Bane begins with inciting a major Arkham Asylum breakout by blowing up a part of the building causing all of Batman’s famous villains to break free. The goal of this tactic was to mentally and physically wear out the Bat so that Bane would have the upper hand at just the right moment when he decided to face him. After Bruce Wayne returns home one evening after thwarting the plans of several villains, Bane reveals himself to the exhausted hero in Wayne Manor and proceeds to beat him to a pulp before finally breaking his back over his knee. Part two of the series begins with Bruce recovering and asking Jean Paul-Valley (Azrael) to don the cape and the cowl and look after Gotham while he recovers. Unfortunately for him, Jean goes too far and becomes uncontrollable. At this point, I could go on but I’m going to conclude summarizing this storyline since I feel I’ve reached the major chapters worth explaining.
Comparing this storyline with the trailers that have been released, The Dark Knight Rises could potentially share many similar story arcs. In the trailer we have the obvious inclusion of the villain Bane, the appearance of Batman with a cane, the sight of Bane overlooking and talking to Bruce Wayne not dressed as Batman, several thugs dressed in prison jumpsuits seen walking through a giant hole blown open in the side of a building, and finally the questionable appearance of John Blake immersed in some prayer chant. All of the imagery is fairly straightforward and seems to point at elements from the Knightfall storyline; all except Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character. Once again, it may come as just a fan interpreting what may or may not be, but all signs point to something else afoot. Why would the studio make a special announcement about his casting and description if he were simply playing a third tier character (Rutger Hauer wasn’t even given this welcome with Batman Begins)? Why is their specific action figures and ‘hero-clix’ merchandise created for the character with some interesting words used to describe him on the packaging (which has apparently leaked out to the public)? Most importantly: what is he doing in that iconic scene in the trailer? The scene that has lingered in my mind for almost a month now has led me to believe Joseph Gordon-Levitt will play a “form” of Azrael.
Before everyone bombards me with comments exclaiming, “Nolan would never include any direct supernatural element to the story like a character with crazy armor or flaming swords.” In response . . . “Yes” … you are absolutely right. He would not because he believes in creating a more reality driven Batman world. So my theory or version has the character of John Blake taking on the code name of “Azrael” as a cop; much like how Harvey “Two-face” Dent was a nickname in the police academy for the fallen hero from the previous film. Never do we actually hear Harvey Dent called “Two-face” after the explosion. It’s more implied. This could be the same for John Blake. He could never even really be called Azrael or even take the codename of “Azrael,” more so he could just be loosely based around the characters Jean Paul Valley and Michael Lane who have made the character famous. John Blake could be esteemed in a religious cult called the Order of St. Dumas and still function as a cop who has to step up to the plate more when Batman is kidnapped or hurt. Again, this could all be hinted at within the movie for the casual viewer while the comic geeks will all be snickering in delight at the hidden nods. The other thing worth noting here is how the character takes over for Batman while he recovers. Now, I’m not saying that Joseph Gordon-Levitt will be decked out in his own Batman suit or any other suit for that matter in the film. What I’m implying is the fact that Nolan has already stated that this is the finale in his trilogy but that he may be a part of other Batman films in the future. Having JGL in the film as a potential off-shoot to Christian Bale/Bruce Wayne allows Warner Bros. and DC to possibly set-up future films that didn’t necessarily include Bale; since he has also revealed that he will be leaving after this film. My final clue to lead me to believe this is the case comes in the form of a quote from the film while also thinking about what the writers and cast have stated already about The Dark Knight Rises. In previous interviews, many of the cast and crew have stated that this film ties all the films together and truly acts as a final chapter in the trilogy. The quote from Batman Begins is spoken by Henri Ducard/Ra’s al Ghul in an important sequence that sets Bruce Wayne’s journey to discover his true calling into motion.
“If you make yourself more than just a man, if you devote yourself to an ideal, and if they can’t stop you, then you become something else entirely.”
“A legend, Mr. Wayne.”
If you take this quote literally – which for the sake of my argument, I am – it is implying that Batman can live on past Bruce Wayne. He will live on past the events of The Dark Knight Rises. He will continue to fight for the people of Gotham because the people of Gotham have created Batman. They need him at times to be a hero while other times they need him to be “a silent soldier” hiding amongst the shadows as in the ending of The Dark Knight. If Batman does his job and truly becomes “a legend” as he is advised to do, than the idea of the hero can be manifested by anyone in Gotham. Bruce Wayne may die but Batman will live on. Now, WB and DC can run with this idea and expand on it five years from now when they decide to do another Batman film. Or if the public outcry is too much, they will simply reboot the series with a new Bruce Wayne and start it all over again much like what is currently being done to Spider-Man. It’s a choice that is not only reliant on the studios but on the approval of the idea by us the film-goers. Can we accept a new Batman while Bruce Wayne recovers? Which does also give the studios an option to bring Wayne back at a later date as was done in the comics. The other option would have them completely killing off the character and having someone from Gotham (possibly John Blake) fill the role over the years to come. Where a different citizen can always step up to the hero the city needs. If that is the direction the film ends up going that would truly be something that will live on for years to come in film history.
I don’t know what Christopher Nolan is going to do with The Dark Knight Rises. I don’t know how Joseph Gordon Levitt is going to fit into the anticipated film. All I know is that as we get closer to the July 20th release date, more and more people are going to speculate on what’s going to happen. I’m certainly not the first nor the last to write about their hunches. At any rate, I hope that this article opens a dialogue for fans of the series to decide what they want from the final film in the trilogy and what the future holds for Batman.
I have attached the trailer below so you can see the specific scenes I’m referring too.