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The Dark Knight Rises' X-Factor Is Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Perhaps the single most interesting (that's a great "interesting" for those keeping count) casting call for Nolan's last foray into Gotham was the call to include Inception alum, Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Look, we all know JGL, a moniker I will continue to use throughout the remainder of this post because (frankly) his name is too damn long and hyphenated to type more than once...where was I? Oh yeah, we all know JGL is a great actor and one we don't mind at all seeing in the "Batverse", because anything he brings to the table, no matter the role, will be a major plus. I'm going to spend a little time breaking down the basics about Nolan's habits and why this casting decision isn't what he or the studio would like us to think it is.

I love talking about this with my cohorts, friends and other Batman geeks because it bears talking about and the theories conjured up are always of the interesting lot. Though it isn't something I care to drudge up in any shape or form, let's harken back to Heath Ledger's untimely passing (we love and miss you, Heath) in January of 2008, shortly after he completed filming his pieces for The Dark Knight (the second film in Nolan's Bat trilogy, for those keeping count). In our immediate need for instant gratification, and knowing too well that Nolan was not going to kill off Batman's arch nemesis (or any major player for that matter, well...somewhat), we began wondering who had the look and chops to follow in Ledger's footsteps and masterful performance. Everyone pointed to JGL, with his casting in Nolan's Inception (we all know Nolan works in the same circles often), to take up the role of the Clown Prince. Side by side shots of he and Ledger began popping up in search engine image databases online and everyone was sure he'd have the spot in the (then unannounced) third and final installment of the trilogy. Would he be used in limited capacity; in a Hannibal Lecter sort of way? Aiding Bats in his search/answers to another villain's schemes? Would the Arkham scenes from the comics, where the two enemies battle wits, be brought to life? Or would the emphasis be put on family in the third, with the Alberto Falcone coming to avenge his father, Carmine? The casting of Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle/Catwoman certainly seemed that it could, in fact, be the case. The Long Halloween, anyone?

Of course, the latter theory made sense because this third film had to tie up all loose ends, and Team Nolan left many questions that needed answering from the first two films, right? Definitely so. However, just when we think we, as fans/critics, believe we have it all figured out - until Nolan and company do something to go above and beyond what our feeble minds could ever concoct...and they cast Tom Hardy as the monstrous, physically imposing and immediate threat, Bane (for the two people who know nothing about him, read up) and more theories began to fly concerning JGL's role in all of this. Jean Paul Valley, the mysterious, not-so ethically sound, "Batzrael" (Azrael) - Bruce's heir apparent during a period after having his back broken by Bane, leaving him out of commission for some time. The comics' "Knightfall" story line started to seem like it would serve as direct inspiration - as we've come to find out after the fact, it most certainly has inspired the story for TDKR. Alas, JGL was still in limbo publicly, as we knew little to nothing of his character in the film - much to Nolan's joy, I'm sure, as sometimes I believe he's playing with fans/audiences to keep them guessing until the film's release. All we knew was derived from reports that he would be portraying a young GCPD special unit officer, part of Jim Gordon's elite mix thrown into the hunt for the Bat.

Fast forward to Nolan's comments concerning the time detachment of this film from the end of the second...8 years. Then the speculation really began on all fronts. How long has Batman been underground (on the run)? What effect did the events of the second film have on crime in Gotham? Was there ever any resolve? Is Harvey Dent truly dead? When does Bruce get severely injured, if at all, by the visceral Bane? So much can happen in that span of time. Then I began to ponder, "you know what else can happen in that span of time? An average young man with money, a chip on his shoulder and some serious grief-induced anger can become Batman in that span of time. If I can recall (which, I can), Bruce was gone for 7 years and declared dead during his time training with the League of Shadows. With that sort of knowledge and ample field experience to back it, don't you feel Bruce (who is already looking for an out) could train a capable replacement in that amount of time?I'm sure he could. Could someone's family have been killed, by a villain, in the same fashion as Bruce's - leaving that same chip and motivation for vengeance?

Enter the heir apparent, Dick Grayson.

Now, I know we've heard declarations from Nolan about his exclusion of one, Robin, from his trilogy. It's been a widely speculated point of contention, and one of agreement, with fans not so beaten up about the fact that Nolan felt the "Boy Wonder" was a sidebar and would never work in the world he and his team have created. Is that a fact? If you read our post on why TDKR will exceed expectations this summer (and you definitely should), you'll notice that I adhere to the fact that Nolan is an absolute master of misdirection. He wants to throw you off his scent, and he's never going to just hand the story to you. Where is the fun in that, right? Never has he stated (not that I've read) that Dick Grayson will not be a part of this story. Frankly, how COULD Nolan exclude him from his vision of Batman? Could this trilogy truly be considered complete without such an integral piece of the mythos included? Regardless of how he's been portrayed in former films, and in the comics (to some extent), Grayson/Robin is a part of Batman...more so, he's a part of Bruce and his overall redemption as a human being. Bruce has something to live for because of Dick Grayson. He save Bruce. Robin saved Bruce from himself, from the depths of solitude (not to discredit Alfred and his role in Bruce's life), from throwing his life away recklessly with little regard or remorse.

And why wouldn't this be the case? There is no more ideal staging. Bruce faces Bane. Bane breaks Bruce. Bruce is out of

And why wouldn't this be the case? There is no more ideal staging. Bruce faces Bane. Bane breaks Bruce. Bruce is out of commission. Bruce needs a replacement, and someone to help Gordon keep the city clean. Bruce finds Dick. Bruce trains Dick. Bruce inserts Dick (slight snicker at the previous blurbs) into the GCPD special unit in order to aid the commissioner in his efforts, while watching from afar and recovering. Sure, he may not be in green, red and yellow tights (not that he would be in this universe) -- but he's in the fold, just via an alias. For those who don't know, in the pages of Grayson/Robin/Nightwing's history, Dick spends time as a Bl├╝dhaven (Nightwing's home city, a clone of Gotham essentially) police officer in order to diligently work both sides of the law, legally and as a vigilante. A reach by Nolan and company, but definitely within the overall stretch of the Batman legacy. Not to mention, he does take up the mantle of the Bat for a short period of time, after Valley's unstable mental condition (due to The Order's training) leaves him unfit for the job, toward the end of Bruce's recovery and eventual return to action as Batman.

The very thing that I love and appreciate most, perhaps, is the fact that we just don't know and we won't know until July 20th. That's the ridiculous beauty of having a team consistently pulling from (and influenced by) a massive array of source material with endless possibilities. When Batman Begins was announced initially, who would've thought that Nolan/Goyer would look to lesser known rogues (at the time) like Ra's, Falcone and Crane, as opposed to more widely accepted baddies such as the Joker, Penguin, Freeze, Riddler or Catwoman as the go-to opponents for the Bat's genesis? Exactly. NOBODY! Unorthodox, but sensible, choices are what have helped make this lot of films incredible. We should all be so excited that there are virtually infinite possibilities, and that there are intelligent, well-versed people armed with years and years of history overseeing this material. This film is going to bring it all to a head and end this trilogy on a very satisfying note, I assure you - and you can count on Nolan (and his brilliant team) including every single thing that Batfans hold near and dear to their hearts in this final go 'round - those all-too important pieces of the "Batverse". Sidebar, did you notice the "R" insignia (at the beginning of the "Rogues" team sign being held) toward the front of the most recent trailer? How much more can they give?!

Nate "The Great" Smith
Owner/Author, Geeks On Movies
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