When you think of Gotham City in Nolan’s gritty imagining you are not exactly picturing the green and red tights of Batman’s trusty sidekick Robin. The classic crime fighting duo has unfortunate connotations with homo-erotic swinger parties, camp 1997 comic book movies and dressing up in costumes with your older brother when you were five and six (yes I was a year younger and always relegated to be Robin). Previous cinematic efforts to tell a Gotham tale with Robin have been dubious. He seems to be a character best suited to cartoons and early comics. There seemed little room in the “real” world for Robin. But in the final chapter where the legend is promised to end we are given an origins story that promises it will live on forever.
One of the reasons Nolan’s adaptation works so well is that whatever changes in tone he always stayed true to the characters’ motivations. Robin is young and naive but ultimately a good person, honest and just. He does not possess the presence or strength of Batman, but he is fit and willing to fight crime all the same. This is the Blake that we meet The Dark Knight Rises, the subplot to the film being Blake’s transformation into Robin, a loyal apprentice who believes the best path to justice is masked vigilantism.
The first time Officer Blake really shows up on our radar is when he approaches Bruce Wayne, in Wayne Manor, and openly states that he knows Bruce is the Batman. It is a bold move and reeks of youthful confidence but he is not there to accuse and interrogate, instead he is asking for help. We learn that Blake grew up an orphan in a boys’ home funded by the Wayne Foundation, his youth mirrored that of Bruce and it drew him closer to the conclusion of Batman’s identity. Blake does not linger in Wayne Manor, he simply lets his point be heard: that there are people who still look for the bat symbol in the sky at night and that Gotham City still needs their hero.
There are three pivotal moments that define Blake’s position on law and order. As a rank and file officer in the police force, Blake is quickly exposed to the restraints of chain of command. When Commissioner Gordon takes a squad into the sewers, shots are heard by the police waiting at the entrance to the manhole. Blake wants to go help but is left frustrated that his commanding officer holds back, rendering Blake helpless.
The second is when Bane exposes the lie behind Harvey Dent, reciting the letter of guilt from Commissioner Gordon. Gordon is ashamed at the truth but Blake is disgusted. He cannot reconcile the motivation to lie about Dent even if it created the loophole in the system to bring down the mob. Blake, though growing weary of the justice system believes that there would be a better way, but Gordon assures him the world is not so simple.
The final stage is the struggle with authority witnessed at the climax of the film. As Blake tries to cross the bridge and take a bus full of kids to safety he is stopped by the army. He cannot reason with the road block and as he challenges authority as just one citizen the bridge is blown up. Blake is not only limited by the rules of a slow evolving, top-down society but also by his own means. He is just one man; helpless to act on what he knows is right.
Blake’s qualities as a protector of the city become apparent when Batman is defeated in the sewers by Bane. The film shifts its focus somewhat to Blake. Commissioner Gordon sees his worth, promoting him to detective to uncover Bane before it’s too late. Batman too sees it, using Blake as an extra hand when he finally returns to the city. The two guardians of Gotham’s peace fight the same war with very different styles – Gordon within the law and Batman without. Both offer a future to Blake but it is inevitable what he will choose. The way of the bat promises effective change outside the bounds of the law. It was the symbol that inspired him as an orphan entering adulthood, and ultimately it allows him access to a multitude of gadgets, some advanced transportation and a rather dubious disguise.
It is fitting that Robin comes along – fitting after Batman’s mentor Ra’s al Ghul of the League of Shadows tries to destroy his city; after all his vigilante work in fighting the crime and challenging the mob only manages to inspire the greatest evil ever seen – The Joker; and after Harvey Dent, a charismatic and just District Attorney promising to fight the mob in the courts, is reduced to a bitter maniac on a string of vengeance kills; and after the Bruce Wayne finds a chance for love with a kind hearted businesswoman she turns out to be the heir to The League of Shadows and master of man mountain Bane – it is fitting that Robin comes along. Batman is given tangible proof that his legend has inspired some good. Robin represents the future of Gotham. Whether he would fight alongside Batman or perhaps assume the role himself can only be speculated, but we know that the city will be safe.
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