Note: While the below is all speculation, keep in mind that there may turn out to be spoilers here, so read at your own risk.
There’ve been a lot of Batman comics with Bane, but only one run that’s considered a classic by most fans. That’s “Knightfall,” a massive storyline that ran through Batman and Detective Comics from 1993 through 1994. In it, Bane lets all of Gotham’s criminals out on the streets at once, in the prison break to end all prison breaks, with the intent of breaking Batman’s will (and eventually his back). It helped establish Bane as a legit addition to Batman’s weird rogue’s gallery, and it’s certainly the storyline that inspired Christopher Nolan to include Bane (played by Tom Hardy) in The Dark Knight Rises.
It’s obvious that The Dark Knight Rises isn’t a direct adaptation of “Knightfall,” but judging from the new trailer, Bane does rain doom on Gotham City, and there’s obviously something that keeps Batman off the streets for a while. This could be due to a broken back, an obvious nod to the comics, or it could be that the moments we see in the trailer come from the beginning of the film, with Batman still on the run, as set up at the end of The Dark Knight. I’ve even heard some fans speculate that Nolan is going to kill off Batman. Taking a second look at the trailer, could any of these be true, and, if so, what’s Joseph Gordon-Levitt doing in the trailer with just about as much screentime as Batman?
(If you’re worried about spoilers, remember, this is all just one guy’s theory. I haven’t read the screenplay, nor have I followed the film much closer than just watching the trailers as they’ve been released. What follows is just one possible, plausible road that the film could travel down, based on the existing trailers and persistent fan rumors. Ready? Read on...)
I think Joseph Gordon-Levitt is Batman. According to IMDb.com, Gordon-Levitt plays a Gotham City cop named John Blake, not a character in the comics or someone who should ring any bells. Now, that’s not much to go off of, but consider these moments from the trailer:
Blake asks Selina Kyle (aka Catwoman, played by Anne Hathaway), “Is he dead?” “He” could be either Bruce Wayne or Batman, granted, but later in the trailer a child asks if “he’s” ever coming back. They’re definitely talking about Batman. No kid’s going to care if a millionaire playboy is missing. So, if Blake knows that Selina Kyle knows Batman, it makes sense that Blake also knows that Wayne and Batman are the same guy.
Personally, I think they’re following through with their own version of Azrael by introducing John Blake. This has been theorized before by others, but seems much more concrete after viewing the third trailer. Post “Knightfall,” Batman needed time to heal. Azrael (aka Jean-Paul Valley) was a highly-skilled but inexperienced Gotham City crimefighter who took up Batman’s mantle during his recuperation. Eventually, Batman was healthy enough to return to the job, and Azrael took his place as one of Batman’s supporting cast members.
Some have speculated that Gordon-Levitt might be playing a variation of Robin or even Nightwing, the identity adopted by an adult Robin when he was ready to start his own adventures. Neither of those scenarios make sense to me in the world Nolan is setting up. What I can see is a situation in which Batman is incapacitated (back broken, perhaps returned to the League of Shadows?), and as Bane continues to terrorize Gotham, Blake steps into the role of Batman (possibly with Selina Kyle or Lucius Fox’s assistance).
Addressing the rumors that Christopher Nolan is going to kill Batman in the third installment, there’s just no way that Warner Brothers will allow Bruce Wayne to die in one of their longest-running, most-popular licenses. But, John Blake, on the other hand? He’s fair game. Blake is a character created for the film, and no matter how well-developed he is, as long as he’s not in the monthly comics or showing up on Batman bed sheets and pajamas, he’s expendable. Here’s what I think will happen -- Blake will become Batman when all hope is lost. Batman will die, stunning the world. Batman (this time Bruce Wayne) will return, seemingly from the dead, to triumph over Bane and save Gotham. It’s a big bad-ass ending to what promises to be a big bad-ass movie.
And I could be totally, 100% wrong. That’s the fun of being a fan, I guess -- throwing these kinds of educated guesses at the wall to see what sticks. Watch that trailer again and tell me it isn’t at least plausible. If you really want to second guess me, pay close attention to the line “Not everything. Not yet.” It’s delivered when it looks like Batman is on his deathbed, and it sounds nothing like Christian Bale’s Batman voice. Is it Joseph Gordon-Levitt in that suit? Hard to say. Guess we’ll all find out on July 18.