A few weeks ago, while perusing my Twitter feed, I happened across this little gem from comedian Patton Oswalt…
Hold on...hold on...I have an eerie feeling the plot of THE DARK KNIGHT RISES is the same as ROCKY III.#noreally
— Patton Oswalt (@pattonoswalt) May 25, 2012
It would be easy to assume, despite his insistent hashtag to the contrary, that Patton was merely jesting. But after revisiting Rocky III on Netflix Watch Instantly, two things became starkly clear: 1.) The movie is far better than it gets credit for 2.) Patton was absolutely right. Granted, we don’t know exactly how the plot will play out in Christopher Nolan’s upcoming third Batman installment, but cobbling together the images from the trailers as well as what we know about the Knightfall storyline from which the film is seemingly drawing inspiration (entire scenes from that comic arc can be seen in the trailers) the prescience of Rocky III in this regard cannot be overlooked.
Warning: Potential, But Unconfirmed The Dark Knight Rises Spoilers Below
For those unfamiliar with the later chapters of the Rocky franchise, part three establishes Rocky as the undisputed world champ; his title secured from former champ, and former bitter rival, Apollo Creed. Rocky is enjoying the perks of fame and fortune and easily besting the less-than-suitable opponents hand-picked to step into the ring with him. Suddenly, onto the scene loudly bursts Clubber Lang, played by the loudly-coiffed Mr. T, who continually challenges Rocky to a one-on-one battle. Once the challenge is eventually met, Rocky is beaten soundly. The rest of the movie involves Rocky picking himself back up from the defeat and getting back into the ring with Lang.
Based on the pieced-together marketing and source materials of The Dark Knight Rises, Batman is challenged by a hulking brute of a opponent with plenty of trash talk to lend. “I am Gotham’s reckoning,” as he brashly boasts. Lang is likewise enormous and continually insinuates that Rocky is not a “real man” and is in fact “a fool.” Bane sees Batman as the only thing standing in the way of his total ownership of Gotham City. Interestingly, the big pre-fight confrontation between Rocky and Clubber takes place as a statue of Rocky is being unveiled in Philadelphia; Clubber resenting Rocky’s implied sovereignty over that city. Both Bane and Clubber are fond of making big public statements in their challenges of the respective heroes. Clubber calls out Rocky on TV, Bane…well, blows up an entire football stadium.
Lang challenges Rocky to a battle and, figuratively, breaks him. In the comics, Bane not only breaks Batman’s spirit, but also literally breaks his spine. In the trailer we see him walking away from the fight with a shattered piece of Batman’s cowl, so it’s logical to assume this story point is being upheld. Though not quite as traumatic, Rocky’s spirit is similarly decimated in his fight with Lang, and he is indeed subjected to a severe beating. This humbling of the hero is the inciting action of Rocky III; an action that evidently be mirrored in The Dark Knight Rises if the trailers are as forthcoming as they appear. From there, both films follow the slow recovery of the hero and their rising, if you will, to the task of the rematch; for the reclamation of their status and their hometown control.
And what of these shots in the trailers of Commissioner Gordon laid up in a hospital bed? He seems to be dying as he chastises Batman for betraying their partnership; urging him to come back and face down the ascending evil. In Rocky III, Rocky’s faithful trainer Mick feels put out by Rocky’s betrayal of the principles and purity of the sport of boxing before dying of a heart attack. Not necessarily a cut-and-dry omen of what’s to come in July, but an interesting parallel nonetheless.
Ultimately, what Nolan appears to be out to achieve with The Dark Knight Rises is the creation of a catalyst for the upheaval of a still fledgling hero; a moment that will forever shape his future and redefine who he is. Rocky III was the film that took the character from a scrawny, scrappy, underdog to a mighty superhero capable of conquering all manner of supervillains. Though he grew complacent in his reign as champion, just as Gotham became complacent in its era of peace, his breaking forged him into something much stronger, much greater than anything he could have hoped. In both third chapters, the legend was truly born.
If Clubber Lang were to make a prediction as to the outcome of Batman’s biggest battle to date, to paraphrase his famous quote, he’d probably assert, “prediction: Bane.”
[Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures/MGM Studios]