Holy spoilers, Batman!
Warning: Massive spoilers follow for The Dark Knight Rises.
At last, after building up to a showdown between a battered Batman and the terrifying Bane for more than two hours, The Dark Knight Rises treats us to what ought to be a genuinely startling revelation, in which Miranda Tate, Bruce Wayne’s lover and apparent ally, is revealed to be Talia Al Ghul, the daughter of his nemesis Ra’s Al Ghul, and the true mastermind of the plot against Gotham. This kind of twist is far from original, of course, but it’s expertly handled, and it benefits from the casting of the very appealing Marion Cotillard, of whom one couldn’t possibly think anything bad. (It also involves an elegant piece of misdirection, with a flashback that can be read two ways, as one might expect from the director of Memento and The Prestige.) Unfortunately, as I mentioned on Monday, I can only imagine how the scene must play to someone who didn’t know what was coming—because more than a year earlier, I had been assured by casting reports that Cotillard was playing Talia Al Ghul. And although the full story behind the rumor is somewhat more complicated, it still represents an inexplicable lapse at a time when studios have fiercely guarded the secrets of other movies, often to no real purpose.
Looking back, it’s interesting to see how the Talia Al Ghul rumors began to unfold. As early as January of last year, an article in the Hollywood Reporter noted that actresses ranging from Eva Green to Gemma Atherton (and even a few who weren’t former Bond girls) were being considered for a pair of female roles in the sequel to The Dark Knight, and it explicitly stated: “Sources say one character is Talia, the daughter of villain Ra’s Al Ghul.” The following month, in the same publication, Marion Cotillard’s name was mentioned for the first time, and the article noted that her role “is suspected to be that of Thalia [sic] al Ghul.” When the official casting announcement was released, however, Cotillard’s character was given as Miranda Tate, which didn’t stop rampant speculation that this might be Talia under another name. And in May, Cotillard even gave an interview, which reads very amusingly in retrospect, in which she blatantly lied to the Hollywood Reporter about her character’s true intentions: “She’s a good guy.” But does she stay that way? “Yes,” she insists.
In other words, it looks like Warner Bros. did attempt to walk back the Talia Al Ghul rumors after they became widespread, and for that, I suppose, they deserve some credit. For someone like me, though, it was too little, too late: as far as I was concerned, this character was Talia Al Ghul, and ironically, the studio’s initial secrecy only allowed the rumor to take hold. Reading over the original casting reports, it’s tempting to wonder what happened. Was the Talia Al Ghul story simply a piece of wild fan speculation—similar to the ones that had Philip Seymour Hoffman cast as the Penguin, Naomi Watts as Vicki Vale, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Alberto Falcone—that actually turned out to be true? Or was it a real tip from a studio insider that was subsequently disavowed? The “sources” cited in that first Hollywood Reporter story make me suspect that it was, in fact, the latter, which means that someone at the studio legitimately blew one of the few interesting surprises in any recent Hollywood movie. And I don’t think I would have taken the rumors at face value if they hadn’t been reported with such apparent authority.
So what’s a movie lover to do? Clearly, this was an exceptional case, in which just knowing the name of an existing character conveyed enough information to significantly undermine the experience of watching the film itself. And the studio did a commendable job of concealing a similar revelation about the character played by Gordon-Levitt—although this particular spoiler is now cheerfully offered by Google Autocomplete. But if you spend any time online, it’s impossible to avoid these sorts of casting rumors entirely. I don’t often visit movie rumor sites, and get most of my news from the A.V. Club, but in this case, I still ended up knowing more than I wanted to know. The bottom line, I guess, is that we should be skeptical of a studio’s motives for concealing or leaking information: secrecy, or the lack thereof, is just a marketing tool, which means that crucial plot points can be revealed without consideration for the audience, while other movies are cloaked in an atmosphere of great intrigue for no reason whatsoever. In short, we shouldn’t trust anyone. Bruce Wayne probably wishes he’d done the same.