The rumors that a major character from THE DARK KNIGHT
will return in the next film have given rise to rumors and debate about who that character will be, and who that character should be. The Joker is the character most often discussed and perhaps most presumed to be the character in question. However, others have argued that it might be Two-Face, and put forth arguments in support of why he can, should, and perhaps will be the character to return.
As for the “can,” we are talking about films and fictional characters. So of course, anything is technically possible. Yet, it is important to remember that the events in THE DARK KNIGHT set up a continuity that, if tampered with, would have to be revisited in a very careful manner. The fact that Dent technically "can" just be brought back to life doesn't mean he "can" come back to life in a plausible, rational way that fits into events we saw in the previous film. Nor does it mean it "can" be done in a way that leaves that film's narrative intact.
I do not agree that Dent should or will return or many reasons. My view stems from two primary lines of thought. First, that Dent obviously died in THE DARK KNIGHT, and secondly (and most importantly) from the fact that Dent's death was a major final element in the most important themes that drove that film's narrative forward.
So I would like to talk about those two primary viewpoints, and how they inform my belief that Dent should not and will not return in a future film. This is of course speaking in reference to a return that brings Dent back alive, as opposed to him returning in flashbacks. I see no need to discuss or debate the flashback scenario, as it obviously could be done in a way that doesn't deflate or contradict the events in THE DARK KNIGHT. I will speak about this only in the context of a return of a living, breathing Dent.
"HE'S DEAD, JIM"
Looking first at Dent's death in THE DARK KNIGHT, we need to come to terms with the fact that regardless of whether anyone thinks Dent can, should, or will return in the next film, his demise was a fact in the film.
I feel it is important to divorce what we "want" to happen or to have happened from claims of what did transpire. It seems that a lot of the strong desire for Dent not to have died is leading to interpretations that rely on what is essentially “fan fiction,” where some people construct elaborate scenarios and events off-screen in order to make their claim of ambiguity. It is enough to say that one wishes Dent had lived, and that here are some theories that could help explain why he could have lived so that he can appear in another film. Taking that and using it as the basis of arguments asserting the "fact" of Dent's survival, however, is a deeply flawed analysis that ignores what we saw on film, what we did not see on film, and how the events we saw play a vital role in the most significant themes and narrative in the story.
Those who insist it is entirely ambiguous are unlikely at this late date to change their opinion after all of the previous debate on the subject. There is no point in rehashing the multitude of points and counter-points and arguments about every single nuance in that film. However, while avoiding an entire point-by-point rehashing, I will state very quickly the key important facts.
We saw Dent fall, we saw Batman and Gordon discussing him in past-tense, we saw Batman reference dying a hero or living to become the villain, we saw a long discussion followed by Gordon having another long discussion with his son, we saw Gordon giving Dent a eulogy and saying Dent "was" the hero Gotham needed. What we didn't see was any attempt to check Dent for vital signs, any attempt to call for medical assistance, any concern about moving his head and neck around despite the fall he took, we didn't see Batman or Gordon take Dent's gun from near his body, and we didn't see any discussion of hiding him or pretending he is dead or trying to remove his body from the scene.
The height, If we watch the film and count the number of levels to the building beneath the point from which Dent fell, is about five stories. The height of each level, judging from the fact that they mostly appear to be symmetrical and the fact of how tall the ceiling is over their heads before the fall, seems to be at least about eight to ten feet. Dent fell backward from a standing position, and landed on his back, from a five-story height of approximately 40 to 50 feet. This is not comparable to Batman and Rachel falling with the use of his glider cape, nor to Maroni falling feet-first about three stories and breaking his leg(s).
To this we can add the fact that Jonathan Nolan acknowledged Dent's death and the important role it played in Batman's own arc, the fact that the final shooting script clearly states Dent is "DEAD" (in all caps, just like that), and the fact that Christopher Nolan himself told Aaron Eckhart that Dent is dead.
However much anyone can make arguments about the clarity of any single one element here or there, the fact of their combined weight should easily dispel any notions that Harvey Dent did not die in THE DARK KNIGHT, regardless of what one thinks about ways to retcon those scenes or fill in the blanks in a future film.
Most importantly, one of the elements listed above in what we see happens to also speak directly to the themes and narrative of the story. It is among the strongest pieces of evidence demonstrating not only the fact of Dent's death in THE DARK KNIGHT, but also why I believe Dent "should not" return alive, as well as why I believe he “will not.”
"YOU EITHER DIE A HERO,
OR LIVE LONG ENOUGH TO SEE YOURSELF BECOME THE VILLAIN"
Dent earlier in the film says "Fine. You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain." Batman repeats this at the end of the film, and it is the moment that the entire film has been leading up to. We see the seeds of this moment not merely in Dent's early quote, but also when Alfred tells Bruce to endure as an outcast because that is the point of being Batman, and when Alfred tells Rachel that Bruce is being something more than a hero. We also see it in The Joker's warning that Batman will be forced to break the one rule (regardless of whether it is literal or in spirit) that Batman thinks will save him. Less obviously, we see it in the people who are inspired by Batman and dress up like him, and one of whom later is killed by The Joker's hand for following Batman's inspiration.
To fulfill this narrative and theme, it was inevitable that Harvey Dent would fall so far that he lived to see himself become a real villain while Batman was so honorable that he sacrifices himself for what Gotham needs and becomes truly the city's greatest hero. But fulfilling the prophecy in a more literal way, Dent ends up dying as (in the eyes of the city) a hero, and Batman lives long enough to become the villain (again, in the eyes of the city). It was about choices, and the path each man took in those choices that led them to their roles as a villain who dies a hero and a hero who must become the villain.
This theme about people who step forward ostensibly to "rescue the republic" in times of need, to lead society out of the darkness and into the light, and who inevitably either dying while still hailed as heroes or living to eventually face the backlash of those who initially christened them as saviors, is far too important to alter.
That both men -- Batman and Dent -- embraced their roles as symbols of hope, and then both made choices to take actions that would lead them to become villains (Dent by the actual killings and kidnapping etc, Batman by taking on Dent's sins) for very different reasons, is a thread running through the film that would become tangled and unwoven if Dent were resurrected to appear in a future film.
This is true especially of Dent's arc, because it is precisely due to the need for Dent to die a hero that Batman must sacrifice himself and become the villain. Dent abandoned his belief in the role of savior and the redemption of Gotham, but Batman seems to forgo personal redemption because he is still driven by his duty to redeem Gotham. But this is in fact where his own personal redemption comes, precisely from his willingness to defend what Gotham needs at the seeming expense of his own public redemption.
Story continues after the jump!
In short, Batman decides not to be a hero, to be something more: a willing villain, so that Gotham can have the hero it needs to believe in for now -- a man who died a hero.
Notice, too, that in some way -- going back to what screenwriter Jonathan Nolan talked about in regards to Dent's death as it relates to Batman's one rule -- The Joker's attempt to bring Dent "down to our level" resulted in Dent's loss of heroism and his taking of lives. So, too, did this same action also result in Batman being sort of "brought down" in that his rule may not have been literally broken, but certainly in a figurative way, resulting in Dent's accidental death. There is a lot of focus on literal and figurative falling in this film (it was mentioned a lot in the first film and also occurred in that film in literal ways as well, of course), and it relates to how far these people have all had to fall in the course of events, and the toll it's taken on them all.
Think about how very different all of this will be if Two-Face returns alive, and how very much is lost from such an otherwise beautiful and meaningful narrative.
Dent's death is a huge part of the themes of the film. Those themes don't remain intact if Dent lived and it was all just a metaphorical death. His arc was fulfilled in the film, and served the greater purpose of fulfilling Bruce/Batman's arc in the film. I've seen plenty of attempts to construct a version of events in which Dent's survival allows some lesser version of these themes and arcs to be claimed, but I simply don't agree that those theories at all fulfill the same role. Only with Dent's death can the narrative be fulfilled.
I do not want to see such a perfect story arc undone by a retcon that erases so much meaning from the story and what the characters endured. And I do not believe Christopher Nolan would do that, because it would require so much implausibility and would do so much damage to the narrative and themes of THE DARK KNIGHT.