The Dark Knight Rises viral campaign begins

Yesterday, Empire and were each sent one page of a mysterious document purporting to be leaked from the CIA. Today, the Net is absolutely alive with speculation about what is popularly supposed to be the next stage of the inevitable viral advertising campaign for Batman threequel The Dark Knight Rises.

After the huge success of the ‘Why So Serious?’ campaign preceding the release of The Dark Knight, Warner Bros were always going to pull a similar stunt this time round – something they demonstrated admirably with May’s #thefirerises stunt, during which the Twitter avatars of everyone using that hashtag were gradually amalgamated into the first official image of Tom Hardy as villain Bane. More than six months later, and it looks like we’ve been drip-fed another teasing hint about what Christopher Nolan has in store for us.

Or have we? It’s important to remember that there’s nothing officially tying this release to The Dark Knight Rises – the bulk of the argument rests on the fact that the mysterious Dr Leonid Pavel (whose CIA profile and mugshot appear on one of the documents) bears a very strong resemblance to Israeli actor Alon Aboutboul, who has been cast in an unnamed role in The Dark Knight Rises. That’s not much to go on, but we’re willing to nail our colours to the mast here. Consider the alternatives: Skyfall has barely begun shooting, and (the Russian connection aside) it’s far too late in the day for this to be connected to Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. Unless the leak is a spectacularly clever stunt by Sacha Baron Cohen in the build-up to the release of his new film The Dictator (or, as someone suggested on Empire, a teaser for an as-yet unannounced 24 film) we’re happy to assume that Batman’s behind all this. It might also be worth noting that, when posting their image, Wired sneakily described themselves as “a superstitious, cowardly lot” – as diehard fans will know, this is a rewording of part of a statement Batman makes in Grant Morrison’s groundbreaking graphic novel Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth, which goes as follows:

“Criminals are a terror. Hearts of the night. I must disguise my terror. Criminals are cowardly. A superstitious terrible omen. A cowardly lot. My disguise must strike terror. I must be black. Terrible. Criminals are a superstitious cowardly lot. I must be a creature. I must be a creature of the night. Mommy’s dead. Daddy’s dead. Brucie’s dead. I shall become a bat.”

Anyway, that’s enough talk for now. Have a look at the images (click to expand them, obviously) and see what you can spot:

Okay. As Marcus Aurelius (and, latterly, Hannibal Lector) instruct, let us proceed from first principles. This is what we know so far:

1) Dr Leonid Pavel is not an existing character in the DC universe. This wouldn’t be the first time Christopher Nolan has conjured up a completely new character, but he doesn’t make a habit of it. A point against The Dark Knight Rises?
2) Dr Pavel is, at the time of writing, 63 years old. He has been based in the Chelyabinsk region of Russia, home to several closed towns because of its extensive involvement with the Russian nuclear programme. It was also the site of the ruthlessly disguised Kyshtym radioactive contamination incident of 1957.
3) Dr Pavel is:
i) a nuclear physicist
ii) “an expert on nuclear fuel cycle technology and reactor designs”
iii) An experienced and possibly radical electrical engineer
This last conclusion is based on the partially redacted statement that “Dr Pavel came to our attention three years ago after his presentation at an IEEE [Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers] Symposium on [redacted]”

Crucially, nothing in the document suggests that Dr Pavel has any involvement with organic chemistry – the sort of work, in short, which would be necessary for him to have any involvement with the Venom programme which gives Bane his strength. However, a cursory search for Pavel’s CIA file number leads to an impenetrable web page about this chemical compound:

…which appears to be some sort of enzyme. This could be a complete red herring, of course, but at this stage we’re willing to consider any option. We also know that Bane’s back story has been rewritten for The Dark Knight Rises, so the new reason he’s reliant on Venom (in the comics he grew up in prison and was used as a guinea pig) could be something to do with the radiation disaster in Chelyabinsk. Could this explain what some people interpreted as a faint Russian accent in that trailer? And could Dr Pavel’s specialist knowledge of reactor designs reveal a peculiarity of the Chelyabinsk facility which relates to Bane’s condition?

Alternatively, let’s go down the IEEE route. Could Dr Pavel’s engineering expertise connect him to the menacing device which passers-by photographed when The Dark Knight Rises was shooting in NYC? In case you’ve forgotten, it looks like this:

Earthquake machine? Another bloody microwave emitter? A good old-fashioned bomb? We’ve got no idea, but Pavel might well be involved. A couple of people on the (heaving) message boards dedicated to this sort of thing also mentioned that the set directions for that scene shot in a Pittsburgh sports stadium included several lines which Bane was apparently delivering “to a scientist”. This could be utter hogwash, but perhaps it’s worth hanging on to?

Okay, enough speculation. We’re sure that if enough people carry on fiddling with combinations of codes and suggestive words from the documents (incidentally, chaps, combining the numbers at the bottom of page one and the top of page two don’t make a viable IP address – we checked), someone will stumble across a new website or similar. Or failing that, the very specific date on the second document (14:38 on December 7th, with a suggestion that something might happen within twenty-four hours) suggests there’ll be another leak very soon.

Still, we might as well throw our hat into the ring. Based on the recent leak that the six minute prequel due to be shown before IMAX screenings of Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol will involve Bane hijacking a plane and killing some sort of Middle Eastern dictator, we’re quietly wondering if the plane will actually be transporting Pavel himself. If Bane wants to get hold of Pavel before the CIA gets him back on US soil, attacking the Georgian militia leader – possibly the source of the ‘Middle Eastern dictator’ thing – and co. makes sense. It’s only a guess, but so was ‘maybe all the criminals in Gotham City will be really scared of a man dressed as a bat’, and that went down well.

Still not satisfied? Alright, here’s one more (even more tenuous) lead. This link [now, alas, dead] leads to a screenplay called Class Dismissed, which seems to be about a cloud of space dust that almost annihilates the Earth. Guess what the accented scientist character who’s involved in building (of all things) a Skynet-style missile defence system is called? That’s right…

What’s your most outlandish Leonid Pavel theory? Let us know below!

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