To celebrate the release of The Dark Knight Rises, July is “Batman month” here at the m0vie blog. Check back daily for comics, movies and television reviews and discussion of the Caped Crusader.
So, what now?
Christopher Nolan has rounded out his Batman trilogy with The Dark Knight Rises, tying up and resolving the arc he set up for Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins almost a decade ago. It has been a long and rewarding journey. I certainly think that Nolan’s accomplishments here deserve to be compared to other truly exceptional pop culture trilogies like The Lord of the Rings or even Star Wars. He told a complete story for the character, from the beginning through to the end. So, a week after he released the final part of his trilogy, people are wondering: what now? How do you follow a series of Batman movies like that? What next for the Dark Knight and Warner Brothers?
Speaking for myself, I can only hope that it’s something completely different.
Personally, I wouldn’t mind getting a little bit of a break from Batman on the big screen. The character has had a near ubiquitous pop culture presence since the sixties, with Adam West’s Batman!, but he’s been especially pronounced since Tim Burton’s Batman in the late eighties. There’s always been several iterations of the character across popular media, and I wouldn’t mind if Warner Brothers were to leave the character fallow for a number of years, waiting for a truly exceptional idea to revive the franchise in the hands of another creator. It was, after all, eight years between Batman & Robin and Batman Begins.
Of course, there are reasons why it’s unlikely to be another eight years before we see the Caped Crusader return to the silver screen. At the risk of being brutally frank, it seems like he’s the only DC character that Warner Brothers understand. There was a rumour that the as-yet-untitled Batman Reboots would appear in cinemas in 2014, two years after The Dark Knight Rises. Thinking about that is actually a little terrifying. After all, it would mean that there would be a longer turnaround between each of Nolan’s three films than between his last film and the reboot. It’s hardly reassuring.
While that date appears to have shifted into at least 2015, there’s still a sense that there’s more big screen Batman just over the horizon. At the very least, it’s hard to imagine the inevitable Justice League movie not heavily featuring the character. So it seems that Batman will be around in perpetuity. The only real question is in what form he might appear. After all, Christopher Nolan has stated in no uncertain terms that he will not – in any way – be involved in the reboot, whether as writer or producer.
It’s understandable that Warners might want to try to continue Nolan’s take. After all, two films in the trilogy earned the third- and fourth-largest openings of all-time (and the first- and second-largest non-3D openings). Nolan’s take on the character has become iconic, and rightly so. I think that Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises form the purest and most distilled version of the Caped Crusader ever seen. Virtually every big idea about the character has somehow been condensed to fit within the trilogy.
So there’s the question of whether the studio might try to continue the films directly. Certainly, some would argue, the ending leaves the possibility open for another actor in the cowl. I’m not convinced that Warners would seriously consider the idea. In purely practical terms, while this move would allow them to do the film without Bale, Nolan or Caine, I can’t see Warners readily convincing Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy and (most importantly) Gary Oldman to sign on to a non-Nolan project. Recasting key roles like that seems like a waste – especially since the actor in the cowl, while fantastic, is hardly a bona fides movie star.
However, more than that, I think that Nolan’s ending isan ending. The last shot suggests that Batman might continue, but that’s the climax of the story – the notion that Batman is truly bigger than one man. That’s not a lead-in to a series of films, it’s the full stop at the end of one. While I’m not convinced that a bad film can retroactively ruin its predecessors, I do think that Warners should make a sincere effort to respect Nolan’s artistic intent. His story has ended.
Even if the studio decides to follow Nolan’s trilogy in terms of theme (rather than continuing his story), I’m still not convinced that this is a smart approach. Nolan redefined comic book movies, and produced the three best examples of the genre. It’s tempting to want to capture that success. However, Nolan didn’t redefine the genre by slavish emulating earlier directors. He crafted these unique films by approaching them with his own creative vision. Trying to discern the exact recipe for a successful Batman movie based of Nolan’s ingredients feels a little shallow and superficial.
Nolan produced the best Batman films not because he rigidly adhered to a set number of character conventions or a particular world view, but because he was allowed to tell the kind of stories that he wanted to tell. To argue that The Dark Knight was only so successful because it was “grounded” or “realistic” misses the point. It worked because Nolan was allowed to tell the best Batmanstory he had in him in a way that played his strengths as both a writer and a director.
Nolan himself, who comes across very polite and considered in interviews, has even made this argument himself, arguing (in a manner that avoids being egocentric) that his successor should not feel confined by his take:
The only advice I would have is… when I first met with Paul Levitz of DC prior to Batman Begins, he explained to me very clearly that Batman, of all superheroes, has thrived on reinterpretation and almost being strengthened by it.
I’m talking obviously about over the years in the comic books but then also through the movies. So when the time is right, when somebody does whatever the next iteration of the character is, they simply need to be true to what they really want to see, do something they believe in, not worry too much about what everyone else is telling them it should be.
That makes Nolan sound like a bit of a class act. I’d also argue that the fact a “clean slate” plays such a crucial part within The Dark Knight Risesillustrates that the director believes that his take on Batman should not become something that burdens later iterations of the character.
“I’m whatever Gotham needs me to be,” Batman boasts to Gordon at the climax of The Dark Knight, and you could make the case that Batman is also whatever popular culture needs him to be. I’ve dedicated the last month to exploring the character and there are countless takes on him. Some work better than others, but Batman’s strength is his ability to adapt to the world around him. Christopher Nolan turned him into a mirror reflecting the modern world. Tim Burton portrayed a character as emotionally alien as Superman is literally alien. Adam West portrayed a law-and-order rock-and-roll superstar.
That’s before we dive into the comics where Batman has been gritty pulp hero, camp crusader, noir protagonist, time traveller, grumpy old man, vampire, heart-broken socially-isolated manchild, paranoid loner, action adventurer and many things at the same time. Personally, I’d adore a radically different take on Batman in the next few years, something a bit more out there. Although it would never happen, I would adore a version of Grant Morrison’s The Return of Bruce Wayne, where the character travels through time, reincarnated repeatedly in Gotham, literally constructing his own legend as he goes. (Think of it as Cloud Atlas… but with Batman.) Such a film would never be made, but it would certainly make for a massive pallet cleanser.
Batman is a survivor. He’s a pop culture icon who has thrived on his ability to be whatever pop culture needs him to be. I think that any solid adaptation of Batman needs to respect that. And I think that any fitting successor to Nolan’s trilogy needs to respect the director and the character enough to go their own direction with the material.
Filed under: Movies Tagged: | adam west, batman, batman begins, Christopher Nolan, dark knight, Dark Knight Rise, Dark Knight Rises, DarkKnight Rises, gary oldman, justice league, lord of the rings, nolan, star wars, tim burton, Warner Bros