WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR ALL THREE BATMAN FILMS
The Dark Knight Rises marks the end of Christopher Nolan’s Batman story, three films which changed the face of blockbuster filmmaking and breathed a whole new life into the superhero genre. In bringing the Dark Knight back to the screen, Nolan crafted something extraordinary: He took the comic book hero out of the comic book and placed a superhero in a recognizable universe.
Nolan embedded Bruce Wayne/Batman in the midst of mob wars, maniacal anarchists, civil unrest and dissenting rioters on the streets of New York, Pittsburgh, Chicago and London, which doubled for the streets of Gotham. With the use of these locations, the city of Gotham embodies contemporary political issues that gives a relevance and another level of political depth that made Nolan’s Batman franchise just that much more game changing.
But this chapter of the Batman character is now over and Warner Bros. has to deal with the fact that Christopher Nolan will not have anything to do with Batman as far as sequels and reboots go. Lightening very rarely strikes twice in Hollywood, so finding a director and screenwriter who can provide a reinterpretation that is a big an artistic and financial success as Nolan’s take on Batman will be no small feat.
The advice to any filmmaker now would be to leave The Dark Knight Rises and Nolan’s whole Batman legacy where it is and let the sleeping dog lie. Of course, the film does conclude with a door left open for further development with Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character effectively inheriting the mantle of Batman, which if anything was a narrative device used to close off the film’s big theme as opposed to a cliffhanger implying that the franchise has further to go. It hasn’t, though, and it should go no further.
The best option, if not necessarily the easiest, would be to start from scratch or go in a whole other direction tonally, thematically and narratively. Nolan’s vision of Batman was extraordinary, both original and refreshing. Never before had we seen a Batman set in a world that so closely resembled ours. Never before had we seen the line between the comic world and our world so clearly blurred, that took a stylistic leave from the comic book world and took its cues from the cinematic world of realism.
While the Batman films of Tim Burton referred to works such as Metropolis and Blade Runner, Nolan mainly found his style from the work of Michael Mann and Sidney Lumet. Placing particular emphasis on films like Prince of the City and Heat, the major inspirations for his Dark Knight Trilogy, Nolan crafted a vision that is wholly unlike anything we’d seen before, and achieved amazing results. For the new director, the impetus would be to move as far away from that as possible. In fact, the best thing to do would be to go back to the comics.
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I’m no comic book expert, nor an avid reader, but were I a smart filmmaker trying to do something radically different, I’d attempt The Dark Knight Returns route. One of the many great attributes of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns is that it starts its story in a very well established universe. There is no back story to Bruce Wayne/Batman and the villains are well and truly set in stone. It was written based on the fact that the readers have an assumed, basic knowledge of the Batman characters and proceeds to tell its story from there out.
It also has a wildly fresh aspect to the character. The story follows a Bruce Wayne who is way past his prime, nearing the twilight years of his life and is much more reactive, violent, disturbed character. He is someone who has years of crime fighting behind him and many tragic losses, outside of the murder of his parents, which have malformed his psyche. When reading the comic it feels as if Miller has based his Batman/Bruce Wayne on a Clint Eastwood archetype: A gruff, morally dubious, crime fighter.
The world it inhabits is in sharp contrast to the world that Nolan created. Miller is very much invested in a highly stylized world, influenced by punk attributes with a side helping of post-Blade Runner grunge. The gang called The Mutants, who run rabid in the back alleys of Gotham, are perverse and profoundly exaggerated characters. Their fascism is shown in their actions as well as the character design, with one member having swastikas tattooed on her breasts.
It would be a violent switch from Nolan’s world, more stylised and much more brutal, fitting in with Miller’s view of the character. The only issue with adapting The Dark Knight Returns is that The Dark Knight Rises borrows the retired Bruce Wayne subplot and lifts a couple of lines of dialogue from the comic, so doing that anytime soon would only cause comparison which a project like that doesn’t need.
It also suffers from an incredibly stupid fourth part where Clark Kent/Superman is introduced to the proceedings in one of those franchise crossover moments that the author thought would be cool but in the end doesn’t quite work or make sense. For me, unless handled very well, that part would have to be completely rewritten and restructured in order to deliver an appropriate, plausible final act. It would take someone with considerable balls who doesn’t mind taking crap from ardent fans in order to take that burden on if that’s the direction they go in.
The Dark Knight Returns may be a possibility but its highly unlikely that Warner Brothers would want to go forward with material that would probably be R-rated, not to mention the fact they would face definite skepticism and a probable mauling from comic book fans if the filmmaker hired to bring it to the screen “got it wrong.”
Another direction they could potentially go in is to make a Batman film which doesn’t feature Bruce Wayne/Batman all that much. Instead, why not focus on the villains of the piece? Place The Joker or Two-Face or Falcone or The Penguin in the lead role and give Batman a supporting one. It would be interesting to see if they could pull that off. Telling an origin story of a villain rather than the obligatory origin story to the hero could be neat.
Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke would be the obvious classic to go for if we’re talking a straight adaptation. After all it is a very highly regarded origin story of one of the most famous pop culture villains ever and (like Moore’s Watchmen) it is a rare case of a comic book being highly regarded in the canon of literature and not just graphic novels.
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Or they could combine the tone of The Killing Joke with Brian Azzarello’s Joker and in turn create an entirely new narrative that still focuses on that character’s origin. It is conceivable to have a film that focuses mainly on The Joker being as successful as one that focuses on Batman if it had the right team and a proper cast behind it, especially considering that The Joker has in recent years become as big an icon as the caped crusader, if not bigger.
It would also be very interesting to see a film that is set entirely in and around Arkham Asylum (perhaps using Grant Morrison’s terrific comic book as a springboard). A gothic horror film set around that location would be entirely appropriate as well as being quite different to what Nolan attempted. Or they could go with something more generic like Assault on Precinct 13 or The Raid, which could focus on an attempted criminal break out or other goings on inside the prison. That would be fairly awesome to watch, especially if a criminal uprising was led by a few of the notable Asylum inmates that haven’t been properly immortalized on the screen yet.
For now though it seems like The Dark Knight Rises and Christopher Nolan have had the last word. It finally feels like there is a complete, coherent mythology of the character on film under the vision of one director. A reboot will come around soon enough but do we really need one so soon? I don’t think we do, at least not as soon as The Amazing Spider-Man, which rebooted the Spider-Man franchise only 5 years after Sam Raimi finished his trilogy.
There were 30 years between the initial 60′s Batman series and Tim Burton’s reinvention of the character and then another 8 years between that franchise and Nolan’s, which may not seem like enough; yet you must admit, the tonal shift between Schumacher’s Batman & Robin and Nolan’s Batman Begins was beyond tectonic.
If Warner Brothers plans on rebooting soon, within the next 10 years, then they better bring in a director who has a vision as solid and confident as Nolan’s but different. I don’t envy the studio’s position at all nor the filmmaker who thinks he can follow up such a fine trilogy.
For now though, all we can do is speculate as to where the studio will take the character. Feel free to drop a comment below and leave your thoughts on the issue.Previous