Monday, July 30, 2012

"Beyond The Dark Knight" - The Future of The Batman Franchise and DC Superhero Movies In General

Every story has to have an end of some sort. This year has seen the end of many stories, some good, some bad, some simply okay. However, the one that everyone will undoubtedly remember will be the end of Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy which ended with The Dark Knight Rises. Now, we are standing on the edge of one story ending and another beginning. It's only logical  to think about the future after the ending of one of the best comic book movie adaptations ever filmed. Everyone else is talking about it, so I decided to throw my two cents in for good measure.

This is a SPOILER filled entry so if you haven't seen The Dark Knight Rises (shame on you if you haven't) go see it then come back.

So The Dark Knight Rises marks the last Batman film to be directed by Christopher Nolan with Christian Bale as The Caped Crusader. If you've read my review of the movie you know that I loved the heck out of this movie a lot. It's always a special event for me when Christopher Nolan comes out with a new movie, the guy is my kind of director/storyteller. Sure, he may have his flaws, but he can craft one hell of a movie despite that. The Dark Knight Rises is by far his biggest movie to date, and it delivers a satisfying conclusion to the Dark Knight legend. However, that conclusion now leaves us wonder where we go from here.

It's obvious that Warner Bros. has no intention to put away the cowl and cape for any extended period of time. It doesn't make any logical sense why they shouldn't, Batman is really their only successful superhero vehicle, apart from Superman who is getting a reboot with Man of Steel next year. Then there's The Avengers...

With the success of The Avengers it's only logical to think that Warner Bros. is looking to get a slice of the superhero team up pie with their line of DC superheroes in a Justice League film. The only issue with that idea is that Nolan's Batman has just finished and if the studio is looking to do a reboot they'd need at least five years (which is around the same time the first Spider-Man came out before the reboot). However you slice it, though, whatever their plans are for Batman they've got a lot to live up to in order for it to succeed.

First, you have Nolan's Batman movies, which have become the ideal that every filmmaker strives to when filming their own superhero movies. Numerous times, Iron Man 2 was said to be the "Dark Knight" of the Iron Man movies. However, I don't remember Batman getting drunk and eating doughnuts in a giant doughnut... The fact of the matter is that there are few people who can fill Nolan's very talented shoes, but that won't stop people from trying to fill them. With luck, they'll get someone with ambition and a creative flair to make the next Batman movie, someone who is willing to take risks and not just play it safe and make a watered down version of The Dark Knight.

Second, you have The Avengers. It's very obvious that The Avengers have influenced how superhero films are made, it's not just about the one superhero living in his own bubble anymore, it's the entire universe that character inhabits as well, and the other superheroes and villains that live in it as well. It would be too easy for Warner Bros. to just copy what the Marvel movies did, i.e. make entertaining fun "summer" action movies with little substance and character. Now, don't take this the wrong way. I loved The Avengers, and I rather enjoyed the Marvel movies that led up to it. However, if Warner Bros. dares to be smart, they'll steer clear of making "Marvel movies with the DC logo stamped over it" and instead make their own cinematic universe with it's own tone and feel. This is where I take you to how, I think, they could go with Batman and a DC Cinematic Universe.

1. Don't reboot Batman, make it a sequel.
The Dark Knight Rises is the end of Bruce Wayne's journey as Batman. Both Nolan and Christian Bale have expressed this very clearly. Bale won't return as Batman, and Nolan isn't directing another Batman movie. However, The Dark Knight Rises does leave the story open ended with the promise of a future.

That future is John Blake, aka Robin John Blake.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt's character in the film inherits the Batcave at the end of the movie. The last shot is of him discovering the Batcave in a similar manner to how Bruce Wayne discovered it in Batman Begins. Don't believe me? Well check out this video from youtube user mavman1994 who compared the two scenes here.

The film builds up the idea that Blake is Wayne's sort of protege, like all the Robins that have appeared in the comics. The scenes of him and Blake discussing the nature of Batman as a symbol and the fact that literally anyone could be Batman is important because it sets up the potential for Blake to become the next Batman. In the very comic books that inspired the film, when Bruce Wayne is horribly injured by Bane, it's Robin who is then tasked to take on the mantle of the Batman in his stead. So it makes logical sense that this "Robin" will do the same thing here.
But he could just be Robin, or even Nightwing, you ask? Do you really expect Warner Bros. to make a movie for just Robin or Nightwing? If that doesn't convince you then how about another scene from the movie?

Remember how Commissioner Gordon discovers the bat-signal has been repaired at the end of the movie? Well it certainly wasn't a bird signal was it?
With this in mind, and the fact that Joseph Gordon-Levitt is quickly becoming a big star and a go-to guy for action movies these days, it'd be much easier, and better in my opinion, for Warner Bros. to just do a sequel series to The Dark Knight trilogy with Gordon-Levitt as Batman. While we've already seen how Blake inherits the Batcave we have yet to see his transformation into the Dark Knight himself. That would be and interesting origin tale to explore in a potential sequel with Blake struggling to become the next Batman. I'd sure as hell watch that if they made it.

2. Set the other DC characters in Nolan's Dark Knight Universe.
You know what makes Christopher Nolan's Batman movies so distinct from other comic book adaptations? It's dark and gritty. Yes, I used those words, the words every Hollywood executive likes to throw around when they're talking about rebooting Spider-Man or The Fantastic Four. It's just a simple description for a more complex idea: the fact that Nolan made a world that has a guy who dresses up as a bat and beats up criminals in the late hours of the night but still feels like it's no different than our world.

Sure, it is still ridiculous when you look at it, but every Nolan movie still has that level of spectacle that makes it larger than life. However, it is much more serious than any of the Marvel films. Where Nolan's movies feel like they're grounded in real life, the Marvel movies have their heads in the clouds. Bruce Wayne is like Tony Stark, both are billionaire playboys who are heroic underneath, and both are willing to sacrifice themselves for the greater good. However, Bruce Wayne is a serious man who takes his duty as Batman seriously, Tony Stark is Robert Downey Jr. chewing the scenery. Both are good in their own right, but you'll never hear someone say Christian Bale should have acted more like Robert Downey Jr. That's what make both series of films so great and unique.

So let Marvel make the fun, popcorn flicks full of over the top action and Whedonesque dialogue, they've made their claim to that form of storytelling. However, Warner Bros has their own format that can make them stand out against the Marvel movies. It's already evident that they're doing this with Superman, the Man of Steel is being produced by Christopher Nolan, and looks a heck of a lot like a Nolan movie even thought it's being directed by 300 director Zack Snyder. This a good thing, because if they can pull off a Nolanesque Superman movie then you can easily place him in the world of Nolan's Batman.

So what does that mean for the other DC superheroes like Wonder Woman and Green Lantern, who aren't really the most grounded characters in the DC roster of superheroes? Well, for the Green Lantern movies the only ideal plan seems to be a reboot like how the Hulk got a reboot in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. No one liked Green Lantern, and if Warner Bros is able to ground that character in the Nolanesque world of Batman and Superman, which is a tall order indeed but workable considering the fact that if Superman can be grounded in the world why can't the Green Lantern? Wonder Woman presents less of a challenge because it would be very easy to make her an engaging and interesting character. There was already an attempt to make a television show for the character, which was sadly scrapped, but perhaps it was to make way for the silver screen?

In any case, I'm certain that grounding the characters in Nolan's Batman universe is possible, but incredibly difficult.

3. Still be fun.
The Dark Knight Rises proves that Nolan's Batman universe is more than capable of being fun despite being set in a very realistic and gritty world. Every Nolan movie had its share of fun moments, like Gordon's admiration of the tumbler in Batman Begins, The Joker's pencil trick in Dark Knight, and all the hilarious character moments between Selina Kyle and Bruce Wayne in Rises. I never expected a Nolan Batman movie to hang a lampshade over Batman's knack for a dramatic exit by having him turn to talk to Catwoman only to have her disappear on him. And all he says is "So that's what that feels like..." in a slightly amused tone.
It was a little bit of brevity that didn't take you out of the film, and it was very much appreciated.

4. Focus on characters and theme.
Every Nolan movie was full of deep and memorable characters. Batman Begins gave us an interesting look into Bruce Wayne as a horribly damaged person who is angry due to the loss of his parents. He learns to focus that anger, and fear, and turn it against his enemies. The Dark Knight had The Joker, the epitome of chaos and anarchy, who clashed with Batman's ideology of order and logic. The Joker just wants to see Gotham burn, not because he believes it's the right thing to do, but because it's what he just does. Even at the end of The Dark Knight, Batman tries to rationalize The Joker's plot to blow up the ferries as an attempt to "prove everyone is as ugly as (him)." However, we will never know if this was true or not because The Joker is insane, and insanity needs no logic. The Dark Knight Rises brought us back to Bruce Wayne and his dilemma of a life after Batman and his desire to protect his city, while also bringing in Bane who is the exact opposite of Batman in every way.

For any other Batman movie beyond The Dark Knight, if they go with my proposed route, John Blake's transformation into Batman and exploring his drive to fight crime would be great to focus on. For Superman, it looks like Man of Steel is looking to explore Clark Kent's feelings of being an alien from another world with superpowers, and where he belongs in life. This could be a great change of pace for a character who is really boring, in my opinion. When you're bulletproof and can shoot lasers from your eyes it's hard to really get invested emotionally.

For Wonder Woman and Green Lantern, well, until we see what happens we'll just have to wait and see what they do...

It's going to be interesting to see where the future takes us, I'm just hoping that it doesn't suck like Green Lantern did...

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