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The ‘Dark Knight’ Returns? How Warner Bros. Will Reboot the Batman Franchise

The Dark Knight Rises
Warner Bros.

A ‘Dark Knight’ reboot? A ‘Dark Knight’ sequel? ‘Dark Knight’ spinoffs or prequels? Though Christopher Nolan has said he’s done with the ‘Dark Knight’ franchise, Warner Bros. has expressed a strong interest in keeping the character going. We take a look at how Warner Bros. will take Batman beyond ‘The Dark Knight Rises.’

(Major spoilers for ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ ahead.)

We received a bit of a contradiction from Christopher Nolan last week when he was quoted saying that Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman deserves a spin-off from his new film, ‘The Dark Knight Rises.’ Coming days ahead of the sequel’s release, it was a frustrating blurb, not just because it spoiled the fact that the anti-heroine survives in the end, but also because Nolan has otherwise consistently expressed that his three Batman films are a very contained entity.

Indeed, now that we have seen the conclusion to the trilogy, it appears Nolan has gone so far as to ensure that Warner Bros. can’t continue the Batman franchise from where he leaves off. While there is some discussion as to Bruce Wayne’s actual fate at the climax of ‘Rises,’ whether he sacrificed himself or faked his death to once again retire, there is nevertheless the reminder that this version of Gotham’s wealthy playboy has very little interest in being the Caped Crusader.

So, how about John Blake? I mean Robin John Blake? At the end of ‘Rises’ this courageous cop inherits the keys to the Batcave and all its wonderful toys. Hasn’t Nolan therefore set up the possibility to move forward with a new man behind the mask? As if the studio would bother with a ‘Batman’ movie in which the superhero’s alter ego isn’t Wayne. We might as well have a Robin who isn’t Dick Grayson, or at least one of the other many comic characters who’ve gone by the name.

In creating the new character, Nolan’s point was to keep his promise of not incorporating Robin while also finding a fresh way of including some of the sidekick’s original appeal: audience identification. Blake is the everyman who helps to show that anyone could be Batman, or at least a hero. He is also likely a new invention so that Nolan could insist ‘Rises’ is the end of this continuity, possibly even stipulating that the character can’t be used without some sort of permission or heavy price tag. It’s like he’s sold us a car that not only has no engine but is damaged to a point where it can’t be driven anyway. He’s earned that sort of control, right?

Let’s say that Blake could be employed in a follow up film, and that Joseph Gordon-Levitt was interested, and that audiences would go for it. The best solution would be to adapt Grayson’s Nightwing incarnation to the Blake character, and vice versa — but not to deal with Grayson’s stint in the Batman costume as he did in the comics following ‘Infinite Crisis.’ If Batman is believed to be dead and has been honored for his final act, why would anyone want to try and resurrect the role? It would be like Andrew Johnson not only taking over as President but also dressing up as Abraham Lincoln.

Still, anything directly continued from ‘Rises’ and set in Gotham would have to reference Wayne and the plot of this installment. And that would certainly diminish the enclosed nature of Nolan’s trilogy, which currently has a satisfying narrative arc.

Would something that is more of a spin-off be less damaging? Honestly, if we were to get a side story starring the Blake character, I would prefer he remain a cop. It’s strange that after spending the movie doing so much good in uniform and then as a plain-clothes detective, he ends up leaving the force to presumably become a rogue vigilante in a costume. I think he’s proved that he doesn’t need the mask and also that the mask isn’t even that effective. Maybe I just want to see Gordon-Levitt head up a straight, superhero-free cop movie or mystery.

As for that Catwoman idea, we can’t deny we wanted more of Hathaway’s Selina Kyle, as Nolan figured we all would. The actress, in seemingly channeling a mix of Judy Greer and Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow, a kind of awkward and confused yet sexy and skilled femme fatale, has delivered my favorite portrayal of the character yet, and she really could have been in the movie more, especially given the romantic happy ending (‘Rises’ does not do well in developing either of its love interest storylines).

If Warner Bros. wishes to do a solo Catwoman movie with Hathaway, the studio would accomplish what it couldn’t back when it was hoped Michelle Pfeiffer would reprise her ‘Batman Returns’ role for ‘Catwoman.’ And it would let us further forget that terrible one-off starring Halle Berry that resulted. But they can’t rightly do a continuation of the character, partly for the same reasons that a Blake-led sequel wouldn’t be a good idea. ‘Rises’ is a kind of dead end.

A new ‘Catwoman’ movie, maybe even a series, would have to be a prequel. We see Kyle’s cat burglar career, a history she’s aimed at wiping away in ‘Rises,’ or at least one big heist plot she’s pulled off in the past — though obviously one that didn’t make her rich in the end. It would have to be produced soon, of course, because Hathaway isn’t getting any younger, and recasting a younger version of the role would defeat the point since it’s this actress who is so radiant and complex in the part.

One thing is certain: Nolan’s incarnation of Bruce Wayne and Batman, whether filled by Christian Bale or anyone else, is not coming back for another installment. And yet whatever direction Warner Bros. goes with the Batman movie franchise next will be done with the context that the ‘Dark Knight’ trilogy will be hard to beat or forget or even put aside. They might as well just call Joel Schumacher back for another movie, since we’ll have trouble taking the next one seriously anyway.

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