Bear with me, folks, ‘cuz this is gonna be a looonnnnng one. Not this post in and of itself, mind you — in fact I’m going to do my very best to keep things brief in this and subsequent installments (whoops! I just gave away what’s going on here, didn’t I?) and try, perhaps even desperately, to confine all postings in this series (and if I didn’t give it away before I sure did now!) to one particular aspect of what we’ll be discussing here each time so as not to throw too much out there at once before receiving input from you, dear readers, as to your own thoughts on what I’m talking about before plowing ahead to the next part. I know, I know — all bloggers say they genuinely want the input of their readership on what they’re posting, but in this case I really do mean it with all sincerity. I want this to be an interactive discussion about what we, as fans/movie geeks, want to see happen next with one of the most successful properties, arguably perhaps even the most successful property, in cinematic history.
I’m speaking, of course, of the Batman. With Christopher Nolan’s beyond-blockbuster trilogy having just wrapped up, speculation is already rife as to what DC Entertainment and its parent company, Warner Brothers, will do next when it comes to the adventures on the Dark Knight Detective on the silver screen. For an initial hint about were I’d take things, please refer to the famous page above from the Jeph Loeb/Tim Sale comic Batman : The Long Halloween. For reasons that will be made clear over this course of this series of postings, however long it may drag on, that scene — the famous “rooftop meeting” between Batman, Commissioner Gordon, and District Attorney Harvey Dent — is at the very heart of where I think the Bat-franchise would go next.
But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves just yet. First, let’s take stock of where we are now and the three, as I see them anyway, options DC/Warner has going forward. As of this moment, The Dark Knight Rises has taken in just a hair under $420 million dollars at the domestic box office, and just a hair under $1 billion worldwide. It’s a pretty solid bet that it will end up taking in $500 million domestically and will Avatar, Titanic, The Avengers, and The Dark Knight in the over-a-bliion-dollars-in-worldwide-ticket-sales club. That means that of the five highest-grossing films in the world in history, two will be Batman flicks. Clearly, Warner isn’t going to let this property stagnate for too long.
But they need to play their cards exactly right going forward, because this is one golden goose they absolutely need to keep laying eggs. Which brings me back those three options they have going forward, each of which carries some risk, as well as potential rewards. Let’s look at each potential path forward individually, shall we? Glad you agree.
Option #1 — The direct sequel. Nolan certainly left this possibility wide open with Robin/John Blake’s “inheritance” of the Batcave, and in many ways it’s the easiest and most painless way to go. Blake’s the new Batman (or Robin, or Nightwing, or whoever), some ambitious director would be more than willing to take on carrying things forward from where Nolan left them, and audiences are already primed and ready to accept Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the new man beneath the cowl.
But are they really? Let’s face it — Bruce Wayne is central to the Batman myth. You could argue that DC themselves are working on making him less central to it with the publication of such books as Batman, Incorporated and several storylines in recent years that have seen the likes of Dick Grayson, among others, assuming the Batman role for varying periods of time. Maybe they’re trying to test the waters with this whole someone-else-as-Batman idea on the printed page before going for it on the big screen? It’s possible, but sooner or later they always seem to come back to Bruce Wayne, and it’s easy to see why —
Frankly, it just never really works with anyone else as anything other than a temporary gimmick to boost sales for a few months. Sooner or later, the fans always want to see the “real” Batman back in action. A new guy might be interesting for a movie or two, but the speculation as to if and when Bruce Wayne — and, by extension, Christian Bale and maybe even Chris Nolan — would be back would be a Sword of Damocles hanging over the head of any “direct sequel” flick, no matter how good it was. And that just ain’t gonna happen. Bale’s done. Nolan’s done. These guys have made the studio a fortune. Let them get on with their lives in peace.
Option #2 — The “hard reboot.” This has been done, successfully, with the Bat-franchise before, obviously. Batman Begins is as “hard” a reboot of a character and his origins as you’re going to find. We’re used to seeing Batman reinvented every so often, and it’s never been a dealbreaker before. Every generation flat-out deserves its own iconic take on the character, right? Why go in any other way now? It would free up the next director, producers, and cast from having to do things the “Nolan way,” that’s for sure, and sometimes the best way forward is by taking a few steps back.
And yet — that might necessitate Batman sitting on the shelf longer than Warner wants him to be. The Amazing Spider-Man isn’t that bad a superhero movie by any stretch of the imagination, but even its most fervent partisans would, when pressed, admit that two Spidey origins within a decade is a bit much. And besides, it’s not like Batman Begins is going to appear especially dated within the next five or ten years, nor is it likely to be surpassed in terms of quality as a Batman origin story for the silver screen. Any “hard reboot” story is going to inevitably be compared to it, and any other cinematic origin story is going to come up short, more than likely. Unless, of course, it’s a work of such singular awesomeness that it just comes along and completely blind-sides all of us. But ya know what? Even then, I bet it’s still gonna piss plenty of people off. Plus, there’s the open question of just how necessary a “start-from-scratch”-type story even is. More or less everyone knows at least the basic details of the Batman myth — do we need to see them play out before us yet again to understand and appreciate a new cinematic interpretation of the character?
Which brings us, finally, to Option # 3 — the so-called “soft reboot” option. Admittedly, this hasn’t worked out so well for secondary comic-book-related properties like The Punisher and the Hulk, but they were both coming off first installments that were pretty iffy to begin with, to put things kindly. That”s not the case here by any stretch of the imagination. Even if Nolan’s Batman films weren’t your cup of tea, there’s no denying they’ve been tremendously successful at the box office and generally quite well-regarded by hard-core fans, critics, and more casual audiences alike. Maybe there’s no need to reinvent the wheel here, even if we’re going to go back into Batman’s career chronologically, the cast is going to be entirely different, there will be a new director and screeenwriter(s), etc.
Not that this option isn’t without some risk, too. It would essentially assume at least a rudimentary knowledge of the character on the part of the audience (anyone not know anything about the guy? Bueller? Bueller?), and it would subject the new film,series to more direct comparison with the Nolan flicks than, perhaps, option #2 (although that’s debatable, and flat-out inevitable in any case, anyway), and — well, that’s probably about it.
So — from where I’m sitting right now, that looks like the best bet to me. Let’s have a new take on the Batman franchise with new actors, a new director, a new writer or writers, new everything — but let’s not feel compelled to tell his origin over from the start. Let’s concern ourselves with concentrating on the various elements that have made Batman so appealing and enduring as a cultural icon over the years, tell a story that incorporates and elaborates upon all of those, and maybe throws a few new wrinkles of its own into the mix, and not feel like the wheel needs to be reinvented here. The Nolan films are going to be the standard against which all future films are going to be judged, anyway, so rather than run as far away from them as possible, why not keep what worked about them, and maybe present them in a new way?
If all this sounds just a little bit too abstract for you at this point, I wouldn’t blame you, but stick with me here — at least until you get bored. I hope that as things progress, what I have specifically in mind will become more and more clear. And keep that image from The Long Halloween in mind as we go along, because it’s central to where I’m going — even though I don’t think the comic itself was anything other than a somewhat-above-average Batman story (and yes, I’m hoping that sentence will make a bit more sense to you in the coming days/weeks, as well).
So that’s it for part one of this thinking-it-out as-I-go-along project. I hope to pick things up again tomorrow with some some thoughts on Gotham City — how it’s been presented in the past, how and why it’s central to the Batman mythos, particularly in film, and a really weirdly appealing (in my own twisted mind, at any rate) idea I’ve got as to exactly which major American city would make a great movie Gotham for the future. Until then, please — tear my opinion to shreds! Or agree with it! Or somewhere in between! But let’s see where we agree or disagree and find out where you think I’m right and wrong and why!