Sunday, July 29, 2012

Where Does the Batman Movie Franchise Go from Here?

Now that the third and final film in Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises, has arrived in theaters, it's only natural for Batman fans to start wondering when they're going to see another movie starring their favorite DC Comics character.  I mean, another film is going to happen eventually, right?

Of course it is.  Nolan's three films have pulled in a combined total of over $1.9 billion in worldwide box office, not including home video, so don't think for a second that studio Warner Bros. is going to just put Batman back on the shelf for another twenty years or more. Sure, they're trying focusing attention on reviving Superman as a replacement franchise with the Nolan-produced Man of Steel, and supposedly The Flash is still in development, but it shouldn't be too long before we see Batman back on the big screen...in some form.

So after three films with Christian Bale growling his voice to shreds, where does the franchise -- and yes, it is a franchise now, make no mistake -- go from here?

The initial thought is to continue right where The Dark Knight Rises ends, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt's character Robin John Blake inheriting the Batcave and, presumably, the role of Batman's successor.  Maybe he would become Batman II, maybe he'd be Robin, maybe Nightwing, or maybe something else entirely.  The idea of continuing on with Blake has merit, especially since we could watch Gotham City rise from the devastation caused by Bane and essentially find out What Happens Next.  However, when you think of seeing a Batman movie, most people probably go in expecting to see Bruce Wayne, and only Bruce Wayne, wearing the Batsuit.

Well, that probably means another reboot.  It's worked before, obviously, after Joel Schumacher's 1997 trainwreck Batman & Robin starring George Clooney put the franchise in intensive care on life support.  Yeah, it took eight long years before Warner Brothers came back strong with Batman Begins, but the important thing was that it worked and worked well.  Campy rubber Batsuits with nipples were replaced with tactical armor and cowls that actually allowed Batman to turn his head.  Camera shots of crotches and posteriors with scene angles right out the '60s Adam West TV series were dumped in favor of stylish cinematography and dark urban atmosphere.  In short, a complete 180 in terms of execution, with Batman movies becoming Batman films.

It would be nice if the next director carries on Nolan's level of filmmaking while bringing his or her own style to keep things fresh.  However, the list of contenders seems pretty short -- Guillermo del Toro, Neill Blomkamp, Darren Aronofsky, Ben Affleck, Guy Ritchie, or Peter Jackson perhaps -- unless Warner Bros. decides for go for a relative unknown with hopefully a talented vision of the character.

Personally, I wouldn't make the next Batman film an origin story.  After Tim Burton's Batman (1989) and Batman Begins, not to mention decades of Batman comic books and cartoons, I think it's a safe bet that most of us understand by now that Bruce Wayne became Batman after a criminal murdered his parents.  No, I think it's better to just dive right in as Burton did and briefly recap the origin in an early scene or a flashback sequence.  And if there is a considerable hiatus between films, fans will want to see Batman being Batman from the start without slogging through a mopey origin yet again.

Oh, and there's this tiny notion of a possible Justice League movie to consider.  Marvel Studios has had considerable success with separate character films building up to a big Avengers event, so it's not hard to imagine that Warner Bros. would love their own version of that.  If Man of Steel succeeds at the box office, and The Flash movie gets officially greenlit, it makes sense to reboot Batman in one film and then bring them all together with Wonder Woman, Aquaman and possibly Cyborg and/or The Martian Manhunter.  This would mean hiring a director that's not a protective artiste like Nolan, but one willing to play along with other directors and share his Batman for a Justice League movie.

Whatever ends up happening, I'm guessing we won't see the next Batman film until 2017 at the very earliest.  Let's just hope, for all our sakes, that it's a good one.

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