I think it's fair to say there's been a lot of handwringing over the state of DC heroes on the big screen in the past few months. We've certainly waxed grim in the Hero of the Week [Batman, Wonder Woman], staggering gingerly away from the cultural warzone of Zack Snyder's March release: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
The post-game story is one of disappointment, but even as the shine of that initial box office success dims, it's far too soon to write the book on Warners Brothers' cinematic DC Universe. The future is as yet unpublished: Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman, Justice League and Aquaman - all still on the short-term slate.
Four years ago, Christopher Nolan ended his blockbuster directorial tenure with Batman, delivering The Dark Knight Rises. His three picture reign could be considered prestigious, groundbreaking, hugely influential, and financially successful to a point of absurdity. Indeed, few were all together pleased to see the wild ride end ambiguously in 2012. When the messy sequel went out of its way to leave all doors and windows open in the final reel, no options seemed entirely satisfying.
Rumors Christian Bale was courted with offers of innumerable millions for the 2016 Superman fight are plausible, but denied by the actor. He describes a sliver of jealousy for Ben Affleck's new role as a dark, unhinged version of Batman. Who could forget the time he told Brandon Routh he'd kick Superman's arse given the chance while on stage at the MTV Movie Awards? He may not miss the cowl-induced headaches, but he speaks as an artist with unfinished business.
Is a Dark Knight Rises sequel an option?...
The movie business is as franchise fixated as its ever been. Nostalgic remakes and reboots litter the landscape as widely as inter-woven, grandiose movie universes. DC are already juggling disparate versions of their characters on television, and have even started dabbling in the multiverse within the shows themselves. Furthermore; 2017 will see a second theatric version of Batman return in The Lego Batman Movie. Comics readers have rationalized multiple universes and creative directions for decades and moviegoers are fast developing a similar understanding in a pop saturated market.
Is a Dark Knight sequel with Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale possible all these years later?
Assuming the principle players were motivated, I think audiences and Warner Brothers would both welcome Dark Knight 4 with open arms. The bigger question is whether or not it would signal a panic button that deletes grand plans for the Justice League's universe, or if it would adversely affect either property to distribute concurrent parallel superhero universes. One Batman to rule them all is certainly preferable, but it's up for debate.
What happened at the end of The Dark Knight Rises?...
At the time, a Dark Knight continuation seemed difficult and unwieldy. Much of that was owed to the knowledge and/or assumption Nolan and Bale were unlikely to return. Any confusion is quickly lifted as soon as you commit to a sequel with the key players signed on.
In summary: Bruce Wayne repaired The Bat auto-pilot, escaped safely before The Bat exploded in open water, did his best Jason Bourne to swim to safety, and decided to take a vacation in Europe with Selina Kyle to recover from his ordeal. Faithful Alfred Pennyworth, who oversaw the aftermath of Bruce Wayne's apparent death, had arranged to meet Bruce at a particular restaurant. Alfred was genuinely shaken during the events of Rises, did indeed split for a time, and did not cry crocodile tears at the symbolic, empty grave of young Master Bruce. With a nod, he's grateful to be reunited.
Most of this information is ultimately unimportant to a sequel story, but would have some natural relevance to the premise, and be communicated efficiently during the course of the plot. We saw this type of delivery in both Dark Knight sequels, where relevant backstory was usually discussed.
Where is Bruce Wayne at the beginning of Dark Knight 4?...
While the end of Rises offered a nice opportunity to tell a story of Batman abroad, I think the obvious route is to bring him back to Gotham City. If Warner Brothers have managed to put together a Dark Knight 4, they can always shift their franchise priorities over here and tell a Catwoman: When In Rome story in a later spin-off. She's completely optional in Dark Knight 4, maybe better absent.
Donating Wayne Manor to orphans isn't enough. Much as Bale feels he has unfinished business with the character -- the character has a lot of unfinished business with the city. Bruce Wayne has more reason to be compelled by his sense of guilt than ever before:
- Gotham City was nearly destroyed by a fusion reactor he built.
- The entire event was in part motivated by a revenge plot targeting him.
- It was revenge for choosing to allow Ra's al Ghul to (apparently) die in Batman Begins.
- The revenge plot was staged by Talia al Ghul, to whom he handed all necessary power.
Much as Rises wasn't concerned with Bruce Wayne's ailments once he got back in the suit, Dark Knight 4 won't worry about it too much. He's still wearing mechanical enhancements under the suit, the knee brace and such. It doesn't really matter. Time in Tuscany is about recovering and when he returns to Gotham City we assume he's ready to Batman.
What has happened in Gotham City while Bruce was away?...
Bane's takeover of Gotham likely left city infrastructure in physical and philosophical ruin. There are obviously a lot of valid ways to follow through on this, but as we're venturing into what I think might make a good Dark Knight 4, we're heading deeper into ideas I find interesting.
Gotham City is in a state of rebuilding and renewal, with those deposed or deceased leaving a power vacuum for new players to fill. Good men, like Lucius Fox, have found ways to both help the city and profit from renewal. They are the pillars around which a shiny political message is built.
The political message emphasises a Gotham City proud and united in togetherness in the wake of Bane's takeover - akin to New York City after 9/11. Beneath the surface, things are worse than ever, Gotham's corrupt and criminal using the opportunity to establish a new foothold within rebuilt infrastructure.
It was considered a stroke of good fortunate that social activism delivered the "Occupy Wall Street" movement during filming of The Dark Knight Rises. The crest of financial imbalance and social unrest dovetailed perfectly with themes in the film. It's at its peak in Gotham City in DK4, where the middle classes have evaporated, and street crime has grown amid a depression.
Per the end of The Dark Knight Rises; Batman is believed dead, exonerated of the death of Harvey Dent, and celebrated as a hero. Even so, there are persistent rumors that he still stalks the streets of Gotham by night, exacting increasingly brutal punishments on the wicked. An urban legend once again.
What is the theme of Dark Knight 4?...
It was seen as a turn of good fortune that the "Occupy Wall Street" movement began during filming of The Dark Knight Rises. It dove-tailed neatly with some of the films plot, even if it didn't totally represent its central themes. Several years after the collapse of the Occupy phenomenon, the issue of wealth and power has taken on strange new forms. The social and political climate begs a lot of questions about concepts of power, responsibility, corruption, and social equality. I think these could very naturally be explored in a Dark Knight 4 that explores a central theme of power and corruption.
Who are the bad guys in Dark Knight 4?...
When Batman returns to Gotham City he finds the veneer of gentrification hides an infestation of corruption and crime. The power vacuum left by Bane and the League of Shadows has taken Gotham City back to its darkest days, inciting a mob war between the leaders of opposing factions who have bought their way into government. Batman must scramble to combat a new generation of street crime, the warring mobs, corrupt militarized police, a politician trying to turn Gotham into a walled police state, and worst of all - a failed replacement Batman making it all possible.
- Rupert Thorne: Gotham City politician running for Mayor. Rejects hero worship of Batman, who he claims has been conspiring with Commission Gordon for a decade. His platform blames Batman for creating an outlaw climate that encouraged mercenaries like Bane to target Gotham City, and for the "alleged" demise of Harvey Dent. Wants to make Gotham City great again. In favour of permanently militarizing the Gotham City Police Department and building a security wall around the city that monitors the movements of anyone coming or going.
- Hamilton Hill: A vocal politician running for Mayor of Gotham City. His message is heavy on sentimentality and Gotham City pride. Generally panders to the people with hollow assurances that make him a frontrunner in the election. Finds himself blackmailed when Thorne drops out of the race in disgrace.
- Roman Sionis: Wealthy businessman bankrolling Rupert Thorne's campaign, while manouevring to seize control of the Gotham City criminal underworld. Also known as Black Mask.
- Oswald Cobblepot: Old money businessman who enters the spotlight when he launches The Iceberg Lounge - a heavily publicized gambling den intended to rejuvenate the entertainment district. Cobblepot is also a notorious gun smuggler vying for a piece of the new criminal order in Gotham.
- Sofia Gigante: Daughter of Carmine Falcone, she is the new face of the Falcone family empire. She publicly vows to atone for her father's black legacy by helping to rebuild Gotham City. Behind the scenes, she is aggressively pursuing control over the criminal underworld.
- Robin Blake: Following the end of Dark Knight Rises, Blake enters the Batcave and becomes the replacement Batman while Bruce Wayne is in Tuscany. He uses the popular belief Batman died to his advantage, prowling the shadows while he tries to stem the crime war. Without the training and personal discipline of Bruce Wayne, his methods become increasingly aggressive and violent until he is merely another side inflaming the crime war. A psychotic, morally bankrupt shadow of his former self. When Batman returns he attempts to reconnect with Robin Blake, but the young vigilante rejects him, eventually repurposing his equipment into a new identity of his own.
- The Jokerz: A gang of clown masked individuals struggling to adjust to the restored Gotham City after running amok during Bane's occupation. Generally anti-social youths with no specific goal who merely complicate the growing issue of street crime.
- Paul Sloan: A small time actor with an uncanny resemblance to deceased distract attorney Harvey Dent. Participates in a Rupert Thorne scheme to impersonate the scarred DA, claiming his death was faked by Batman and Commissioner Gordon while he was swept away in secret to Arkham Asylum. As Harvey Dent, Sloan condemns Batman and Thorne's political opponents. The charlatan is eventually exposed, forcing Thorne to drop out of the race.
- Scarecrow: Still on the loose since working with Bane.
Is a Dark Knight Rises sequel worth it?...
The chance to go back and right the wrongs of a slightly disappointing final Nolan Batman with a sequel that makes its final parts work is tempting. I don't know if it's tempting enough to win the will of the principle players, or the people who make the decisions, but I've certainly talked myself into thinking its a good idea. Then again, that's what staying up all night to watch The Dark Knight Rises will do to you.
Tugging the strands of The Dark Knight Rises's mostly unsatisfying ending actually opens it up to a better end. Instead of the half-in/half-out compromise of "Robin John Blake" - using that character to demonstrate the dangers of a Batman who doesn't stick to rules of heroism is attractive. The chance to lay some meta-textual accusations about the replacement universe of Batman v Superman is a fine idea, too. Particularly given the moral bankruptcy of Ben Affleck's [film] character.
That said, as long as Warner Brothers are committed to creating their own version of a superhero universe on film, I think the best course is to focus wholeheartedly on that.
One of the things that let The Dark Knight Rises down was the sense that there were too many messy loose ends and hard decisions that weren't made. The joy of The Dark Knight was its singular focus, and what ever disappointments Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice may have brought about, it's by no means time to justify the entire concept. There's still a chance to get some good out of the long awaited arrival of other DC superheroes on screen and that needs a chance to exist without the complication of going back to a previous success.
Should things continue on a sour path, though. Should Christopher Nolan or Christian Bale be inspired by the increasingly strange world we live in, with its twisted politics and angry online rabble. Should they ever feel the need to send their vision of Batman back into the stylized urban reality they created... I think that would be something worth exploring. Even if only in a blog article.