Christopher Nolan left Warner Bros. with a bit of a conundrum, didn’t he?
If you’ve seen The Dark Knight Rises you of course know we’re referring to the final sequence/final frame of the film, in which Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character “Robin” John Blake – a sort of amalgam of Dick Grayson, Tim Drake and even Jason Todd – is given the keys to the Batcave and ‘rises’ up to meet his destiny to become Gotham City’s new Batman in the wake of Alfred getting his lifelong wish – Bruce Wayne hanging up the cowl and returning to the world of the living.
The conundrum of course is how to continue the too-profitable-to-warehouse-for-long, billions-dollar franchise. Nolan has left Warners with two options as we see it:
1.) Try to start over – to reboot – with a new Bruce Wayne story and new continuity, set in a new vision of Gotham City with all-new new actors, new production design, etc...
2.) Continue – albeit without Nolan behind the camera – the Batman franchise in his established Gotham City and continuity, and sail the uncharted IP waters of telling a Batman story on the big screen without Bruce Wayne.
In other words, the 'Robin' option.
Here’s a preview of where we’re going with this – we’re strongly advocating the latter.
Let’s start with the problems with rebooting Batman.
Simply put, Nolan’s Batman Trilogy is too damned good.
Now reboots have become something of a trend for comic book films, but in their brief history they’ve also proven to be something of a necessary compromise. Most reboots – like the recent X-Men: First Class and Amazing Spider-Man – almost by rule show box office attrition compared to their franchise predecessors – and the studios hope audiences will regain trust in the franchise over time and via different mediums. This is the formula concocted by Nolan himself with Batman Begins, which was a modest box office success that exploded during its home video life and built the franchise back up leading into the monster hit The Dark Knight.
So could another Bat-director pull off Nolan’s own trick a second time? The challenge with that proposition is two-fold.
For one, a second reboot would be unprecedented. Rebooting a comic book property has some historical framework to try to emulate. Turning the trick twice is more of an unknown.
Secondly, nearly all reboots occur after major franchise missteps. Batman and Robin, X3: Last Stand, and Spider-Man 3 – how do we put this...
...they all sucked.
And while Rises has its share of critics, it isn’t nearly the clunker-to-flat-out-disaster that helped necessitate those previous reboots.
This is not nearly the case with Rises, regarded by most as an imperfect but worthy conclusion to one of film’s greatest trilogies and a modern masterpiece. Woe is the director-writers charged with trying to live up to inevitable comparisons as well as asked to compromise one of the great happy endings of genre film.
As mentioned in our review of Rises, Nolan’s ‘Batrilogy’ has evolved beyond its source material. It is not long a comic book adaptation. It’s more than that. It tells the definitive Bruce Wayne-Batman story, a story no one – not even Frank Miller – has ever really told in comic books.
As comics readers we’re all accustomed to the persistent stasis of our heroes. We accept that Bruce Wayne will always and forever be tormented by the death of his parents, and despite how many decades pass and stories are told, he’ll never really rise out of thatparticular pit.
But to your less comics-indoctrinated moviegoers, an immediate new Batman film series ignoring Nolan’s poignant ending, looping Bruce Wayne back into the endless cycle Nolan spent three definitive films exorcising him out of would run the risk of feeling hollow, tragic, and recycled. Ignoring Alfred and Bruce’s final moment too soon would almost inevitably feel smaller and less relevant in comparison.
Frankly, it would be sad.
The good news for Warner Bros., however, is Nolan left them with another option. One with considerable risk, but vast upside. To trust in audiences to consider a ‘new’ Batman story, rather than assume they’ll be turned off by some dogmatic slavishness to Bruce Wayne as Batman.
Blake learning to become a new, different Batman; we want to see that movie. We want to see him learn to work with Gary Oldman’s Commissioner Gordon (the best Gordon we ever expect to see on film) and Morgan Freeman’s Lucuis Fox. We want to see him inhabit the fully-realized Gotham City Nolan created.
We want to see a Batman that perhaps relies more on his mind and detective skills (already signaled in Rises) than his two-fisted ninja abilities.
And I think Nolan, and perhaps even Warners, themselves, have already signaled that a continuation – rather than reboot – of the franchise with Gordon-Levitt in the suit is in consideration.
Recall the very final frame of the movie is in fact Blake rising in the cave, followed by the credit title “The Dark Knight Rises”. Now one can dismiss this metaphorical finale as simply sending the franchise off on a high note of triumph, but is that even what it really does?
Nolan as a writer/director does not waste a single word or frame. Nothing is throwaway, everything has meaning. To Nolan, becoming Batman is not a triumph; it’s not an endnote. In his Bat-world, Bruce Wayne becoming Batman was tragic – a necessary step that nearly killed him but eventually led him back to the world.
That’s the real ending of The Dark Knight Rises – that Blake’s journey is just beginning, that his story is yet to be told.
So Robin or reboot? Neither is the perfect solution, but its likely Warner Bros. is happy to be faced with the dilemma Nolan created through his remarkable achievement. Perhaps the safe, or maybe easier choice is reboot. To assume moviegoers just want to see a new half-turn on the familiar dynamic. But then they already did something they’ve never done before – they let Bruce Wayne ride happily off into the sunset.
We say, let’s let Bruce enjoy his much-deserved holiday for a few years and lets take a chance on something different.
Rise up. Robin. We, and we suspect millions more, got your back.