Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy has gone down in history not just for breaking box office records (the three films combined have grossed well over $2 billion worldwide) but for changing the way that comic book movies are made and interpreted forever.
With almost every comic book franchise ever created finding its way to the big screen in some incarnation, Nolan’s Batman universe played with conventions and created a fable that was as much about fear, mortality and the duality of man than it was about fighting crime dressed as a bat. And then, in Heath Ledger’s Joker from 2008’s The Dark Knight, you truly had a villain for the ages.
Warner Bros and DC Comics will have an extremely tough time following Nolan’s trilogy, not just in terms of financial success and the critical response to the films, that were almost universally positive, but in finding someone who is not afraid to tackle the franchise now that the bar has been raised so high and the expectations for the franchise are so high.
Christopher Nolan is staying on as a Producer, and that news alone will fill screenwriters and directors in Hollywood with a little bit of hope. In Nolan, they will have a master filmmaker who clearly knows the universe like the back of his hand, and having him on hand to guide them through the process will be seen as a positive by many. But at the same time, the franchise may need fresh blood, somebody who has a new and unique take on the character and who may find Nolan’s presence a hindrance rather than a positive. If you were remaking Citizen Kane, you wouldn’t want Orson Welles standing behind you the whole time, would you?
Of course nobody would remake Citizen Kane, and the new Batman film will be a “reboot” not a remake, so the same rules do not apply, but the sentiment is still the same: Following Nolan’s trilogy is going to take somebody with guts and a bold vision. It’s a risky business though. Just ask Joel Schumacher, who followed Tim Burton into the director’s chair and killed the franchise for 8 years with the awful Batman Forever (1995) and the even worse Batman and Robin (1997). Schumacher’s career suffered as a result, and he soon went back to low-budget dramas and thrillers rather than facing the dragon of the huge budget franchise movie.
There have been directors who have been linked to Batman movies even before Nolan’s trilogy. Darren Aronofsky was asked by Warner Bros to make a darker version of the Dark Knight legend as far back as 2000 – five years before Batman Begins – but it didn’t work out. There was also a Batman vs Superman film being talked about around 2002, which would have the two best-known DC Comic characters battling it out. Movie fans probably dodged a bullet there…
Regardless who takes the reins of the Batman franchise, they can take confidence from the fact that Nolan’s take – regardless of how popular and successful it was – is just one take of a character that has been fascinating us and entertaining us for over 70 years. Heath Ledger’s Joker is an intimidating presence to try and follow, but you could argue that Tom Hardy has already taken some of the heat of that comparison by being the next Batman villain attempted after Ledger’s death.
In an interview with Collider prior to the release of The Dark Knight Rises, Hardy talked about following Ledger’s iconic villain:
Collider: Did you have any apprehension for being the guy that would follow Heath Ledger’s Joker?
Hardy: No, I don’t think absolutely. That would be putting myself in a competition with somebody who’s clearly brilliant. And it’s not a question of whose talent is greater or whose work is greater. It’s just trying to be the best that we can be, rather then trying to be better then somebody else. I’m not trying to be better than somebody else. What he did was amazing. That’s that. I’ve got a part I’ve got to play, and I want to play my part.
It may be different when an actor tries to fill The Joker’s shoes again, but all they can do is put their spin on things and hope that it resonates with audiences. After all, nobody knew that Ledger’s Joker would be a patch on Jack Nicholson’s take on the character, so there’s no reason why somebody else couldn’t do the same, no matter how difficult it appears on the surface.
The new chapter in the Batman franchise is scheduled for a 2015 release, and everybody who loves film will be waiting with baited breath to see if Nolan’s vision can be bettered. Whoever it is that is sitting in the director’s chair when the film gets off the ground is a brave filmmaker, and that has to be applauded. Let’s cross our fingers and hope that when the new Dark Knight rises, we all join together and cheer.