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As we've been pointing out for the better part of a month now, there's a lot that's awesome about Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Trilogy. He not only proved that people will pay a ton of money to see summer movies that are more emotionally and intellectually stimulating than $250-million dollar versions of Rock 'em Sock 'em robots, but also showed that a reboot can be a reinvention instead of just a rehash. And perhaps best of all about The Dark Knight Rises is that it brings his Batman trilogy to a definitive end, granting audiences closure as he and Christian Bale ride off into the sunset with no intention of even returning to Gotham.
Which is probably why some Warner Bros. exec is currently pulling his or her hair out trying to decide what to do next, since Nolan has burned down the franchise torch so close to the handle, whoever he passes it on to is going to get burned. Where can Warner possibly go after the unparalleled success of The Dark Knight Trilogy? Is it time to hit the reset button and start from scratch, or pick up the few threads left dangling?
Here are a few different thoughts and angles to consider now that the prospect of making a great new Batman movie seems even more daunting than after the boondoggle that was Batman & Robin. First, we'll explore the many possibilities of rebooting the Caped Crusader, then we'll discuss the options for a slightly more direct sequel to the trilogy. And if you're one of the three people who hasn't seen "Rises" yet, prepare to have it spoiled.
The Reboot Route
Distance it From The Nolan Films As Much As Possible:
One of the biggest problems with Marc Webb's recent superhero reboot, The Amazing Spider-Man, is that it's visually indistinguishable from Sam Raimi's original trilogy, with only a slight change in tone and characters to get you through the same origin story we've already seen. Having to watch two Batman origin movies in the same decade would suck, as would trying to make a reboot in the vein of The Dark Knight Trilogy. Whoever winds up following Nolan will inevitably be ill-equipped to recapture his kinetic but more realistic take on Batman, so no one should even try.
The best course of action will be to either take an approach that's much lighter, or even darker. As for setting up the character, any reboot would be wise to alter the traditional story heavily, or skip over it altogether. Whoever doesn't know that Bruce Wayne's parents got shot when he was young, and that he has a thing for bats, probably doesn't care about Batman in the first place.
Follow Marvel's Lead: Fun First, Brand Building Second
Sure, a lot of The Dark Knight Rises' success at the box office is due to it offering a darker, more mature alternative to Marvel's breezy and more gratifying superhero flicks, but Batman's been goofy a heck of a lot longer than he's been moody and grim. A return to Batman's campier but more accessible roots would help give a new film its own identity, while also giving DC the opportunity to build towards something they've wanted for years: a "Justice League" movie.
Marvel launched the "Avengers" initiative with Iron Man because he's the most relatable and charismatic character in their roster; the same could be said of Batman for The Justice League. While next summer's Man of Steel is rumored to get the team-up ball rolling, early teasers make it appear nearly as grounded and serious as Batman Begins was, and the whole point of crossovers is that they're meant to be fun and exciting, something The Avengers did really well.
To wit, i'm going to say three words no one wants to hear: bring in Robin. It's really easy to hate The Boy Wonder, even Christian Bale said he wouldn't do a Batman movie if Robin was in it, but Batman having a sidekick makes him part of a team, which is what The Justice League is all about. A young companion helps to lighten the tone, and means Bruce Wayne's past doesn't have to be the main story through line.
Make The Darker Knight
It's hard to imagine a PG-13 rated superhero movie that's somehow bleaker than one in which love interests tend to die horribly and the hero's hometown does a six month LARP of Berlin circa 1945, but Batman's source material has some seriously grim alternate versions to draw from.
Take, for instance, Batman: Earth One, the newest comic to modernize Bruce Wayne's origins by reimagining the death of Martha and Thomas Wayne as a political assassination, and Gotham's police force as completely at the mercy of organized crime. Best change: prim and proper butler Alfred gets turned into a gun-toting former S.A.S. badass, who trains Bruce in crime fighting, even though he should probably be the one out on the streets cracking skulls in the first place.
Or Warner could revive their original plans for the post-Schumacher era and use Darren Aronofsky's plan for a "Batman" that's part Se7en, part Dirty Harry. Instead of inheriting the Wayne estate, Bruce becomes a street rat taken under the care of an auto repairman named Big Al. For high-tech weaponry, Bruce has cobbled together junk, including an armoured Lincoln Continental straight out of Mad Max. While he slowly develops a secret identity that includes a hockey mask, Jim Gordon is a suicidal Serpico figure looking to violently end corruption in Gotham, and Selina Kyle is busy running a local cathouse. The latter option in particular would need something stronger than a PG-13, but a bump up in age rating is about the only way you'll out-dour Nolan.
The Sequel Route
By conventional standards, the end of The Dark Knight Rises is about as sequel-ripe as you can get. With some instructions left by the presumed dead Bruce Wayne, hero cop John Blake finds the Batcave, and one can imagine Bruce also left a bunch of details on how to access all the hideout's special toys and what day garbage is. Granted, it's unlikely that Blake is as well versed in martial arts as Bruce, but he's as determined to bring justice to Gotham as the original Batman, laws and civil rights be damned!
This leaves open a few options for Blake as the new protector of Gotham. John Blake does sound suspiciously like Tim Drake, a former Robin who started hanging out with the big boys once he ditched the red and green tights to form his own secret identity, Night Wing. Keeping on the name train, the reveal that Blake's full name includes "Robin" in it could mean that's the new identity in store for young John, although most superheroes will recommend coming up with an alias that doesn't actually contain parts of your real identity.
The obvious direction would be to have Blake go for the brass ring and become the next Batman. It'd be a clever way of acknowledging that the title can pass not just from actors, but from characters too. Plus, they could follow Grant Morrison's recent run of Batman & Robin comics where a (temporarily) dead Bruce Wayne is replaced under the cape and cowl by former Robin Dick Grayson. The Robin shaped hole in the dynamic duo was then filled by Damian Wayne. Who's Damian you ask? Well to answer that, we should consider …
Talia Is Alive and Preggers
Here's what we know about Talia al Ghul: she's got serious ninja skills courtesy her father, Ra's, she and Bruce had an impromptu foyer fling (and considering Bruce's celibate streak, chances are the bat-condoms in his wallet were expired), and her death was about as convincing as Katie Holmes playing a district attorney. Unless we get a funeral, closing your eyes and slumping over doesn't cut it. During the climax of the movie, when everyone was busy watching Bruce re-enact his favorite scene from The Avengers, Talia could have easily slinked away somewhere safe to later discover she's going to have a Bat baby.
In the comics, Damian Wayne was the son Talia and Bruce, raised by the former to be about as nice as anyone could expect from a kid named Damian. But after some fast-tracked daddy issue resolution (i.e. Bruce dying), Damian settled down and became an official part of the Bat family, filling in Dick Grayson's shoes as Robin just as Grayson was filling in Batman's.
Imagine this then: Talia's shame at failing to fulfill Ra's plans for Gotham forces her into hiding, where she raises and trains Damian, instilling in him his legacy as the heir to both the League of Shadows and Wayne Enterprises. With Bruce too busy completing his bucket list of countries to bone Catwoman in, a young Damian comes to Gotham to find the mysterious Batman his mother has told him so much about. When he finds John Blake instead of dear old dad, a more experienced, wiser John Blake takes Damian on as his ward, training a replacement that, like Bruce, has some serious family issues. It not only sets up a fresh story dynamic, but also seeds possibilities for more sequels by having a future Batman waiting in the wings.
Take Batman Global
Speaking of Grant Morrison, before DC comics decided their continuity had become as tangled as Christmas lights caught in an airplane propeller and hit the ol' reset button on everything, Morrison started a "Batman" series that saw Bruce Wayne taking his fight against crime around the world. Batman Inc. had Gotham's guardian branch out across the globe, finding promising crime fighters to enlist as Wayne-funded protectors for their respective regions.
While Gotham has been the most important uncredited character in Nolan's films, it's taken quite a beating over the years, and increasing the scope of the "Batman" universe would help open new story opportunities. The Dark Knight already had Batman kidnapping an oily criminal accountant from China, so there's precedent for a Batman without borders. And last we see Bruce Wayne, he's out and about in the world, so who knows what new and exciting villains beyond the skyscrapers of Gotham need a good thumping from the original masked vigilante.
Which of these seems most likely to you? Or, feel free to spit-ball your own visions of the Bat-future below.