Why THE DARK KNIGHT RISES Could Be The Most Important Superhero Movie Ever

THE DARK KNIGHT RISES ends the Batman story. What could that mean for superhero films?

I been scooped! You’ll remember that yesterday I dropped a tidbit saying that some elements in Warner Bros weren’t happy with The Dark Knight Rises. People speculated why that would be, but the answer is simple: It’s the last Batman movie.

Christopher Nolan’s last Batfilm is designed to be the last Batfilm. I guess it would be plausible to do a Batman 4 afterwards, but it would be a big stretch; Nolan is putting a definitive cap on his trilogy. The only way to realistically continue Batman after The Dark Knight Rises is to reboot yet again.

You can imagine how this has freaked out some suits at Warner Bros. They have a cash cow, and Nolan wants to end it. And he wants to end it in grandiose, almost Shakespearian style. That’s not great for toy sales, and it’s not great for planning Batman-related revenue every third year.

WB honcho Jeff Robinov reveals to the Times that Batman 4 will definitely be a reboot, but that some familiar faces will be around. “Chris Nolan and [producing partner and wife] Emma Thomas will be producing it, so it will be a conversation with them about what the next phase is,” he says. I imagine that Nolan sticking around to produce is him throwing a bone to Warner Bros. While I understand that they can’t do anything to stop him from making his own Batman movie as he likes (he apparently has final cut on it), he can soften the blow and keep the lucrative relationship happy by lending his name to Batman Begins Again, which will help the transition in the public eye.

But as to the headline of this article: why is The Dark Knight Rises so important? Simply for one reason, in that it completes a story. Superheroes are like sitcoms - they have no ending. A story isn’t a story without an ending, it’s just a rambling on. Great stories have beginnings, middles and ends, and they don’t just keep on keeping on. Christopher Nolan has decided to break that tradition and give his story an ending, and not just a ‘the end for now’ ending, but a pretty solid ‘The End.’

We live in the age of the reboot already, but what The Dark Knight Rises can prove is that the reboot can serve the vision of the filmmaker, by allowing multiple filmmakers their shot at the mythology. Who is going to complain if an amazing director comes on after Nolan to make a Batman movie or two in his own style, to his own design? All of a sudden the franchise character is no longer calling the shots and it’s possible for the artist to call the shots. Does the public really need continuity between their films? Would anyone truly complain if David Fincher dropped in to do an incredible Joker story that had no ties to The Dark Knight?

Comics already do this to some extent, with one shots, Elseworlds and largely self-contained story arcs. Grant Morrison’s pretty good about finding a way to lend a feeling of closure to his runs on comics, often destroying all the unique elements he set up - look at his time on New X-Men to see that in perfect action. You can buy the trades of that run and feel like you’ve essentially got a complete story, and won’t be worrying what happens after that last page. It’s over… but Marvel was able to continue the series.

I think THAT might be how it goes more in superhero movies, should the Dark Knight Rises to Batman Begins Again transition prove effective. But still, it’s exciting to think that we’ll be hitting a world where endings are even possible, where great storytellers could come in to these franchises and tell great stories, with the executives understanding that the characters are strong enough to withstand multiple versions, some with definitive endings.

In many ways this could also battle franchise fatigue, by allowing lots of freshness into the franchise - but at the same time it could create a situation where Warner Bros has more Batman product. It takes Christopher Nolan a long time to put out a Batman movie, and he wants to make other movies in between them. But if Warner Bros knows that it’s going to do three one-shot Batman movies, free of continuity (and possibly even starring different guys as Batman! I think the audience would accept that), they could have them going in various stages of production at once, and deliver a Batman movie every July for years on end.

Of course I’m being very pollyanna about this. What’s more likely is that the vision of being able to end and reboot franchises at will - to kill characters and bring them back fresh in the next film - will just shift the movie world one step closer to the comic book world, where dramatic events change the status quo for all of a year before things get rebooted and put back to normal. But there is a nerd in me who likes the idea of 2030 bringing Crisis on Infinite Batmen, where Nolan’s Batman must team up with the varied, one shot and short-run franchise Batmen to defeat a dimension hopping Batmite.