What does the future hold for Batman, the 'Dark Knight' saga and the Justice League?

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 1 2012 1:00 p.m. MDT

Tom Hardy as Bane and Christian Bale as Batman in Tom Hardy as Bane and Christian Bale as Batman in "The Dark Knight Rises." (Ron Phillips, Warner Bros.)

For better or worse, Hollywood studios are becoming increasingly adept at stretching out their major franchises, whether it’s endless sequels or prequels or just splitting books into multiple parts — first with “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” then “Breaking Dawn” and “Mockingjay.” Just recently, news surfaced that Peter Jackson’s two-part adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” looks like it’s going to end up being three parts instead.

Every indication, though, is that — in a completely spoiler-free way — this really is the end of Christopher Nolan’s Batman. Both director and star Christian Bale have been vocal about making this the last movie in the "Dark Knight" saga. Nolan even went so far as to bid a very public farewell to the character by way of introduction to the newly released book “The Art and Making of the Dark Knight Trilogy.”

While Nolan’s vision for the "Dark Knight" has come to an end, however, that doesn’t mean audiences shouldn’t expect more Batman films in the not-so-distant future.

Although in a different form, the Caped Crusader’s return to multiplexes is almost inevitable — if for no other reason than because Batman has proven to be one of Warner Bros.’ most lucrative properties. According to Box Office Mojo, the franchise has collectively generated around $3 billion in global box office earnings since Tim Burton’s 1989 iteration of the brooding hero.

As early as March of last year, in fact, studio chief Jeff Robinov revealed in an interview with the Los Angeles Times that a reboot of the character was already in the planning stages, saying, “We have the third Batman (“The Dark Knight Rises”), but then we’ll have to reinvent Batman.” When asked, he confirmed that he was referring specifically to rebooting the character.

At the time, Robinov also mentioned that Christopher Nolan and producing partner/wife Emma Thomas would be overseeing the Caped Crusader’s post-“Dark Knight Rises” direction as producers, shepherding a new generation of Batman films — not unlike what they’ve done with “Man of Steel,” a redo of the Superman mythos coming out next summer.

This, at least, no longer appears to be the case.

In a recent interview with the Associated Press where he was asked if he had plans to remain involved with future Batman movies, Nolan said, “No, none at all. ... (“The Dark Knight Rises”) is the end of our take on the character. ... Batman will outlive us all, and our interpretation was ours. ... Warners will have to decide in the future what they’re going to do with him.”

Unfortunately for fans, Nolan also quashed rumors that he would take over the reins of the DC universe for the Justice League movie, which would see Batman joining forces with Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, the Flash and several lesser-known characters.

Even though Nolan won’t be involved in any capacity, the Justice League movie looks like it’s closer to fruition than ever before thanks to the overwhelming success of Marvel’s “The Avengers” earlier this year. Just recently, Warner Bros. announced that it had hired “Gangster Squad” scribe Will Beall (who also happens to be a former LAPD homicide detective) to pen the script for an unspecified release date.

In many ways, the decision to move forward with a team-up of DC’s heroes will largely determine the future direction of "The Dark Knight."

Taking cues from Marvel, rumors suggest that the upcoming Superman film “Man of Steel” will start the process by including hints of an integrated superhero universe — something that was totally out of the question for Nolan’s grounded, real-world take on Batman. As the English filmmaker said in a 2008 interview with the Los Angeles Times, “I don’t think our Batman, our Gotham, lends itself to that kind of cross-fertilization. ... We took the position that ... superheroes simply don’t exist. ... We wanted nothing that would undermine the idea that Bruce (Wayne) came up with this crazy plan of putting on a mask all by himself.”

Nolan’s emphasis on a superhero-free world included changing at least one detail from many popular versions of Batman’s origin story: Instead of attending a screening of “The Mask of Zorro” with his parents, the young Bruce Wayne in 2005’s “Batman Begins” instead goes to the opera to see “Die Fledermaus” — “The Bat.”

However, in order to pave the way for the Justice League, a new Batman will have to learn to coexist with everything from aliens to amazon warriors.

Recent announcements coming from Warner Bros. about other DC characters are consistent with the idea that the studio will try to follow Marvel’s successful formula of standalone films building towards a superhero free-for-all. Along with “Justice League,” screenwriters have been hired for “The Flash” and “Wonder Woman.”

Although no announcements have yet been made, it’s almost guaranteed that a new standalone Batman film will also factor in to the build-up towards a Justice League movie. Especially for audiences unfamiliar with team members like Martian Manhunter and Hawkgirl, after all, Batman’s popularity will be one of the biggest draws. The success or failure of “The Justice League” could depend on whether or not audiences take to the new interpretations of "The Dark Knight" and fellow DC heavyweight Superman.

As for how necessary a reboot really is, a glance through Batman’s comic history reveals one thing pretty clearly: There is no single correct interpretation of "The Dark Knight."

As Nolan said in an interview with Empire Magazine, “When I first met with Paul Levitz of DC Comics prior to ‘Batman Begins’, he explained to me clearly that Batman, of all superheroes, has thrived on reinterpretation and almost is strengthened by it.”

The same idea was expressed by franchise producer Michael Uslan. Speaking with news site Hollywood.com, the man responsible for bringing the Caped Crusader to the big screen and who has produced every Batman movie since 1989, said, “Over the decades, and we’re getting close to 75 years of Batman, there have been so many radically different interpretations of Batman in the comic books themselves, in the way he looks, in the way he’s drawn, in the tone of the piece, it’s gone from vampiric to high-camp humor and silliness to Batman as ‘the super Batman of planet x’ where he fights aliens and giant robots and genies.

"Whenever there was a new editor or new writers brought in, or new artists, things changed. And somehow, the writers, editors, artists, publishers at DC have brought people back every Wednesday since May 1939 to see what’s going to happen next to this character."

A native of Utah Valley and a devoted cinephile, Jeff is currently studying humanities and history at Brigham Young University.

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