So where to now? Should Warner Bros leave Nolan's trilogy well alone and leave Batman on the shelf for a few years? Should it dive in and start developing a reboot straight away? Or should it attempt the tricky proposition of a fourth "Nolanverse" movie?
Warning: absolutely do not click through to the rest of this article if you haven't seen The Dark Knight Rises. This article will spoil it for you, and it really is a film you don't want to have spoiled.
Option One: Reboot
The safe option for Warner Bros would be to reboot the franchise and start all over again. It's been done before, and inevitably it will be done again. Sony even demonstrated this year with The Amazing Spider-Man that you can reboot a franchise a lot sooner than conventional wisdom might suggest. Now if they were to take this option I think they'd be best off avoiding another origin story. It wastes time, and audiences worldwide already know how Bruce Wayne came to be the Batman. A strong director, a good lead actor and a fresh villain could easily put together a tight, action-packed summer blockbuster by 2015 - or even 2014 if they get their running shoes on. I've always thought Batman was Hollywood's best-suited character to the James Bond approach: an ongoing franchise, with the studio releasing a new largely self-contained action flick every 2-3 years like clockwork.
The safe option is the boring option, however. I'd argue that Nolan has raised the bar on the Bat so high than any self-contained action flick is going to disappoint. He's demonstrated that you can do so much more with the character, and the fictional universe he inhabits.
Option Two: Wait
There are also a lot of other decent DC characters waiting around for a chance at their own summer blockbuster. Wonder Woman, obviously. The Flash. Aquaman. Okay, maybe not Aquaman, but there's definitely an argument that Wonder Woman deserves one shot at cinema stardom before Batman gets his tenth (not including serials).
The problem for me with option two is that I'm too big a Batman fan. I really hope Warner Bros do eventually get a Wonder Woman movie off the ground, but that doesn't mean I don't want more Batman as soon as I can get it. I like watching Batman on the big screen.
Option Three: Continue
So this is my pick. This is what I'm desperately hoping Warner Bros choose to do. A second trilogy, set immediately after Rises, tracking the development of John Robin Blake as the second Batman. I think if Wanrner Bros are smart they'll follow the Lord of the Rings route: film three movies in one massive film shoot and then release them one a year over a three year period. I think if they're really smart they'd aim to have the first one out for Christmas 2016 - they have a Hobbit film out for Christmas 2012 and 2013, and if Peter Jackson gets his deeply misguided way they'll have a third out for Christmas 2014. Starting a new Batman trilogy from 2016 allows the studio to have the #1 holiday season blockbuster for the next six years.
One of the beautiful things about Batman as a character is that he brings with him so many great supporting characters and villains. Superman has Lex Luthor and General Zod, and if you're a comic book reader you can probably add Brainiac and Mr Myxlptlk. Spider-Man works much better: he has the Green Goblin, Dr Octopus, the Vulture, Venom, Carnage, the Sandman and the Lizard (among others). Batman tops the list, though: he's got the Joker, the Penguin, Catwoman, Poison Ivy, Harley Quinn, Bane, Mr Freeze, Two-Face, the Riddler, R'as al Ghul, the Scarecrow, and many, many more. There are a vast number of characters not yet seen in the Nolan films that could easily be introduced for three more movies.
Some of the characters I'd be looking at for a Nolanverse continuation would be:
- The Penguin: with the Dent Act presumably rescinded after The Dark Knight Rises, Gotham would be wide open to a new crime boss making a move on the city. Cast Philip Seymour Hoffman as Oswald Cobblepot and make him a serious, growing antagonist to Blake's Batman over three films. He could be the true villain behind the scenes while Batman fights off a series of other bad guys.
- Michael Akins: in the comics he replaced James Gordon as police commissioner for several years after the death of Gordon's wife. He doesn't like the Batman, he is against vigilantes and his police force have orders to apprehend the Batman on sight. Let's be honest: after what Bane did to Gotham under Jim Gordon's watch, it seems highly unlikely that Gordon's going to keep his job. Introducing a new antagonistic commissioner for a new Batman gives the franchise fresh material to work with. There's no shortage of strong African-American actors around to play the role: I'd be looking at Ving Rhames, Laurence Fishburne and even some younger actors like Omar Epps and Mekhi Phifer.
- With Batman no longer having the commissioner on side, he'll need some other support from within the police force. It's high time they introduced Renee Montoya, giving the film a strong female supporting character and a popular replacement for Gordon. Catalina Sandino Morena would be my pick: she's talented, Hispanic and an Academy Award nominee.
- Barbara Gordon: she was an unnamed and barely seen child in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. Assuming she was about 10 years old, that would make her 18 by The Dark Knight Rises. That's old enough for her to debut as Batgirl if they want to take that route. Certainly I can see Batgirl working better in the context of Nolan's films that Robin - plus John Blake's kind of stolen that name already. Of course they could skip Batgirl altogether and make Barbara more of an Oracle-style supporting character instead.
- The Joker: that's assuming they could find an actor to match Heath Ledger's performance, and were comfortable revisiting the character. He's been imprisoned in Arkham for eight years, but now he's escaped and is all ready to re-introduce a little anarchy and face off against the Batman. Except it's a different Batman, and this one is more fun (and so on). I'm not 100% on revisiting the character, but I can see many ways in which it could work - particularly if his escape from Arkham is aided by one Harleen Quinzel.
- There are countless options for other villains, using Nolan's more realistic edge than the comic books: Poison Ivy re-imagined as an ecological terrorist, Victor Fries as a sort of mad scientist figure, and so on. One villain I would love to see some film version of Batman attempt is the Ventriloquist, a sort of mild-mannered accountant who's bullied into a life of crime by a deranged gangster ventriloquist's dummy named Scarface. Played deadly serious, it would be easy to create a sort of frightening cross between The Dark Knight and Magic. Imagine Geoffrey Rush in the part, perhaps.
I think that's probably more than enough fantasy filmmaking for now. Continuing Nolan's franchise is a risky manouevre for Warner Bros to take, and I think they'd want to make sure Nolan himself was happy with that before proceeding, but I honestly think it's the option that brings the biggest potential rewards and would result in the best possible Batman films for the future.
What do you think?