Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Has Nolan Killed The Bat-Franchise?

As "The Dark Knight" continues to shatter box office records (13 of them as of today), the title might seem like a strange question to ask.

After all, Christopher Nolan's vision of Batman has revived the character several years after director Joel Schumacher nearly killed it with the crapfests "Batman Forever" and "Batman & Robin."

There's no denying that Nolan has made a masterpiece, one that has both comics fans and mainstream media critics alike buzzing with glee and Oscar speculation. While the movie may not be perfect, it's certainly among the best films of the year and perhaps arguably the past several.

And there-in lies the problem. Nolan did such a great job with "The Dark Knight" and got such memorable perfomances out of his cast that clearing such a high bar with future sequels is virtually impossible.

So, one has to ask oneself, what will the expectations be for the next one? Nolan has yet to sign on for it (don't worry, Bat-fans, Christian Bale already has). Even though Nolan can ask and likely receive the moon from Warner Bros. and do whatever he likes, he faces a daunting task in meeting what will be ridiculously high expectations for the next one.

Often, expectations are so high among the viewing public that even good movies can seem like disappointments. For example, I liked "Indy 4" this summer, and it performed well at the box office. While admittedly it wasn't as good as "Raiders of the Lost Ark" (and how many movies are?) or even "Indy 3," it was a satisfying adventure. Yet a lot of the critics and fans lashed out against it, simply because it didn't meet the expectations of a viewing public that had waited 19 years to see Indiana Jones crack his whip one more time.

While perhaps no one is expecting future Batman installments to shatter so many box office records so quickly, from a creative standpoint, where does Nolan go from here? (And, if for some reason Nolan didn't sign on again, I can't imagine too many directors would want to step in and try to follow his success). He's used up all of the best Batman villains (Joker, Scarecrow, Two-Face, Ra's Al-Ghul) and it would be hard to build the same sort of tension with one of the gimmicky villains, such as the Penguin.

Also, there may not want to be a lot of actors who want to sign up to be a Batman villain and face the inevitable comparisons to Heath Ledger's Joker. (And really, though he hasn't gotten the same buzz for obvious reasons, Aaron Eckhart's Two-Face was just as terrifically portrayed).

Me, I try to judge each movie on its own merits and not compare it to other films, but the general public seems to only want to judge a film with comparisons to others.

That makes future installments of Batman a very tricky proposition, and I'm curious to see how Nolan (or whomever) handles it.

TUESDAY'S BEST BETS: The Sci Fi Channel brings back its original series, "Eureka," tonight at 9 p.m. and allows viewers to catch up by running an all-day marathon of the first two seasons. Hopefully, Sci Fi won't give anything away with spoilers in the promos it runs. Ahem.

The History Channel is running a new series called "Jurassic Fight Club" (History, 9 p.m.), about how dinosaurs battled each other for survival back in the day. I'd tell you more about it, but the first rule of Jurassic Fight Club is you do not talk about Jurassic Fight Club!

Randy Pausch, the cancer-stricken professor who inspired many with his final lecture, died a few days ago, and tonight, "Primetime" celebrates his life with an hour-long special (ABC, 10 p.m.)

Finally, I rarely plug reruns, but one of the top episodes of "House" (Fox, 9 p.m.), in which Mira Sorvino guest stars as an ill scientist trapped in the North Pole, airs tonight.


Jonathan said...

I disagree with you on the villains; there are still some other ones that could be used to good effect. The Mad Hatter (Who essentially became a creepy pedophile later on in the comics), Killer Croc, Bane, Poison Ivy, and I think Clayface might be the most underrated villain of any comic's history. Granted, audiences might not know these characters as well, but I don't think Ras'al Ghul was a household name either; at least not like the Joker. I'm also curious to see what Nolan's take would be on someone goofy like The Riddler or the Penguin, because I always found The Scarecrow to be pretty cheesy until Nolan did his take on him.

Still, you raise a good point. What comic book franchise has really been able to pull off a part III that hasn't pissed a lot of people off (Superman III, Spiderman III, X-Men III, etc.)? It will be interesting to see if Nolan can pull it off, or if he will pass on the torch to someone who can.

Phillip Ramati said...

Bane is about the only one who works.

The issue with the other villains is that Nolan created a world where Batman is grounded in a sense of reality. Ra's Al Ghul isn't immortal, for example. Everything that happens in both his Batman movies carry a real-world explanation. Croc, Ivy, Penguin et. al. come off as cartoonish and wouldn't fit into the world Nolan has set up.

BTW, that fact may also kill the Justice League movie. For one thing, Bale doesn't want to play Batman in it, instead focusing on the franchise. That means whomever they get to play the role would have giant shoes to fill. For another, the grounded-in-reality Batman Nolan has created wouldn't fit in well in a world of fantasy with the super-powered likes of Superman and Wonder Woman. It'd seem to incongruous.

I've never bought into the "Rule of 3" that the third parts of a series must inherently be bad (throw Godfather 3 in there); after all, it's hard to complain about Return of the King or Indy 3. So I'm not worried about the next Batman in that respect.

zodin2008 said...

Phillip, we GET it, you loved "The Dark Knight". It was the best movie of the year. I can accept if he makes the 3rd equally as good but most of us aren't going to worry if he's going to top himself.

Jonathan said...

The part III rule was mostly geared towards superhero movies, but while I'll give you Indy 3 to a point; I cannot back-up Godfather. I've always thought "Return of the Jedi" sucked to. However other Part III that have worked: Star Trek III, Lethal Weapon III, Oceans 13, Die Hard III, so outside of comic books they have worked in the past, and I believe Nolan could do the same. I actually didn't hate Spiderman III, but I thought it just had way too much going on; there was like four different films in that one movie.

And I think there is a way he could bring some of these villains into a more realistic setting; they've actually done that in the comics over the years. And I completely forgot about Catwoman in that regard; although Michelle Pfeiffer put such a stamp on that role, it would be hard to compete.

He could also look at the Graphic Novels like "Long Halloween" or "Arkham Asylum" for inspiration. Maybe even "Dark Knight Returs," although that should probably be given its own stand alone film. I am such a dork.

Phillip Ramati said...

Well, Zod, what I'm saying is that people will carry high expectations for the next one, and if it doesn't meet them, people will diss it, even though it may be a very good movie.

Hannah said...

I think there was a nod to Catwoman being a possibility. Check your scene about if the suit will protect against dogs.
Plus she is like Batman in the need to hide behind a mask. Time id perfect for a strange romance interest.
There is rumor of Doctor Who himself David Tennant as the Riddler. Fingers crossed on that one.
But lets not forget Two-face or even Ras'al Ghul( or his daughter as comic book fans won't). Harvey Dent is dead. But Two-face, ah, lets remember it wasn't that far of a fall. He isn't dead, though he is dead to the public. As to Ras, never count him out.

Phillip Ramati said...

David Tennant would be a good Riddler.

Catwoman has been bandied about, and might be an interesting character if she were handled in the Batman: Year One/Long Halloween sense. (Um, definitely not the Halle Berry sense).

Like I said, the less real-life the villain, the less likely he/she will appear in future installments.

Talia could appear and be a good one, and of course, Two-Face could also return. You might even be able to do something with Harley Quinn, if you find the right actress who could infuse the character with the same sense that Ledger did with the Joker.

I'm fairly certain Ra's is dead, though. Bringing him back would cheapen the ending to Batman Begins.

Phillip Ramati said...


I think Nolan does examine some of the better graphic novels for inspiration. There are elements from Batman Year One and Long Halloween in the first two movies (the scene in BB with the bats masking Batman's escape is very reminiscent of a similar scene in Year One).

DK Returns wouldn't work as a film in the current storyline, since the whole point of it is having an aging Batman. But hey, I'm willing to wait for Bale to make it to 50....