Editorial: Not Including the Dark Knight Trilogy in a DC Universe is a Recipe for Disaster
On the heels of David Goyer's proclamation that the Dark Knight trilogy and the DC Universe as established by the recent Man of Steel film are in a separate universe, Warner Brothers is looking down the barrel of a dubious road to a successful Justice League.
When we see storm clouds gathering we usually know what is coming next. The recent announcement that Christian Bale was not in any talks to return as Batman in a rumored Justice League movie as well as David Goyer’s proclamation that the Dark Knight trilogy exists in a separate universe from the Man of Steel, the perceived corner stone of the DC Universe, were two such indicators that not all is right in the world. What troubles me is the report that Bale has not been contacted about reprising his role. It seems to me that it ought to be a priority for Warner Brothers to try to incorporate the Dark Knight movies into its reportedly planned DC Universe. Here are four reasons why Bale not returning to the role of Batman spells almost certain doom for the presumptive Justice League movie:
1) Rebooting Batman basically amounts to lowering the odds to less than a coin flip as to whether the audience will accept the new Dark Knight. Whoever takes over in the role will have to overcome comparisons to possibly the most popular iteration of Batman ever seen on film and is guaranteed to be criticized because they are “not Bale” or even Michael Keaton. They will also apparently not benefit from any lead in solo movies to acquaint an audience. The odds are very much stacked against the public embracing a new Batman…so why chance it?
2) It would have been a marketing bonanza for Warner Brothers to incorporate their most successful superhero trilogy and boost the odds of success for a Justice League movie. It would also neutralize Marvels boastful claim that its shared universe was the first since the Dark Knight Trilogy predates Marvel's shared universe. The comparable Avengers movie was boosted by 5 films that were successful. Ignoring the already successful Dark Knight movies means that Warner Brothers would then need to produce additional successful solo movies that tie in. Given their recent failure with Green Lantern it may be easier said than done.
3) Despite popular and widespread belief, the end of The Dark Knight Rises seamlessly blends with Man of Steel. Rebooting Batman on the contrary invites the question “Where was Batman during the events of Man of Steel? “ The answer is not an easy one to come up with without inviting even more questions.
4) Incorporating The Dark Knight movies is a winning situation all around. Resuming the role of Batman is probably the largest payday that Christian Bale can get; Christopher Nolan would be on the verge of masterminding one of the most epic superhero series in history perhaps catapulting him to the level of a Steven Spielberg; and Warner Brothers would have already in place a deep track record of popular and epic films leading to the Justice League. It would not require the additional investment in time and money to move forward. This would allow them to more quickly move toward putting the first Justice League movie out.
I am sure many will bring up the following “reasons” why Batman should be rebooted, so let me address them upfront.
CHRISTIAN BALE’S AND CHRISTOPHER NOLAN’S DECISION NOT TO RETURN.
As far as Christian Bale, this is a complete fallacy pushed by people who want Bale to somehow endorse a reboot by positioning what he actually said as an affirmation that he would not continue in the role of Batman. To be clear, the reason that Bale does not anticipate reprising the role points almost exclusively to a studio decision. In fact Bale has stated “My understanding is that this is the last one. I think it’s appropriate, I think it’s going out at the right time. But…if Chris came to me with a script and said, ‘You know what? There is another story’ then I would love the challenge of making a fourth one work." (EMPIRE MAGAZINE – May 29, 2012). Christopher Nolan on the contrary does not want to come back to the Dark Knight story. My response is …so what! Warner Brothers owns the character and while I am sure they may have wanted Nolan to direct the many suggested DC comic book adaptation, there is no real need for him to do so. There are many talented directors that could step into the role of directing the Justice League.
THE STORY IS NOT IN THE SAME UNIVERSE.
Christopher Nolan set out to make Batman series of movies that seemed to be possible in the real world. The resulting movies represented movies about a fantastic set of characters, Batman and the various supporting individuals placed in a realistic setting. Likewise Zack Snyder insisted that he was approaching Superman as if it were “real.” If both have admittedly tried to represent a realistic world…isn’t that the SAME world? The world of Man of Steel prior to the revelation of an alien could certainly be the same world that was inhabited by the Bale version of the Dark Knight. In addition, the Dark Knight movies are themselves filled with fantastic plot points that could only exist in a comic book. It has been claimed that efforts to make the Dark Knight movies as realistic as possible made it conflict with a world of super powered beings. Did it? The fact is that the Dark Knight trilogy was nearly as fantastic as Man of Steel. An annotated list of those fantastic elements include: an airborne hallucinogen that instantly causes someone to experience their greatest fears; a miniature tank (the tumbler/Batmobile) able to jump across rooftops; a microwave emitter that instantly turns water to gas; a device that summons swarms of bats; a device that can reconstruct shattered bullets to the point of being able to extract fingerprints; a cloth that becomes extremely rigid when an electric current runs through it; a sonar device that uses all cell phones to sonically map the environment around them; a propeller aircraft (the Bat) that is able to outrun rockets and nimbly maneuver through a dense urban business district; a device that can disable cameras; Bane being able to punch through concrete pillars; a software program that is connected to every computer and is able to erase all of your specific data from it; and a strap-on leg devise that can increase the strength and use of an injured leg…to name a few! Both films have expertly melded the fantastic with a realistic world and therefore both films are compatible.
THE END OF THE DARK KNIGHT RISES WOULD CREATE STORY CONTINUITY DIFFICULTIES.
Actually the opposite is true! Rebooting The Dark Night is what will create storyline issues. In a strange twist of fate, despite not intending that it do so, The Dark Knight Rises perfectly fits the events of Man of Steel. How?
Many have argued that the Man of Steel’s presence would need to be explained for the events of The Dark Knight Rises. However, the Man of Steel movie perfectly explains it. Clark Kent hid the fact that he was a super powered alien as his earth father instructed. While perhaps tempted to assist, there was no imminent threat to address in Gotham City during Bane’s occupation. Nobody outside of Batman and a few others knew the "bomb" was an imminent threat, Bane had assured the people of Gotham that they would “endure” and that Gotham would “survive “so it would have made little sense for Kent to suddenly reveal himself UNLESS he knew the bomb was going to explode on its own which he could not. He would no more interfere in this event than a terrorist situation half way around the world. It was inferred that Superman helped those who were in an immediate threat as he encountered them.
But, what about the other side of the coin? Consider that if WB wants to reboot the Dark Knight, they then would want to address where Batman was during the events of Man of Steel knowing fans will likely ask that very question. Therein lay a paradox. If it is established that Batman was already fighting crime, “Why then did he not respond to those events” becomes a legitimate question. Zod threatened earth a full 24 hours before the attack on Metropolis. That was plenty of time for Bruce Wayne to respond in some capacity to which Zack Snyder will either ignore the question and draw criticism right off the bat or try to come up with an excuse which may seem pathetically belated. In addition to the difficulty in coming up with an adequate excuse, trying to address the question by injecting an excuse after the fact in another movie will be way too obvious an attempt to shoehorn Batman into the DC universe. It will also mark a dubious introduction to the new Batman. So…perhaps he was not Batman yet which is why he did not respond to the events of Man of Steel. The problem here is that without an origin story no one will understand that he had yet to become Batman unless it is somehow shown on film. But in a Justice League (as opposed to yet another Batman) movie that is invariably going to take away from the introduction of the other Justice League members – focusing too much on Batman especially his origin. Even if they did so in a separate “World’s Finest” movie, the fact that Batman was not active would suggest that Batman became a hero AFTER Superman came onto the scene (the event of Man of Steel). If they do that, it calls into question Batman’s motivations. Why after witnessing a global threat and that amount of destruction can they then reconcile that Batman has been a traditional hero focused mainly on “Gotham City” almost exclusively in his early crime fighting life. Some have suggested that Superman became an inspiration for Batman. But wait… it has long been established that the inspiration for Batman was the death of his parents. Having him appear after Superman could then in part or in whole diminish the traditional story of why Batman adopted his persona. How could he witness the events of Man of Steel then become Batman ONLY because his parents were murdered? The massive loss of life and destruction of Metropolis must have somehow influenced him (in the real world). Again this would be a questionable way to re-introduce the character.
So then how do the events of The Dark Knight Rises answer all of these issues? The movie ends with Bruce Wayne in Europe pretty much without access to his resources as Bruce Wayne or Batman, THUS a logical reason why he did not immediately respond to the Kryptonians attacking. It would also not affect the events of his earlier life as being solely devoted to Gotham City since he would have been the first public “superhero” and therefore only inspired by the death of his parents irrespective of the presence of Superman. In addition, the destruction of Metropolis is a compelling reason for Batman to exit his planned retirement and use his resources to protect Gotham and the world in general from a future attack therefore it is a natural evolution of his superhero career and a logical expansion of his role in the world that would nicely require the assistance of others the other Justice League members. The fact that he was declared deceased at the end of The Dark Knight Rises is not a problem since they likely do not have a physical dead body and he can truthfully state he was being held captive in a pit by Bane. Also the fact that his former home is now an orphanage is easily remedied as Bruce Wayne can simply have another ancestral family home - perhaps the family home of his mother who also came from wealth which could be christened Wayne Mansion. The end of the Dark Knight Rises would also account for the establishment of a new Bat-cave (in a logical way) as Lucius Fox would need to relocate all of the hidden “applied science” weapons, the previous location of which was compromised by Bane. But Bruce Wayne is broke – actually not since: 1) his wealth was taken fraudulently; 2) the last Chairperson of Wayne Enterprises was Talia Al Ghul who is now dead and revealed to be a terrorist; and 3) much if not all of it was given to Alfred who would have no problem giving it back – the very thing he did in the first movie Batman Begins. In fact The Dark Knight Rises ends in almost the exact same way Batman Begins started – Bruce Wayne was declared dead and he was not in control of Wayne Enterprises and had given everything he had to Alfred. If it was not a finality that precluded him from becoming Batman then, there is no reason it is one now.
FANS WANT BATMAN THAT IS A DETECTIVE AND CAN FIGHT SUPER-BEINGS.
The idea that fans are clamoring for a more “comic book” Batman is a verifiable myth. According to Rotten Tomatoes 90% of viewers liked Batman Begins, 96% liked The Dark Knight and 92% liked The Dark Knight Rises. This supposed argument is the one I find most perplexing and is likely coming from a very small minority of vocal purists who want to see comic books literally come to life. It is an argument that is misguided on several levels. On the first level, the fact is that remaining faithful to comics this is one of the least constructive ideas that in other instances have consistently failed miserably. To Warner Brother’s credit, it has in the past attempted to make these types of films. However, purists were unable to save the 2011 Green Lantern movie which tried to be consistent with the key elements of the comic book version of the character. Of course it resulted in absurd plots points and scenes that blatantly violated common sense, the laws of physics and strained if not prevented the audience suspension of disbelief. Sure, certain characters like Superman and Wonder Woman violate physical laws but people are fairly familiar with why they are able to do so. Not everyone would be able to understand if Batman acted in a super human way. What the people who advocate for this kind of change fail to understand is that comics were not written to be consistent with live action events. In comics, the imagination is stretched to a point where physical laws are not as important. But when trying to translate it to film it quite simply looks ridiculous. Watching unabashedly fantastic movies with people violating the laws of physics without adequate explanation is almost always is met with unease, thus the almost consistent box office failure of the most fantastic and or campy superhero movies: Spawn, Ghostrider, Catwoman; and Green Lantern. Yet the more serious fantasy movies set in a realistic world has consistently with few exceptions done well at the box office including The Dark Knight movies, Iron Man, and Man of Steel. For a rebooted Batman to incorporate what this minority of purists are demanding is inconsistent with the direction that the DCCU is apparently taking. If Batman is able to do amazing “ninja flips”, and is able to ‘fight’ with Superman that invariably means he is not being portrayed as human violating the edict that Zack Snyder placed on his universe of treating the world as though it is real. On a second level, these arguments are wrong because they don’t adequately explain why it so important that Batman have greater than human abilities. The characters of Nick Fury, Black Widow, and Hawkeye in the Avengers film have human level abilities and that did not seem to prevent an entertaining and critically acceptable movie. Each contributed to the conflict in the movie in an effective and meaningful way. Finally on a third level of argument, Batman being an entirely HUMAN superhero is one of the defining traits of him. The three Dark Knight movies effectively balance that with what is - in the real world - more-than-human level feats including Batman defeating; a team of Carmine Falcone’s men in a shipping yard; another team of Scarecrows men; four trained members of the League of Shadows; yet another team of henchman protecting a criminal Chinese businessman; two SWAT Teams and the Joker’s henchman; Banes men guarding his subterranean lair; another team of Banes henchman attempting to kill John Blake; and a freakishly strong Bane (a super villain able to punch through concrete pillars)...all by himself! So was the Dark Knight an equally capable detective. During the movie series he: discovered the whereabouts of the Joker’s henchman in their plan to kill the Mayor of Gotham City; determined that a specific police officer would try to assassinate the individual who wanted to out his identity; discovered the real location and identity of cat-woman despite her finger print ruse to fool him; and he pieced together much of the back story for Ras Al Ghul’s relationship to Bane.
THERE IS NO CONNECTION TO THE LARGER DC UNIVERSE IN THE DARK KNIGHT MOVIES.
This is one of the easiest concerns to address. The Dark Knight Trilogy is full of characters and circumstances that could quite easily be attached to a larger DC Universe. For example, Ras Al Ghul in Batman Begins talks about the League of Shadows being active for thousands of years destroying decadent civilizations. That storyline could be made to relate to the history of the Amazons who may have encountered the League of Shadows in various conflicts in history and thus establish a common enemy with Batman and Diana, the Amazon Warrior Princess. In addition, a back story involving nuclear scientist Dr. Pavel who was killed by Bane, could tie into the introduction of S.T.A.R. Labs – Pavel perhaps a scientist for the group. For Warner Brothers, while unplanned, the incorporation of the Dark Knight movies into the larger DCCU would give them a marketing reprieve. Warner Brothers has been on the defensive as Marvel and the media has consistently made the case that Marvel “beat” DC in establishing its shared universe. The Dark Knight movies effectively eliminate that assertion since the movie Batman Begins predates any of Marvel’s shared universe movies. In addition the Dark Knight movies hyper accelerate the establishment of DCCU characters which would add up to four possible super heroes already established (Superman, Batman, Catwoman, and presumably Nightwing) not to mention already established and very popular sub-characters, Lucius Fox, Perry White, Commissioner Gordon and Lois Lane.
I see no reason to not incorporate the Dark Knight movies into a larger DC universe of heroes and every reason to do so. Since DC/Warner Brothers has yet to even announce a Justice League movie. It is my hope that they think long and hard about the pros and cons of not utilizing their most successful Batman franchise. It is hard to see a path to a successful Justice League if they don’t.
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