3 Things We Have to Accept About Life After Nolan's Batman
Four years ago this week, my brother and I drove 3,000 miles across the country, from Hazlet, New Jersey, to Santa Monica, California, so I could accept a job as a writer for Cracked.com (this website). Four years ago this week, Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight, arguably the best superhero movie of all time, came out. Batman is important in the O'Brien family, so we bought tickets for the midnight showing of The Dark Knight in California before we even left New Jersey. We didn't care about finding an apartment or being on time for my first day of work; we only cared about seeing The Dark Knight as soon as possible. To that end, we made the 3,000-mile cross-country trip in 42 hours. We took in no sights. We engaged with no locals. We made no stops. We had no regrets, either. I hear the Grand Canyon's nice, but I can't imagine it compares to Heath Ledger's Joker.
That's how important this Batman trilogy is to me. It's important enough that I broke speed laws in every single state from Jersey to California to make sure I had a good seat for the midnight showing of The Dark Knight. It's important enough that as soon as the second movie was done, I started speculating as to what the third movie might be. I've read and watched everything about The Dark Knight Rises in anticipation and spent many late nights arguing with my co-workers about how the franchise could end, how it should end, and how it probably would end. In fact, I've talked about very little else for the past four years. I couldn't tell you who the current Secretary of State is, but I could tell you who Gordon's predecessor as commissioner was (and who he was named after!).
I've thought a lot about this trilogy, is my point. So you'll have to trust me when I say that, as much as I've been looking forward to the conclusion of Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, I've also sort of feared it. Amidst all of the speculation and nerdy over-analysis I've dedicated to this franchise, I've also devoted a lot of thought to life after Nolan's Batman. And it isn't pretty.
Say Goodbye to Great Superhero Movies
For a long time, anyway. We'll still have good superhero movies, just not great ones. And I know Goodness versus Greatness is a fairly subjective argument, so I'm sure some people will disagree, but I honestly believe that, even though the quality of superhero films today is higher than I ever dreamed it would be, Nolan is still the only guy making great superhero movies.
Don't get me wrong, we've had some good non-Nolan superhero movies. The Avengers, for its occasional silliness, was loads and loads of fun. It wasn't important in the way that Nolan's films are important, but who gives a shit, it was a buttload-and-a-half of fun, and as a moviegoer, all I really want is something fun. I grew up when superhero movies weren't making a ton of money and when liking comic books still wasn't mainstream yet. I never even dreamed that an Avengers movie, a full-on, balls-out Avengers movie, would ever really happen, so the fact that I got to see the Hulk and Captain America and Thor and the perfect Iron Man fighting a bunch of bad guys together on the big screen is absolutely amazing. I can't overstate how insane it would be to my 12-year-old self if I traveled back in time and said, "Just so you know, in a little over a decade from now, someone's going to make a movie version of The Avengers and they'll mostly get it exactly right."
But, at the end of the day, I left The Avengers saying, "That was fun and worth my money," and I left The Dark Knight saying, "That was perfect and important and makes me excited about filmmaking in ways that few movies do." Nolan's Batman movies are simply in a different class. Thor was fine, The Avengers was fun and The Amazing Spider-Man was [I am far too obsessed with the subject and source material to ever truly be objective when I talk about a Spider-Man flick, so I will be leaving my thoughts out], but the Lizard looked like a piece of shit.
The thing that made every great superhero movie great was Christopher Nolan, and he's not going to be making a superhero movie for a looong time. It'll be neat to watch other great directors try, but the great days are over, for the time being.
Say Hello to a Shitty Batman Reboot
Here are two irrefutable facts:
1): Nolan and Bale will not do another Batman movie together.
2): Batman as a franchise makes so much money that Warner Bros. would be not just crazy but fiscally irresponsible if they didn't make a bunch of additional Batman movies, as soon and as often as they could.
This madness requires brand recognition.
With these two facts in mind, we have to know that a Batman reboot is in our immediate future. But even if we didn't have these facts, we'd still know, because, as we've previously pointed out, the Batman reboot is already underway, and even though they haven't picked a release date, with the amount of money that superhero movies are making, I imagine that release will come sooner rather than later. A new Batman with a new director and a new Batman is coming. Accept it. Deal with it. Haaaaate it.
Don't get me wrong, there's a possibility that the next Batman reboot will be awesome. There's just an even greater possibility that it'll be just super shitty. That's not me being a pessimist, that's me trying to be realistic. Nolan didn't make a good Batman movie; he made amazing, near-perfect movies that happened to be about Batman. Nolan single-handedly popularized the idea of doing a gritty reboot, and he was the first filmmaker to treat superheroes seriously. Those shoes are so insanely huge to fill that I wouldn't, on my best day, want to be the guy who gets put in charge of the first post-Nolan Batman movie, especially knowing that this movie needs to come out within the next few years. Which it will. And, meanwhile, this next Batman movie is supposed to tie into a Justice League movie, because DC is trying to follow in the footsteps of The Avengers and make a bunch of superhero movies that combine to make one giant, epic superhero team-up movie (tentatively scheduled for 2015). So ... this new Batman is supposed to appear in a Justice League movie with Zack Snyder's Superman and Ryan Reynolds' Green Lantern? No way will that be good.
I'm not saying Nolan's Batman is untouchable, I'm just saying whoever comes next is bound to disappoint. Objectively, based on all of the surrounding facts.
But I don't want to be completely negative, because negative is poison, and there's always a silver lining. Even though we're at the end of great superhero movies, and even though we won't have a good Batman movie for a while, all is not lost, because we'll still always have ...
Nolan's Next Movie
According to Fandango, tickets for the The Dark Knight Rises made up over 91 percent of all ticket sales that took place yesterday (7/19/12), and it is already outpacing The Avengers in terms of advanced ticket sales. There's not a doubt in anyone's mind that this movie is going to make a lot of, if not all of, the money. And that's terrific news.
I don't want to sound like too much of a fanboy (but I just wrote 1,200 words about Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, so I'm assuming that ship has sailed at this point), but Christopher Nolan is one of the most exciting and inventive directors working today. He may not be my favorite current director, but he certainly knows how to make huge and impressive blockbusters that are also clever and thought-provoking, like Inception, plus smaller, more intimate films that are equally clever and thought-provoking, like Memento. He's got great sensibilities.
Meanwhile, he's ALSO got lots of freedom, because in Hollywood, money = freedom. Once the Dark Knight trilogy makes more money than any other trilogy in the history of trilogies, Nolan will have all of the freedom in the world. He couldn't have made Inception if the studios didn't completely trust him to deliver, and now he'll have even more trust after The Dark Knight Rises succeeds, which it clearly will. How exciting is that? The guy who will have unlimited budgets and trust to make movies isn't Michael Bay or Roland Emmerich, but Christopher Nolan! The guy who made Memento and Following!
Nolan's next movie isn't even announced yet and I'm already excited about it, because I can look at his IMDb credits and see that he hasn't made a bad film. The last non-Batman film he made was about dreams, and the creative process, and spinning tops, I think, and it was one of the most exciting action movies of the last 20 years. He's in a position where literally every studio will open up their wallets to fund any idea he has, and every single A-list actor will want to work with him.
At this point, Nolan represents the ideal director: someone who can make big-budget, crowd-pleasing action movies for the thinking man. Even though Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy is ending, that doesn't mean that Nolan, as a symbol, is going away. He'll still be out there, making the movies we're too afraid (or dumb!) to make, and fighting the creative fights that need to be fought. He'll make the movies that other directors can't, because they're merely "people," and he is Nolan. He'll be the director we need, not the director we deserve.
And he'll make some really kickass films.
(The Prestige 2? A spinoff sequel starring David Bowie as Tesla and Joseph Gordon Levitt as Edison? I'm just spit-balling here.)
Daniel O'Brien is Cracked.com's senior writer (ladies), and he hasn't washed his underwear since The Dark Knight Rises was announced (people sitting around him in the movie theater). Follow him on Twitter to find out about spontaneous San Diego Cracked meet-ups.
For more from Dan, check out 4 Celebrities Who Just Might be Superhero Alter-Egos and The Christian Bale Flip Out According to the Other Guy.