In the recent weeks passed, there has been a lot of talk (coming from this Batman-on-Film.com article or this MTV piece from Christian Bale) about what I'll refer to as Batman 3, or to put this prospective film in context, the third film of what I always hoped (expected) would be Christopher Nolan's Batman Trilogy (essentially, what is the sequel to The Dark Knight). That talk has all been negative, unfortunately. Film journalists, bloggers, and fans alike (as seen here) have been waxing pessimistic about the rumors that Nolan may not return to what is, ostensibly, both his largest and, in my opinion, very best work to date.
It's common knowledge that The Dark Knight took a lot out of Nolan. The production was long, shooting entire scenes with the monstrosities that are the IMAX cameras was arduous, and, of course, Batman's cowl was not the only dark hood to hang over the film. Heath Ledger, whose Oscar winning performance as The Joker will be forever remembered and celebrated, died while the film was in post-production. While all of Ledger's scenes had been shot, his death cast a dark, deep shadow over the film. And an especially dark shadow over Chris Nolan. To everyone who's seen The Dark Knight, it's also quite clear that The Joker's role was never meant to end. "We are destined to do this forever," The Joker postulates, hanging upside down, caught but not subdued — merely another layer of his chaos. But, with Heath Ledger's death (and with him, The Joker's), that anticipated third film seems all but dead, too. The Joker was meant to continue as Batman's foil into the follow up to The Dark Knight. And therein lies the problem.
Where can Christopher Nolan and the Batman franchise go from here?
Batman Begins is Batman's birth. The Dark Knight is both his rise and fall to a place even darker than he thought possible. Should, as I expect, Batman 3 continue to follow this classic biblical structure, it would be Batman's resurrection, his transcendence. The bread crumbs are there, resting atop Gotham's pavement.
But it is there where my thoughts, my ideas, my suggestions branch away.
It starts and ends with time. Time, rather a time jump, is a two-fold solution when applied to Batman 3. Batman Begins and The Dark Knight are not separated by much of it at all. Bruce Wayne returns to Gotham and brings Batman with him in Batman Begins. We see the first effects of Batman on his city. We're hopeful. We're excited. Crime recoils, unsure and afraid. But, like Bruce Wayne, we are naive. Batman's very presence causes Gotham to descend even further into madness. When The Dark Knight begins, we're left to fill in the blanks: Batman has garnered a dedicated following. He's the very symbol he set out to be. He's more of a welcomed celebrity than the caped and cowled, distrusted vigilante. And then we see him fall, with Gotham close behind and the people of Gotham being pulled in tow. The small amount of time between the first two films is of necessity. They are two halves, each a side of the same coin, one polished, one scarred. But Batman 3 needs not follow that same dynamic. Could circumstances have been different, sure, Batman 3 could have easily picked up shortly after Batman speeds into the night. But it never had to. And it shouldn't have to now.
Batman 3 should take place years, if not decades, in the future. Who says resurrection has to be three days? By aging Gotham, it ages the characters (thus avoiding a contemporary recasting of The Joker). By aging Gotham, it raises the stakes. Gotham, the fallen city, having been sunk for years now. A city without any hope. A population without a hero. Batman, still a distrusted wild card. Batman, still torn apart by the loss of Rachel. Of Harvey. Of Alfred - he has to go. But we gain a more mature Batman. One who, in the decades passed, has now seen it all. One who has been continually hated by the very people he protects. One who won't let himself become good in their eyes, become that celebrity. One who truly knows how to use his rage, his torment, rather than the Batman we've seen who only thinks he does.
A longer stretch of time affords the creators a sizable amount of leeway. Sure, while we must lose Alfred, perhaps Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox would then fulfill that role. Not a butler, but a confidant and engineer behind-the-scenes working from The Bat Cave beneath the long-since rebuilt Wayne Manor. Perhaps The Joker was, in fact, captured and contained in Arkham for however long it has been between The Dark Knight and Batman 3, but he has only now finally escaped. The Joker wouldn't need to look the same, in fact he shouldn't. His already warped mind would be even more twisted. And Batman and Bruce Wayne both would finally have to confront the very catalyst of their descent. The singular reason for their own madness over the unseen time between films. Open old wounds that (though fresh for us, the audience) have been long scarred over but never healed underneath.
Time passed is story gained. It is permission to complete a tonally structured trilogy as originally intended — though perhaps not as originally conceived. It's also structure gained. It opens the story to the possibility of a more fractured narrative where we can be filled in through flashbacks about the state of Batman while also providing natural places within the film to include some more classic Batman fare — flashbacks that, while in tone, would further the story, explain the status quo, and also show us some action of his years passed. Fights with Penguin. With Cat Woman. With The Riddler. Characters who just don't fit the tonal landscape of Nolan's Batman as a main villain, but would work fine as vignette-like flashbacks. Batman 3 could bypass all of the nonessential franchise films that every property creates. With a story set in the future, any story like, say, the one from Spider-Man 3, that would have happened without us even knowing. We'd only be privy to the after effects, the scars.
Nolan's Batman Trilogy was never, and isn't, meant to be about the happenings and escapades of Batman. This is not villain-of-the-week Caped Crusader. Nolan's Batman is a study of hope's triumph over corruption, over evil. Batman Begins may be the very beginning, but The Dark Knight is as much a beginning, maybe even more so. We don't need a middle. I don't want a middle. Tell me the middle, make me feel it, know it, right before the end. It's the end that I want. Batman 3 is the end that this series needs. It's the poignant finish to an already transcendent would-be-trilogy. And it all starts and ends with time. The future is where Batman 3 needs to take place, a future of bleak hopelessness, a future far enough away that the logistical issues of the contemporary universe are no longer an issue, a future that allows a bold structure but tonal congruence, a future at the very brink in need of a savior — a savior who must overcome his reluctance, his fear, and his foil in order to truly make the difference he's been unable to make for so long. Its title need not be so literal as Batman Begins nor so heady as The Dark Knight — simply, but thoughtfully, its title should be The Batman.
Even if it takes five years or ten, this is a series, a franchise, deserving of its very final chapter. And it's Christopher Nolan who should be the one to provide us with it. With closure. With hope. With The Batman.