Tuesday, 5 March 2013

The Justice League Rises

(Not to be confused with Rise of the Justice League)

Rumours abound that Chris Nolan and Christian Bale may once again join forces - this time for the Justice League movie! Although, to be fair, that same rumour has been floating in an infinite-loop ever since the whisperings of a Justice League movie first began.
The latest version of these rumours is that Nolan, director of the awkwardly-named-after-the-second-film Dark Knight trilogy, will be producing Justice League, and that Bale will be reprising his role as Batman. Nolan's involvement seems like non-news considering that he already has a producer credit on Man of Steel, the upcoming Superman film. "Producing" is such a vague term anyway that it could mean almost nothing. Bale, on the other hand, would have a real impact on the film, and on the future of DC's films in general.

Tying DC's burgeoning movie continuity into what's become known as the Nolanverse would define the direction and tone of all their other films. As I see it, for Bale's specific version of Batman to exist in the same world as the rest of the Justice League, they will be driven in one of two directions.
The first option is that all their properties are forced to adopt the "gritty realism" template, to prevent Batman looking completely out of place. This is a pretty bad idea, though not completely unworkable. It just limits the amount of fun they can have with their lighter characters such as the Flash, which is a shame, and could easily choke the enjoyment out of any teamup. An entire universe of intense, dour characters could quickly begin to drag. From what we've seen of Man of Steel, though, this looks to be the direction Warner are already headed in.
The second option is to undermine Batman's seriousness. Make fun of him. Have the other characters laugh at his gravelly fake voice and his gloomy attitude. This would free them up from Nolan's tone and allow Justice League, and any other films in that universe, to find their own, more suitable, style. They could still be serious, but that wouldn't have to be the only option.

I for one would much prefer the second direction. Not because I don't think the first one could work (though that is certainly a concern) but mainly because of how the Dark Knight trilogy ended.
Spoilers follow.

For all the things that The Dark Knight Rises got wrong (pacing, silly voices, nonsensical evil plots, logic-holes, the line "No, I came back to stop you," and oh so much more) the ending was perfect. Maybe the execution was off, but the sentiment was spot on.
From the start of Batman Begins, that trilogy had been about Batman as a symbol, not as a person. The ending, which many people somehow misread as the setup for more sequels, was actually the exact opposite. Bruce Wayne was gone, but Batman would live on - the icon had outlived the man. That was Nolan drawing a final line under the point he was always making. It was Bruce Wayne's ultimate victory, and the end of his story.
There's a reason Nolan's "Robin" wasn't Dick Grayson or Tim Drake. Ending the trilogy with a new, non-comic character taking up Batman's mantle was meant to prevent Warner from continuing the series. No-one would have accepted a non-comic character in that cowl, and Nolan must have known that.
I would even suggest that the reason Nolan showed us Bruce and Selina in Florence (rather than just showing Alfred's reaction, as many have suggested) was to definitively show that Bruce had moved on and was happy without Batman. Leaving it ambiguous would have given the studio more room to continue the franchise - but this ending doesn't give them that option.
This was all very consciously designed to be irreversible and final.

Yet here we are, talking about Bale returning. My point is that, if the rumours are true, this instantly undoes the finality of Nolan's ending, and it instantly undoes the overarching message of his story (that Batman doesn't need to be Bruce Wayne). Those are two of the strongest parts of that trilogy. Bringing Bruce back already undermines all that, so why not run with it and undermine the darker tone of Nolan's work, too?