The Dark Knight Rises.
On hearing the new official title for Chris Nolan’s third Batman movie, my brain kind of stopped. On one hand, it was such an obvious choice. On the other, it was confusing as hell. And, all in all, it seems like such a weak title when compared to those that came before.
I’m telling you things you already know when I say that Nolan’s first movie was called Batman Begins, and there couldn’t have been a more simple, straightforward and elegant title to complement the movie. It was smart; in rebooting an already established franchise, it’s a must that you get the franchise name on the marquee in big bold letters. At the same time, though, you have to separate yourself from the movies that came before. Nolan had to make sure audiences would in no way associate his film with Batman Forever or, worse yet, Batman and Robin (I just threw up in my mouth a little bit typing that one).
So many movies that go this route fall back on the hyphenation solution. Nolan could have easily called his movie “Batman: The Beginning” or “Batman: The Dark Knight Rises” (see what I did there?), but Nolan knew that brevity is drama. Batman Begins had a more declarative and dramatic feel than just about any other title he could have come up with. It has the “Holy Shit!” factor without even trying.
More importantly, it manages to actually tell you what the movie is about–a rarity in modern big-budget cinema.
For his follow-up Batman film, Nolan surprised everyone by dropping “Batman” from the title altogether. I’m sure the studio had reservations…the word “Batman” is one of the most bankable words in comics, merchandising and cinema, and to leave it off the official title of the movie was a bit of a risk. Would the less knowledgable audience members put things together and easily know that this was a Batman sequel? Would people know it was a continuation of Nolan’s first film?
But The Dark Knight was just too badass of a title to pass up. It hit you in the gut with the dramatic flair of Batman Begins, and it gave the movie its own identity and a seriousness that you can’t get with the word “Bat” in the title. All the marketing concerns were proven wrong. There was no confusion, no uncertainty, and audiences made The Dark Knight the second highest grossing movie of all time (now the third due to eight foot tall blue aliens with ponytails).
For fans, The Dark Knight title (and movie) signified something extremely exciting. Nolan was putting everything he could into each movie, and he was letting each movie exist as its own unique entity. While this was a continuation of a story started with Batman Begins, it really wasn’t a “sequel.” It was a standalone story with thematic elements and plot threads that stretched from one movie to the next.
Just as quickly as this realization hit the fanboy world, talk of a “Nolan Trilogy” began. And it was at that point, months and months before it was even announced that Nolan was doing another Batman, that the title speculation began. Fans began guessing names like Shadow of the Bat and Gotham. It was clear then that Nolan was making each movie as a standalone, and that the title, too, would be a completely standalone title–one that hinted at the tone, themes, and story of the new movie.
Then we get this news. Nolan is naming his next movie The Dark Knight Rises, including the title of the previous entry and adding one more word. It’s the same schtick the Burton franchise used….Batman, Batman Returns, Batman Forever. Just add another word to your main title, and move on.
What’s more, this title sets the movie up as a direct sequel to The Dark Knight and, to me, really alienates Batman Begins from the party. Instead of a trilogy of stand-alones, this title implies a sequel to a sequel whose original isn’t important enough to share the title. And while I admit that The Dark Knight is a much greater film than Batman Begins, the original is still an insanely strong, compelling, entertaining and interesting film in its own rite.
What would have been a better title for the third installment? I don’t know; I haven’t read the script and I don’t know the story. The great thing about the first two movies is that the titles directly reference the events of the movie without getting too annoyingly obvious about it. And I know the argument has been made that The Dark Knight Rises is a way to let audiences know that this movie is about Batman redeeming his image after the events of The Dark Knight, but even this seems a little too obvious, a little too contrived, and a little too tied to the first Dark Knight film (or second Batman film if you will).
Of course, none of this really matters, If the third movie as as great as the first two, I will get over my title prejudice in a hurry. Still, there was an opportunity here to brand this movie as a truly individual and badass film, tied to the others in story but shedding the preconceived notions of both previous films. Instead, this title makes the movie feel like a sequel to one of the most successful films of all time…a follow-up to a phenomenon. And while that may work great for the studio and the studio’s marketing arm, it feels kinda cheap and easy.
There was an opportunity here, and for the first time in the franchise, I feel Nolan missed the boat (in an admittedly small and insignificant way). I just hope The Dark Knight Rises surpasses its title in originality. I think it will.