Maybe you know or maybe you don’t, but it was recently announced that Christopher Nolan’s third and final Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises, will begin shooting soon…in the city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This news has been greeted with confusion, jeers, and and sadness upon the citizens of Chicago, the city which brought Gotham to life in the first two films in Nolan’s series. Personally, I like the news quite a bit. I’ll get to why, but first we must retrace how exactly we got here.
Like a great many of American moviegoers, I loved Christopher Nolan’s 2008 Batman sequel The Dark Knight. It was big and challenging and rewrote the superhero genre in a way that no one had ever even considered before. It flat-out rocked.
In fact, it was such a cultural phenomenon that many (except us nerds) forgot all about the very existence of its equally-fantastic predecessor, Batman Begins. If you’re reading this, odds are you aren’t one of those people, but look at the numbers—the ones that show us that where the 2005 original pulled in a hefty but underwhelming $373 million worldwide, The Dark Knight broke multiple box office records, ultimately taking in more than $1 billion internationally. Judging by that, we have to assume that scores of people who saw and loved TDK never even saw Batman Begins in any capacity.
How does that happen exactly? Sure, there was lots of publicity in the wake of Heath Ledger’s death, and rumors a-floating that the dark recesses he entered in pursuit of his sinister (and posthumously Oscar-winning) performance were to blame for the tragedy. But is the tabloid bloodlust of humanity really so extreme as to be the sole reason for a major franchise sequel nearly tripling the business of its predecessor?
No. I’m more optimistic than that, and there were other factors than just that at play. There was an insurmountable amount of hype leading up to it, not to mention the almost unanimous critical acclaim, and boatloads of repeat business (I don’t know about you, but I saw it seven times).
But at the end of the day, what I think made the film such a hit more than any other factor was plain old word of mouth–it was just simply that good of a movie.
But hang on! So was Batman Begins! As a matter of fact, I’m constantly going back and forth over which film I prefer, so if it was as simple as that, why didn’t Batman Begins make more money?
Well, look at them both: they are very different movies which strike very different tones. Where Batman Begins is really a brooding and mysterious film, unfolding like a story of legend, The Dark Knight is first and foremost a crime thriller, drawing its largest inspiration from Michael Mann’s Heat.
In my book, both films achieve an equal level of A-grade movie quality, but Dark Knight undoubtedly boasts the most widely-accessible appeals of the two films–it’s like Law & Order times infinity. It already had both the fanboys and Hollywood gossipers at hello (not an easy feat), but by being the kind of agreeably straight-faced action thriller you’d recommend even to your parents who don’t waste their time with silly superhero movies, it managed to rake in massive amounts of cash and, domestically, became the 2nd-highest-grossing film of all time (now 3rd, thanks to Awfultar).
It was a far different movie from Batman Begins and succeeded–both commercially and artistically–in large part because of its differences. Nolan didn’t make the same movie twice; it wasn’t just a grab for some quick Bat-cash. The Dark Knight was its own film, standing on its own two feet and bowling people over all by itself.
And now the inevitable second sequel is finally underway and there’s been speculation since The Dark Knight‘s opening weekend as to what this new one would be like. New details are slipping out about it every week, and thus far it’s been a mixed bag of news, but thankfully there are more encouraging details than discouraging ones.
First to unveil itself was the release date–July 20, 2012–and confirmation that Chris Nolan was returning. This was good. It was actually happening. Thank God!
Then came the title: The Dark Knight Rises. Hmmm…a little dopey-sounding but I got used to it pretty quickly. The only thing that bothered me was the continued use of Batman’s honorary title, the Dark Knight. The juxtaposition of the three movie titles, in one fell swoop seeks to cash in on the success of the last film while coldly alienating the first one. It makes the whole effort seem less like a trilogy and more like a money-making venture that resulted in the formula that serendipitously worked. I’ve been crossing my fingers and hoping that the title was the only detail that would be borrowed from the previous film.
Then more details came pouring in–casting choices and villains. Tom Hardy, who was so good in Nolan’s Inception, was going to be in the film. There was a plus! Hardy was soon confirmed to be playing the role of the villain Bane, which made me ecstatic that Nolan was apparently listening to the suggestions that I was keeping to myself.
Bane, as he exists in the comics (and not as he exists in 1997′s Batman & Robin) is a perfect villain to introduce at this point in the story. The Dark Knight ends with Batman placing himself in a very vulnerable state, and Bane is an ideal choice to challenge the Dark Knight’s self-appointed authority over Gotham. Bravo, Nolan! Looks like this thing is coming together.
And then they added Anne Hathaway…I was starting to get nervous. I’m not a big fan. Hathaway was confirmed as Selina Kyle, and many people are jumping to the conclusion that she will appear in the film as Kyle’s alter ego, Catwoman, but I wouldn’t be so sure just yet. Hathaway playing a comic book villain just sounds like a recipe for disaster. Maybe we can just keep her as a familiar love interest?
But now they’ve unveiled the most subtly intriguing bit of information yet–shooting for the film will take place in…(drumroll)…Pittsburgh! Now, like most everyone else except the honored citizens of Pittsburgh, my first reaction to this news was something along the lines of “Whaaat?” But the more I think about it, the more I like it. A lot. It’s the most encouraging piece of news so far.
You see, for both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, Chicago was used for Gotham City. Although, while all of The Dark Knight took place in downtown, urban environments (we don’t even see Wayne Manor, which burnt down at the end of Begins), much of Batman Begins took place in international (not to mention less metropolitan) locales. As such, the movies have very different visual sensibilities, one of the key factors that distinguishes them so starkly from one another. And now with the move to Pittsburgh, it seems they’re switching things up again. And I doubt it has anything to do with budgetary concerns.
No, it’s our wonderful confirmation that Nolan is planning on making The Dark Knight Rises a different film from both of its predecessors, down to every last detail. I’ve never been to Pittsburgh, but I can’t imagine that it looks much at all like Chicago–otherwise why wouldn’t Nolan just shoot the film in Chicago again? No, this shows that he has a distinct idea for this film–what it needs to look and feel like, and it’s not at all a decision being made based on the success of The Dark Knight.
In light of this, it’s very possible (probable) that this final film in his trilogy may not be nearly as successful as its immediate predecessor. It’s not going for the same appeals, the same tone or style. It will stand on its own and people will have to accept it as it is.
And I suppose it makes sense. Nolan isn’t one to cave into studio pressure, nor should he have to. He’s made millions upon millions upon millions of dollars for Warner Brothers and I think they feel comfortable giving him creative control. And with this decision we can rest assured that we’re in for another unique and stunning Batman picture from Christopher Nolan. The years have shown that he is a filmmaker to be observed and admired–now we know he’s one to be trusted too.