Anticipation for The Dark Knight Rises reached a whole new level this month as the final film in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy officially entered production. As usual, we have more questions than answers when it comes to the plot of the film – but recent set pics, unexpected casting announcements, and vague assertions from some of the film’s stars have helped paint a clearer picture of what fans can expect.

There’s still a sense that we only know as much as the filmmakers want us to (which is to say very little), but that certainly hasn’t stopped us from engaging in impassioned bouts of speculation and debate. Consider the following developments more fuel for that fire…

On the casting front, Israeli actor Alon Aboutboul has signed on to The Dark Knight Rises and according to Xnet he will “embody the image of a particularly evil mad scientist”. Aboutboul has appeared in various films and television shows including Body of Lies, Munich, Fringe, The Mentalist, Castle, and NCIS.

The mad scientist description certainly isn’t going to help quell those persistent rumors that the character of Hugo Strange might appear in The Dark Knight Rises. Fans have been teased with the possibility of his involvement from the earliest stages of the film’s development and his name popped up again just last month.

Gary Oldman previously hinted that a large portion of The Dark Knight Rises would center around another major villain who had yet to be announced. While Strange seemed like a strong contender at the time, recent revelations from the set in India are starting to make his inclusion seem far more unlikely.

Although the idea of Christopher Nolan incorporating one of Ra’s al Ghul’s Lazarus Pits into the film’ storyline still seems slightly out of step with the more grounded approach he took with the mythology in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight,  the rumor that one of these pits is somehow connected to Bane’s origin and is filled with Venom (or at least this film’s equivalent of it) doesn’t seem totally far-fetched.

Either way, my money’s on Aboutboul’s character being a scientist who has a hand in the creation of Venom and is somehow tied to the League of Shadows. In fact – fans of the comics may remember that when Bane was initially exposed to the drug, the doctor who administered it coincidentally looked quite a bit like Strange.

If they are indeed using one of the pits as a component in Bane’s back story, then they’re making substantial deviations from the character’s  incredible origin from the comics.  Nolan has certainly earned our trust at this point, though – and there’s definitely a very intriguing finale coming together here.

Now that filming in India has been completed, the production has moved to London and Hollywood Chicago has a few details regarding what’s taking place there. The crew have set up shop in the Farmiloe Building on St. John Street – the same structure that doubled as the Gotham City Police Department in the previous two films.

Nolan and co. are gearing up to shoot two scenes next week and nearby residents & local business owners have been informed that they’ll be hearing gunshots coming from the set. The reader who took the above picture also sent along the following info:

These are the same SUVs that we saw filming “The Dark Knight”. They have also put black tarpaulin over the front of the building to stop light getting in that would ruin a shot. They have HUGE cameras and fans down the side entrance. There about 20 film crew on site. The name on the side of the trucks is Panalux.

I also spoke to security. They hinted that this will be the inside of a police station. They said the set inside looks amazing. Security said there’s only one entrance and I will definitely see people entering and leaving next week. They were adamant that the main filming is all of next week and the work this week is all preparation.

Despite the fact that cameras are already rolling on The Dark Knight Rises, there appears to be some tension mounting between Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures regarding the film’s massive $250 million budget and who’s going to be picking up the tab. They split the cost of The Dark Knight 50/50 – but according to the LA Times, Warner Bros. is evidently looking to secure a bigger chunk of the profits this time out.

Warner Bros. has enjoyed a long-running and successful partnership with Legendary that includes teaming up for blockbusters like The Hangover & Clash of the Titans and a rift in their relationship could potentially make it harder for them to minimize the financial risk of greenlighting future genre pictures.

This is far and away the most expensive film in Nolan’s Batman trilogy – Batman Begins cost $150 million and The Dark Knight came in at $185 million. It sounds like they’re pulling out all the stops for this installment and considering how epic in scope The Dark Knight already was, it’s pretty exciting to consider what the filmmakers might have in store for us this time.

The Dark Knight Rises hits theaters July 20, 2012.

Source: Xnet, The LA Times, and Hollywood Chicago.