After Nolan's 'Dark Knight Rises': A 'Dark Knight Returns' Movie?

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Christopher Nolan is about to make his final trip into Gotham City with The Dark Knight Rises - a film that will bring closure to a trilogy that started with Batman Begins in 2005 and continued with the massively successful The Dark Knight in 2008.

The notoriously tight-lipped filmmaker is keeping the details of his latest Batman movie a secret, but there's one question even Nolan doesn't have the answer to -- what happens to the Batman franchise after he jumps ship?

The character of Batman means so many different things to so many different people that a definitive celluloid interpretation is impossible. Yet, Nolan seems to have come closer than any of his predecessors and his films will surely cast an intimidating shadow over anyone tasked with succeeding him. For a large number of fans, putting someone else in charge of this series is a nerve-wracking proposition.

There will be more Batman films after The Dark Knight Rises, though -- it's too lucrative a franchise to abandon. And you know the higher-ups at Warner Bros. and DC Comics have had at least a few discussions about a post-Nolan game plan. Which is why a few of us here at Screen Rant think there might be more to the title of this latest film than meets the eye.

Now obviously The Dark Knight Rises isn't a name that was carelessly picked out of a hat. The Dark Knight didn't just look cool on a poster -- it actually meant something when those three words appeared on screen at the end of that film. So as bland as the new title may sound to me, I'm sure it ties into the story (presumably it references Batman's redemption in the eyes of Gotham's citizens).

However, like a lot of you, I was surprised by the repetition of Batman's nickname. After expecting something as unique and distinctive as The Dark Knight, this strikes me as a very curious move. Now, this is PURELY SPECULATION, but perhaps the studio is eager to brand this franchise and instill name recognition in the large portion of its audience that isn't familiar with the comic books.

Why would it be so important to hammer the name "Dark Knight" home? Well, it seems to me that this film could just as easily have been called The Dark Knight Returns. Sure, they probably wanted to avoid confusion with Frank Miller's comic of the same name (or a potential DCU animated adaptation) -- but maybe... just maybe... DCE/WB is open to the possibility of a live-action version of Dark Knight Returns somewhere down the road.

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The Dark Knight Rises not only leaves the door open for using that other title in the future -- it would help make The Dark Knight Returns immediately identifiable as a continuation of the previous films. With Nolan's departure from the Batman franchise likely on the horizon, this would actually be a logical time to use The Dark Knight Returns as a template of sorts for subsequent Batman sequels.

After The Dark Knight Rises, the studio is left with two choices if they want the franchise to carry on: reboot it again or bring in a new director to work within the guidelines of Nolan's established universe. Neither approach sounds particularly satisfying to me. Fortunately, bringing The Dark Knight Returns to the big screen solves both problems.

For those of you not familiar with the comic, it tells the story of a 55 year-old Bruce Wayne putting on the cape and cowl after ten years of retirement. He squares off against old enemies, makes some new ones, takes a female Robin under his wing, and discovers that Gotham City is now a very different place for vigilantes.

Although I think Miller's Year One series is the superior comic, The Dark Knight Returns remains a fan-favorite for good reason: it's packed with one memorable moment after another and culminates with one of the most iconic fight scenes of all-time: Batman vs. Superman.

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Adapting The Dark Knight Returns verbatim would never work as a continuation of Nolan's films. Harvey Dent plays a prominent role (although some would argue his fate in Nolan's universe is still unknown), training a new Robin would be a little strange without any predecessors, and of course there's the previously mentioned red and blue elephant in the room -- Superman.

The politics of The Dark Knight Returns are an integral part of its narrative and the idea of Superman being reduced to a pawn of the United States government is powerful stuff. All of the Cold War-era paranoia could be effortlessly updated, but even in a semi-futuristic setting, Supes is just a little too fantastical for this universe. Fortunately, the idea of vigilantes being outlawed would still work without him.

I think the bigger issue is how much of The Dark Knight Rises is devoted to covering similar ground and how much influence The Dark Knight Returns might ultimately have on that film. Luckily, even if they eschew the majority of that subplot there's still a lot left to work with.

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For me, the most resonant part of The Dark Knight Returns is the premise itself. Typically, when Batman crosses over into other mediums it's to detail the beginnings of his war on crime. Quite honestly, I think the character becomes so much more compelling when he's at the inevitable end of that journey. The qualities that make him so tragic are amplified and I love the idea of this old man forced to make peace with all of his decisions and sacrifices.

The specifics of the story are important, but not essential -- at least not for me. What makes The Dark Knight Returns work is watching Bruce Wayne accept who and what he is. Connecting it to Nolan's films would give it a sense of history and purpose that it wouldn't carry as a stand-alone effort. I think any adjustments that need to be made to the narrative in order to accomplish that would be well worth it.

And, like I said, the decade-long gap between where established continuity ends and Returns begins would allow a new director to put his stamp on Batman without resorting to a reboot. You could drastically change the look of Gotham and the tone of the film without it feeling incompatible.

How about a Gotham cityscape that's reminiscent of something out of Blade Runner? It'd actually be a natural evolution, as Nolan was greatly inspired by that film's visual palette when he made Batman Begins.

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The same goes for the cast -- what if Christian Bale, Gary Oldman, and Michael Caine aren't interested in returning if Nolan's not calling the shots? No problem. Not only does The Dark Knight Returns allow new actors to take over the lead roles, it almost demands it.

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