How The Dark Knight Continuation Would Affect Green Lantern & Man of Steel
So, working from the assumption that The Dark Knight Trilogy would provide the basis for the DCEU after it ended, where would Warner Bros. take it?
The first diversion is Green Lantern. This was intended to be the start of a cosmic DC franchise, and was assumed by many to have been eyed as a jumping-off point for a wider universe. Upon release in 2011, the movie was panned and barely made its budget back, existing today exclusively as a Deadpool punchline. Had WB looked at expanding from the end of The Dark Knight Rises in 2012, they're unlikely to have wanted to follow up on the previous year's dud (similar to how The Mummy ignored Dracula Untold or how whatever comes next in the Dark Universe will invariably ignore The Mummy). But, had the earlier shared universe planning had some impact on this movie and offered greater fortunes, we could have seen a successful Green Lantern and Hal Jordan become a founding Justice League member, rather than a development hell reboot property.
What's more certain is Superman. As Man of Steel's development was so tied to Nolan's series (at least on a tonal level), if The Dark Knight Rises is envisioned as being the first act in a shared universe, that version of Kal-El would be a sure-fire member. Yes, Henry Cavill's Clark Kent still exists in our alternate DCEU. Of course, there'd be some immediate differences in the scale and scope of Snyder's vision: we'll get to the Caped Crusader, but given how he was entering a pre-existing arena that five-movie plan would be unlikely to get very far. Instead, assuming he still signed on, his mostly-standalone Superman reboot would beeline into a more conventional team-up.
From there, the ranks would be likely filled out in a similar way to the DCEU we got. Movies for Aquaman, The Flash and Wonder Woman were all in development as early as 2010, so all would have joined the roster eventually. How they would be introduced depends on the Justice League plan, although given Warner Bros. eventual slate appeared to be imitating of Marvel, it would likely be a similar rollout to Phase 1, with solo movies building up to the crossover. This makes the 2013-2016 period between Man of Steel and Batman v Superman where in reality no movies released the prime groundwork for this other series; the other League members would likely get their solo movies earlier.
Of course, amongst all these aspects there's the Tumbler in the room to deal with: what about Batman?
What Happens With Batman?
The Dark Knight Rises left Bruce Wayne having faked his own death and finally retiring in the Mediterranian with Catwoman, spending his afternoons at the same cafe waiting for Alfred. Meanwhile, back in Gotham, Robin "John" Blake starts his career as the new Batman. This status quo doesn't really set up a sequel, but there are avenues. Following Joseph Gordon-Levitt as he becomes the new Gotham protector is the obvious direction, with him able to be a new Batman, a Nightwing figure or possibly even a darker Jean-Paul Valley imagining a la Knightfall. However, whichever "Robin" we get, that's no making up for a shortage of Batman.
Would Christian Bale come back? Perhaps not. His time post-Batman has been dominated by outlandish rumors of him turning down impossible sums of money to reprise the role that are consistently debunked, but there's a kernel of truth to a lack of interest. End of the day, he's not the sort of actor to want to lead a shared universe; his three Batman movies were separated by three and four years respectively, allowing plenty of time for body-changing indie films. It's possible but not worth betting on.
If he did, then you move forward with Bruce returning home. Without Bale, you could make Gordon-Levitt the lead but, more likely because audiences expect Bruce Wayne, a recast is needed. That sounds outlandish, especially as we're basing this on a continuation, but recasting Batman isn't out of the question: we're on the brink of a younger Affleck, and the Keaton era had Wayne changed twice. Bale may soon be the only modern iteration not recast.
Whoever you get (let's say Jake Gyllenhaal because his name's always linked and he'd be a fantastic fit), the story is obviously he returns to Gotham after Blake either snaps or reaches an insurmountable task. This risks undoing the "Batman is a symbol" message of the trilogy, but could instead be channeled into crafting a Bat-family. We already have Anne Hathway's Catwoman and Gordon-Levitt's Robin, and more can easily follow.
All of this is material for a sequel in its own right, and any return of Batman story would surely get its own solo movie before major crossover.
- Aquaman (2018) release date: Dec 21, 2018
- Shazam! (2019) release date: Apr 05, 2019
- Joker (2019) release date: Oct 04, 2019
- Wonder Woman 1984 (2020) release date: Jun 05, 2020