Nearly 15 years have passed since Memento director Christopher Nolan changed the comic book movie forever. With Batman Begins, the director rehabilitated the character after 1997’s embarrassing misfire Batman & Robin. Of course, The Dark Knight took that mission to another level entirely.
Then came 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises. That film earned strong reviews and more than $1 billion at the worldwide box office. Yet, Nolan and star Christian Bale chose to leave the franchise. Now Watchmen showrunner Damon Lindelof has the perfect idea for Bale’s Batman return.
The legacy of the ‘Dark Knight’ trilogy
Nolan’s films — which have been collectively dubbed “the Dark Knight trilogy,” after the iconic middle installment — changed the game for superhero films. Before even the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Nolan proved comic books didn’t have to be treated campily to appeal to mainstream audiences. In fact, Batman Begins is perhaps the most earnest superhero film since Richard Donner’s 1978 classic Superman: The Movie.
Speaking to the Toronto Sun, Bale recently recalled the pressure he and Nolan felt with that first film.
“We knew we had to reinvent it,” the actor said. “I literally had people laugh at me when I told them we were doing a new kind of Batman. I think that the reason it worked was first and foremost Chris’ take on it.”
The sequels further developed the source material, not as a fantastical adventure but modern mythology. By positioning Batman as a legend, Nolan and Bale unwittingly created the gritty template for the many comic book films that followed. Yet, unlike Marvel and DC’s efforts to emulate the source material’s never-ending style, Nolan kept his Batman run to just three films.
How the ‘Dark Knight’ series could return
Despite The Dark Knight Rises‘ success, Bale decided to step down from the role when Nolan said he was ready to move on. The director’s trilogy does provide a complete, self-contained story. But that tone, style, and morally grey history would perfectly dovetail into one final project: an adaptation of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns.
In a recent chat with Collider, Watchmen showrunner Damon Lindelof shared his take for how the seminal Batman story could be retrofitted to fit Nolan’s trilogy.
“I think it would be really interesting to wait for somebody like, you know, Michael Keaton, who has already done Batman, or a Christian Bale 25 years from now and then do Dark Knight [Returns] with them. So, it’s someone who we actually saw play a younger version of Batman. That would be rad.”
For those unfamiliar with Miller’s 1986 story, it focuses on an older Batman coming out of retirement. Fans have long speculated Keaton could reprise the role in either a Dark Knight Returns or Batman Beyond project. But Bale might be an even better choice, all things considered.
Would Bale consider reprising the role?
In today’s day and age, nothing is impossible. Contrary to Lindelof’s remarks, the 45-year-old Bale is only about a decade too young to play the Bruce Wayne of The Dark Knight Returns. So he could conceivably revive his version of the character down the line, especially now that DC Films is less hung up on a shared continuity.
However, casting Bale in a live-action version of The Dark Knight Returns raises a potential issue. Nolan’s trilogy already drew much inspiration from Miller’s story, especially for The Dark Knight Rises. That third entry — like Returns — hinges on a rusty Bruce Wayne donning the Batsuit after years away from crimefighting. So, although Miller’s story has only been adapted in animation, its influence could complicate a new addition to Nolan’s take.
The other question is whether Bale would return to the franchise without Nolan. Right now, at least, neither Nolan nor Bale is particularly inclined to franchise work. The former is busy prepping his mysterious upcoming release, Tenet, while the Oscar-winning Bale recently starred in Ford v. Ferrari. To that end, fans might not see a fourth film anytime soon. But perhaps in a decade or so, the Dark Knight trilogy could return.