Things aren't looking good for those of us eagerly awaiting news of the next Batman movie. Rumors have been flying for months regarding potential plotlines and casting ideas. But all those rumors mean nothing if the film still doesn't have a director. And as of right now, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight mastermind Christopher Nolan doesn't appear interested in helming another installment. Does this mean we've reached the end of the hugely successful franchise? Not necessarily, especially considering all the money Warner Bros. stands to make on ensuring it continues. But the real question fans should be asking isn't if Batman can go on without Nolan. It's "should it?"
My knee-jerk reaction is a loud, resounding "No!" Batman Begins was such an inspired reinvention of the Batman franchise, and The Dark Knight was such a near-perfect film, how could we trust anyone else to finish what Nolan started? Remember what happened to the X-Men franchise when Bryan Singer left? It wasn't pretty.
The X-Men example is an important cautionary tale, but to get a complete view of both sides of this issue, we need to look at another equally bad threequel: Spider-Man 3. Like Nolan's Batman franchise and the X-Men series, Sam Raimi's Spider-Man was a fresh, energetic mega-hit right off the bat. And like with those other two franchises, the sequel was even better, and more financially successful than its predecessor. And then, just like with X-Men, the third movie was horrible. But the big difference here is that Spider-Man didn't lose its original, visionary director. Sam Raimi just lost control of his franchise. He let the studio interfere with the story, telling him which villains he could use and what story lines from the comics the fans most wanted to see. The result was a cobbled-together, incoherent mess that Raimi never really wanted to make. He's getting a shot to redeem himself with a fourth Spider-Man film, but fans are already worried that the franchise can't creatively recover.
The constant speculation of what would happen in a third Batman film makes me a little nervous that if Nolan did sign on, he could end up succumbing to the same kind of pressure as Raimi and make a movie that's more about what the fans and the studio want than about remaining true to the spirit of his first two films. The Dark Knight was the second highest grossing film of all time, and Warner Bros. is going to do everything it can to protect their financial interests in the franchise. Their greed could easily lead them to get in the way of the creative process and deny Nolan the freedom that made his first two Batman movies so great.
If Nolan truly is burnt out on Batman, asking him to make another film and putting him under all the pressure to make it even better than The Dark Knight could lead to a Spider-Man 3 level disaster. While some franchises, like the Harry Potter films, have managed to improve over time despite changing directors, the vision behind these Batman films was so uniquely Nolan's, handing the project off to someone else could give us another X3 catastrophe. The best strategy may be to wait things out and see if Nolan feels reinvigorated and ready to get back into Bat-mode after finishing his new sci-fi action film Inception. Or we may have to do something that's unthinkable in Hollywood -- let it go and just be happy with what we got.