There have been a few orgasmic nerd trilogies in our time, but perhaps none so hotly analyzed, debated, or longed for as Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy. It sort of snuck up on us -- Batman Begins was good and all, but could you have ever predicted its sequel would earn a gazillion trillion dollars? -- and now that it's almost over, I feel like it will be remembered as a fandom fever dream. "Did I really see The Dark Knight eight times in theaters?" wonders a fan, a decade from now. "And did I tattoo fan art of Tom Hardy as Bane on my body in the winter of 2011?" wonders another, who has some awkward explaining to do to his girlfriend.
But as we anticipate a film that, as yet, boasts only two official stills and one teaser trailer, we must ask ourselves a stern question: Should Christopher Nolan split with Batman after The Dark Knight Rises?
Most fans would say no, even as we work on the assumption Rises will be good. I say yes. Definitely, emphatically, absolutely yes.
For one, there's the sheer elegance of a trilogy. You just don't see three-part sagas any longer. Nowadays, a franchise runs for four or five films before limping to a late halt. Star Wars ran for six. Harry Potter ran for eight. Marvel has plans for a nine-film franchise. A trilogy, once deemed the definition of excess, now seems like sparse storytelling.
(Of course, I should pause to say that in the Golden Age of Hollywood, franchises were just as common as they are now, and far more prolific. There are six of the beloved Thin Man films and ten Ma and Pa Kettle installments. That makes Harry Potter seem like small fry. Even reboots or recasting seem economical when contrasted against all those Charlie Chan films.)
A trilogy encompasses an arc. I'd love to see a storyline that has the rise, the fall, and the redemption (or permanent retirement) of Batman. It would be so tidy and traditional. For all of our geeky harping on how comic mythology is the modern-day equivalent of the Greek, we don't really want to let it play out like a proper piece of ancient drama. We want to keep milking it for all its millions and merchandise instead of letting it stand as something we can admire and even analyze.
There's also not many places to take Nolan's "real world" Batman after this point. Batman, like all other superheroes, has a pretty outlandish rogues gallery. You can rewrite some of them (the Penguin, perhaps) into mobsters, but there's only so much mileage in that. Many of the more intriguing and twisted possibilities such as Harley Quinn are useless without the Joker. Turning Poison Ivy into an eco-terrorist is a fun idea, but not one that really works within the tormented arc of Nolan and Christian Bale's caped crusader. Certainly, The Dark Knight opened the Pandora's Box of freaky villains, but that can only go so far and remain vital and interesting. You start getting into goofy Joel Schumacher or Tim Burton territory if you keep mining the costumes, masks, and cackles just so Batman has someone cool to fight.
And when you don't have the Joker -- because let's face it, Nolan's just in an impossible corner with Heath Ledger's loss -- who really is the anti-Batman, then you have no choice but to begin and end a story with Ra's al Ghul. Everything suggests Nolan is going that route, and it's the logical and thematic conclusion.
There's also the tiny (and Nolan fans may jump on me) fact that Rises has packed in a lot of characters in one short film. Bane and Selina Kyle offer enough material for one film. A resurrected Ra's al Ghul and Talia al Ghul (if that's who Marion Cotillard is playing) is a single film storyline by itself. Rises is going to feature all four characters, plus Commissioner Gordon, and whoever Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Juno Temple may be playing. That's a big film. Any way you slice that storyline, there's not going to be a lot left for subsequent installments beyond the tired betrayals and self-doubt that can only follow Batman's interactions with them.
There's also the not-so-small problem of the DC Universe. Warner Bros. is keen to mine that for all its worth, even if its attempts have proved abortive so far. Fans want a Justice League movie, and they seem unwilling or reluctant to accept one that doesn't have Batman in it. If Batman, Superman, and Green Lantern are to co-exist on some plane, than Nolan's Batman needs to come to an end. (Please understand, I'm not necessarily endorsing what would, in all charitable estimation, be a half-baked DCU at this point. I'm just echoing what a lot of DC fans dream of.)
We've all enjoyed Nolan's Batman. It's been a brave reinterpretation of an legendary character. It's proven to be iconic all on its own. It's going to be a long, long, long time before anyone else can be Batman, the Joker, or Commissioner Gordon again, and they will still draw comparisons to what Nolan has done with the mythology.
But, in 2012, it will be time to say goodbye. And that's a good and necessary thing. Nolan is doing right by walking away.