Hollywood franchises don’t really end anymore. If you look at the current list of 2011’s top 10 top-grossing films, eight are sequels/spin-offs/prequels that were specifically designed to create more sequels/spin-offs/prequels. (Heck, four of the movies — Thor, Captain America, Fast Five, and Rise of the Planet of the Apes — all included teasers for the next installment in their freaking end credits.) The highest-grossing movie of the year is Harry Potter 7 — Part 2, the eighth film in a franchise based on seven books. The only non-franchise film is Bridesmaids, a movie that will soon be pushed aside by Twilight 4 — Part 1, which features already the most popular teen pregnancy since the Gospel of Matthew.
It wasn’t always like this. There was a time when no respectable Hollywood franchise lasted longer than three movies. I’m talking about good threequels — like Return of the King, or The Bourne Ultimatum, or the underrated Back to the Future Part III — but I’m also talking about not-so-good franchise cappers. The Matrix Revolutions, Alien 3, and Return of the Jedi aren’t perfect, but by god, they all follow through on the most basic promise inherent in telling a story: They have endings.
The secretive Christopher Nolan hasn’t talked very much about his upcoming third Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises, but a close reading of his public statements indicate that he envisions the movie in those classical terms. In a new interview with Empire, Nolan explains that the movie is “all about finishing Batman and Bruce Wayne’s story.” So much so, in fact, that Rises will feature a rather significant time jump: “Perhaps surprisingly for some people, our story picks up quite a bit later, eight years after The Dark Knight. So he’s an older Bruce Wayne; he’s not in a great state.”
That’s a huge time jump for a blockbuster franchise, but it’s especially notable in light of Batman’s particular character mythology. The first two films in Nolan’s franchise focused on Batman’s early days: His origin, his first meeting with the Joker, his decision at the end of Dark Knight to pretend to be a bad guy for the good of Gotham. By leaping forward in time almost a full decade, Nolan seems to be shifting focus onto the hero’s declining days. In fact, that time jump leads me to wonder if the director is going for a Dark Knight Returns thing with this final movie. Frank Miller’s iconic ’80s graphic novel was about a middle-aged Batman coming out of retirement just long enough for a few final adventures. Returns has always been a spiritual predecessor for Nolan’s Bat-series, and I wonder if that vision of an older Batman — who was also “not in a great state” — will influence the film.
There are other reasons to be excited about the time jump. An eight-year break means there won’t be any questions about the Joker’s absence. It also means that, hopefully, Bruce Wayne won’t spend the entire movie moping over a lost love interest (a plot point that essentially derailed the most recent James Bond movie). What excites me most of all, though, is the fact that this time jump instantly reconfigures our understanding of the films’ universe. It feels like Batman could genuinely be in danger.
The Batman franchise will probably never really end, of course; Warner Bros. has already put plans in motion to reboot the series post-Nolan. But am I the only one intrigued by the idea that Nolan might actually bring his interpretation of the character to an actual conclusion?
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