Can Christopher Nolan make Batman fly?
The day is vintage London. Just pure, unadulterated atmospheric misery. The sky sputters rain, and the air shoulders a leaden chill. But inside an unassuming building on picturesque Soho Square something very, very cool is about to unfold. The kind of thing that would warm sodden hearts on both sides of the Atlantic. The interview is over. The director is done chatting about the hows and whys of his $150 million project. And now, surrounded by memorabilia — oversize posters, elaborately sculpted statues, a cornucopia of toys — the man behind Memento and Insomnia is going to show the first 10 minutes of his new Batman movie (in theaters June 17).
Christopher Nolan stands and leads the way to the editing suite. His shoulders slump. He nervously smoothes his clothes — the usual Nolan uniform of suit pants, a white dress shirt, and a pin-striped vest. He does not look particularly happy. Emma Thomas, who doubles as his producer and wife, sits in an office chair in the corner of the room, hands resting on her five-months-pregnant belly. She flashes a smile at her husband.
”Well, hello!” she says brightly. ”How did the interview go?”
”Well, right off the bat he asked that question.”
”Oh, you know,” Nolan replies sourly. ”The whole greatest American icon of the past 100 years, am I going to f— it all up question.”
We’ll get to that in a bit. For the moment, it’s enough to say that Nolan is fortunate there’s even a Batman movie that he has a chance to foul up. Because most fans are still nursing disappointment over the last glimpse of their hero in 1997’s Batman & Robin, when the Dark Knight could be seen clad in a nipple suit, sporting a pretty-boy sidekick, and battling a future governor — slash — oversize icebox who mangled bons motslike ”Yuah not sending me to the cooh-lah!”
Not good — and a far cry from the $415 million global phenomenon that Tim Burton launched in 1989. The critics were savage. The fanboys disgusted. And worst of all, the box office barely beat $100 million in North America. Despite the best efforts of director Joel Schumacher, the franchise lay in smoking ruins.
Which left Warner Bros. (which, like EW, is owned by Time Warner) with a serious problem. For years the company has recognized the incredible profits that can be wrung out of properties like Batman. And since becoming president and COO of Warner Bros. in 1999, Alan Horn had made nurturing franchises his specialty, spinning films like Harry Potter, The Matrix, and their sequels into billions of dollars. So it was maddening to discover that the most valuable bauble in his vault — the one that was worth almost $1.3 billion at the box office during its recent 10-year run?had been rendered radioactive.
”It was dormant for a couple of years,” says Warner Bros. president of production Jeff Robinov. ”There were no scripts in development. There was nothing happening. We had to proceed carefully.”