Well, maybe not terrible, but not very good?
Don’t get me wrong. I’ll be at the midnight showing, wearing my Batman t-shirt, and cheering with anticipation like the fanboy I am. But I’ll also be bracing myself for disappointment.
The problem is that I’ve been burned before. The first X-Men movie told a solid, entertaining story that reestablished our favorite mutant superteam for the big screen. The second built on the successes of the first, and set those characters loose in the world the prior film had built. The end result was an engaging, well-regarded film that provided fans with the best entry in the series. Then, the third movie collapsed under the weight of too many unwieldy storylines, too many characters to reasonably develop, and too many extras jammed into an already bloated film. It was an unwieldy, schizophrenic failure of a movie.
The most recent Spider-Man trilogy followed a similar trajectory. The first movie retold Spider-Man’s origin story and set up the rationale behind his heroic struggle. The second explored that raison d’être, harvested many of the seeds that had been planted in the prior film, resulting in one of the most acclaimed superhero films of the decade. The third, however, was an unmitigated disaster. Again, it suffered from too many storylines, too little development, and an attempt to do too much in a movie that already felt overstuffed by the end of the first act.
So you’ll forgive my concern when I look at the current Batman franchise and see an initial entry that reenvisioned the caped crusader on the silver screen and managed to wash the taste of the Schumacher films out of the movie-going public’s collective mouths. I see a sequel that took both the character of Batman and the setting of Gotham City that had been established by the prior film, and mined them for all they were worth. The Dark Knight is not just one of the greatest, if not the greatest, superhero films ever made; it’s a movie that helped prompt the Academy to expand the Best Picture category to account for films that transcend their genres and set a new standard for what a superhero movie could be. Now, I see a third movie on the horizon, trying to live up to that standard, and I worry it’s headed down the same path as those other franchises.
Now I know what you’re thinking: “Those are totally different situations. Franchise guru Bryan Singer did not write, direct, or have anything to do with the third X-men film.1 Instead, it was directed by the guy who did the Rush Hour movies; of course there was going to be a drop in quality. Christopher Nolan is still in charge of The Dark Knight Rises, and at the very least, the new Batman movie isn’t going to force feed us heaping doses of Halle Berry trying to emote.2 And yeah, Sam Raimi was still at the helm for Spider-Man 3, but there was studio interference all over the place.3 He didn’t get to make the kind of movie he wanted to.4 Nolan is the one running the show here, and he has a proven track record. You’re not going to be seeing an emo Bruce Wayne doing a dance number.5”
And that’s fair, but how many “threequels” have actually been good films? Pixar certainly raised the bar with Toy Story 3.6 Lord of the Rings: Return of the King deserves some credit, but also deserves an asterisk for its concurrent filming schedule. Even Return of the Jedi, a beloved part of the Star Wars canon is the film that gave us Ewoks and prized marketability over quality.
Meanwhile, consider the widely derided Godfather Part III, often held up as the apotheosis of a trilogy striking out in its last at-bat. Before directing acclaimed films like Fight Club and The Social Network, David Fincher got his start in Hollywood directing a piece of drek called Alien³.7 The list goes on. The Matrix trilogy, the Terminator movies, and even a more solid franchises like Back to the Future closed out their runs with their weakest entries in the series.8
What’s more, the prior set of Batman films is not immune to the third movie dropoff. Sure, Batman and Robin put the nail in the coffin of the franchise, but Batman Forever has hardly stood the test of time. While I have to admit that having seen the movie as a kid assures it a fond, nostalgic place in my heart, but it hardly lives up to the two films that preceded it. Even Batman’s comic book pal met his own cinematic kryptonite with the abysmal Superman 3.
You may be thinking, “So what? Each movie franchise has its own challenges. Nolan has a vision for these films, and he’s been able to maintain a remarkable continuity in both tone and personnel so far.”
That may be true, but those last films in the X-Men and Spider-Man franchises still give me pause. They’re the reason I’ve done all I can to temper my own expectations for The Dark Knight Rises.
I absolutely could not wait to see X-Men 3 when it originally came out. Then, I walked out of the theater feeling like I’d watched three half-finished films that had been slapped together with duct tape. By the same token, my college roommate had an infectious enthusiasm in the lead up to the third Spider-Man movie. He ended up bitterly underwhelmed and cursed how much wasted excitement he’d built up in anticipation. Is it any wonder that I’m a little gun shy about another third installment in a superhero franchise?
I keep hearing these little nagging voices in my head, the ghosts of failed trilogies past. “Admit it, you had trouble understanding Bane in the trailer.” “Catwoman’s outfit looks kind of silly. They’d better have a good explanation for the ears.” “Isn’t having the Pittsburgh Steelers in the movie a little too cute?” “You’ve probably already guessed how it ends, will Nolan be able to do anything that surprises you?” “If there was a problem with The Dark Knight, it was that Two-Face’s story felt somewhat rushed. They’re already returning most of the cast plus two new villains; aren’t things getting a little too cluttered with Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Marion Cotillard?”
That’s no way to go through life, though — never letting yourself have high hopes or anticipate something on the horizon for fear that the reality will leave you disappointed. Despite those nagging voices, Nolan & Co. deserve the benefit of the doubt.
I cringed when they picked the star of A Knight’s Tale over the legendary Mark Hamill to play The Joker.9 The Dark Knight proceeded to turn Heath Ledger into an Oscar winner who will be lionized by my fellow nerds for at least the next fifty years. When I saw the trailer for Inception, I wrote it off as hollow action fodder, and then ended up loving the intricate, creative film that Nolan and his team put together. From Memento, to The Prestige, and even Batman Begins, Nolan has shown the ability to put tell unique, engaging stories that put a novel spin on what might otherwise become formula in another director’s hands. Despite my reservations, he’s earned a good bit of faith.
So yes, I will be there the day the movie comes out, watching the final installment of a trilogy that has stirred up as much acclaim and excitement as any in recent memory. I’ll watch as Batman fights Bane, confers with Commissioner Gordon, and closes the book on The Dark Knight Trilogy.
But I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed.
Update 7/21/2012 3:30 A.M.: It was awesome. My fears were completely unfounded.
- He left the franchise to make the just-as-tepid Superman Returns film. ↵
- Berry managed to screw up another piece of the superhero canon with her 2004 turn in Catwoman. ↵
- Allegedly, Raimi did not want Venom in the movie, but was heavily pressured to include him by Sony. ↵
- Raimi reportedly wanted to make a film featuring The Vulture as the villain, with Ben Kingsley in talks to play the role. ↵
- Though if Schumacher were still directing… ↵
- Incidentally, Pixar’s Wall-E was another overlooked film that helped prompt The Academy to expand the Best Picture category. ↵
- Similarly, before he develop a way to print his own currency by directing The Avengers, Joss Whedon wrote the screenplay for the awful fourth film in the Alien franchise. ↵
- And just for the record, Shrek 3 and Jurassic Park 3 are two of the crappiest films I’ve ever the misfortune to watch in theaters. I was forced to see the latter as part of summer camp, but seeing the former was my own miserable idea. ↵
- In addition to his iconic role as Luke Skywalker, fellow nineties kids should recognize Hamill as the voice of The Joker on Batman: The Animated Series and the subsequent series developed by Bruce Timm and Paul Dini. ↵