Last week saw the arrival of the third and presumably final trailer for The Dark Knight Rises – the hugely anticipated final installment in British filmmaker’s Christopher Nolan’s acclaimed Batman movie trilogy. Arriving in cinemas on July 20th, The Dark Knight Rises promises to deliver ‘the epic conclusion’ to Nolan’s Batman saga, with Batman Begins and The Dark Knight star Christian Bale donning the cape and cowl once more, as the Caped Crusader contends with his greatest challenge to date in the terrorist leader Bane, portrayed by Tom Hardy.
With the $250m-budgeted sequel being billed as ‘The Legend Ends’, one question which has dominated fan debate over The Dark Knight Rises is, ‘will Batman survive?’. In Bane, he must face ‘The Man Who Broke The Bat’ – a reputation that stems from the classic Batman comic book story arc ‘KnightFall’, where Bruce Wayne suffered a broken back after a devastating confrontation with the brutal super villain. From the moment that Bane was announced as the antagonist, speculation has been rife that Nolan will transfer this storyline to the screen with The Dark Knight Rises, or perhaps even take things one step further to present a truly definitive end to his Batman story.
Regardless of Batman’s fate, one thing is abundantly clear: rather than being the ‘end’ of the legend, The Dark Knight Rises is but the closing stanza of the latest chapter in the illustrious history of the Dark Knight Detective. Created back in 1939 by artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger, Gotham’s masked vigilante is one of only two Golden Age heroes to enjoy an unbroken comic book publication run (the other being Superman) and his crime-fighting exploits have entertained generation after generation, resulting in one of the most successful media franchises of all time.
Just four years after Batman’s comic book debut, actor Lewis Wilson made history by being the first person to bring the Caped Crusader to the screen, taking the lead alongside Douglas Croft’s Robin the Boy Wonder in the fifteen-part low-budget Republic movie serial Batman. Five years later Wilson was succeeded by Robert Lowery for another fifteen-part serial, Batman and Robin, but it wasn’t until the 1960s that ‘Batmania’ first gripped the public consciousness, with Adam West and Burt Ward donning the tights as the Dynamic Duo for the iconic ABC television series Batman – a ratings phenomenon that took West’s Caped Crusader to the cover of Life magazine.
Due to the enormous popularity of the television series, Batman soon fell victim to his own success. In the eyes of the public, the crime-fighter had become synonymous with the camp, tongue-in-cheek approach of the TV show, and it was more than twenty years before ‘Batmania’ resurfaced once more as director Tim Burton and star Michael Keaton took the character back to his roots as a grim avenger of the night in Warner Bros.’ 1989 feature film Batman. A huge hit upon its release, Batman was followed by the 1992 sequel Batman Returns before Joel Schumacher and Val Kilmer stepped in for the departing Burton and Keaton on 1995’s Batman Forever, with Kilmer then making way for George Clooney on 1997’s Batman & Robin.
A dismal failure with fans and critics alike, Batman & Robin brought Warner Bros.’ feature film series to its knees and it wasn’t until Christopher Nolan rebooted the franchise in 2005 with Batman Begins that credibility was finally restored. Then of course came 2008’s The Dark Knight – a runaway smash that become one of only a handful of films to gross in excess of $1 billion at the box-office, and the first superhero movie to achieve such a feat. Now, four years later, Christopher Nolan faces the challenge of having to top what is generally regarded as the finest comic book movie of all-time, and with The Dark Knight Rises, he may just succeed.
For more on the screen history of the Dark Knight, be sure to check out my book, Holy Franchise, Batman! Bringing the Caped Crusader to the Screen, which charts the development of Batman’s many exploits across both live-action and animation, presenting a comprehensive overview of his illustrious screen career. From the classic 1960s television series starring Adam West and Burt Ward to the hugely successful blockbuster feature films from directors Tim Burton, Joel Schumacher and Christopher Nolan, as well as early Saturday morning cartoon outings through to the acclaimed ‘DC Animated Universe’, the book explores the evolution of Batman – a journey that has taken him from ‘camp’ crime-fighter to Dark Knight…
Gary Collinson is a writer, lecturer, and the founder and editor of the movie site FlickeringMyth.com.
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Holy Franchise Batman! Bringing the Caped Crusader to the Screen is available to pre-order now.