Batman has changed a lot on the big screen in the last decade. Just eight years ago, we were all breathlessly anticipating Christian Bale’s final outing in The Dark Knight Rises, which was promised to be the “end of the legend.” Even so, we’ve seen the character rebooted twice since then, with Robert Pattinson’s latest take in Matt Reeves’ The Batman leaving fans salivating.
Still, there is a real love for Bale’s Batman and the Christopher Nolan trilogy he inhabited. While there’ve seen two movies featuring the character since then, neither had the critical acclaim or the $1 billion box office Rises had in 2012. And as it turns out, Warner Bros. was very aware of how hard it would be to erase that memory, even right after Nolan concluded his trilogy.
Speaking recently with the Toronto Sun, Bale reflected on how he and Nolan had always hoped, but doubted, they’d get to do a trilogy… and why after completing it, he felt compelled to turn WB down when they asked for a Batman 4.
“We never were arrogant to assume that we had an opportunity beyond one film at a time,” Bale said about the trio of Bat-films he and Nolan released between 2005 and 2012. “That’s something that Chris always would talk about. He’d say, ‘This is it. We’re making one film. That’s all we’ve got.’ Then when they came and said, ‘You want to go make another?’ it was fantastic, but we still said, ‘This is it. We will not get another opportunity.”
Of course they wound up making three films. And even with how Rises was marketed, it was clear the third one was going to be the end of things. Indeed, that movie concludes with Bruce Wayne retired from crime-fighting after faking his own death so as to drink wine on the Arno in Florence next to Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway).
Said Bale, “Chris had always said to me that if we were fortunate to be able to make three we would stop. ‘Let’s walk away after that,’ he said. Then when they inevitably came to us and said, ‘How about a No. 4?’ I said, ‘No. We have to stick to Chris’ dream, which was always to, hopefully, do a trilogy. Let’s not stretch too far and become overindulgent and go for a fourth.’ That’s why we, well Chris, stepped away.”
It’s unclear whether Bale means Nolan turned down a fourth movie for both of them, or that he separately turned it down after Nolan walked away. There certainly were a number of rumors that WB wanted Bale in another Batman movie and even in what became Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. If you squint, you can see that film featured a middle aged Batman coming out of retirement, just like Bale’s middle-aged Batman had entered retirement in his final turn in the cowl.
Whatever the timeline is though, it was a smart move to end on a high note. While The Dark Knight Rises remains the most controversial of the three Batman films directed by Nolan, it is still an ambitious and often exciting piece of cinema that introduced Tom Hardy’s Bane into the pop culture lexicon and did the unthinkable (and blasphemous in many fans’ minds): it made Bruce Wayne happy. It also is a lot better than the Zack Snyder directed Batman movies that followed, Batman v Superman and Justice League. That legacy, as well as the serialized nature of superhero movies today, has given some nostalgic heft to Nolan’s much more standalone, cinematic vision.
Not that Nolan or Bale have hurt much for work since hanging up the cape. Nolan has gone on to direct sci-fi epic Interstellar and World War II thriller Dunkirk to rave reviews and astonishing box office for original non-IP films (the latter was also nominated for Best Picture). And Bale has been nominated for two more Oscars for his work with Adam McKay in The Big Short and Vice, and has done more terrific work in James Mangold’s Ford v Ferrari, which overperformed at the box office this weekend, proving again adults like original crowd-pleasing dramas. Also wrth noting, it also opened higher than recent franchise films Terminator: Dark Fate, Doctor Sleep, and Charlie’s Angels.