Christopher Nolan On Board to Direct DARK KNIGHT Sequel and “Godfather” the SUPERMAN Franchise

     February 9, 2010

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Yesterday, we reported on David Goyer leaving his showrunning duties for ABC’s FlashForward focus on his film career, which included a mention of the inevitable Batman 3. At the time, it seemed like a continuation of the logical but as-of-yet unconfirmed rumor that director Christopher Nolan and screenwriter Goyer would return to Gotham.  A new report Deadline, advances said heresay and ups the ante by about a million chips.  Not only has Nolan cracked the story of the sequel to The Dark Knight and committed to participate, but Warner Bros. has recruited the modern auteur to “godfather” the newest film in the Superman franchise.  It’s unlikely that Nolan will direct the Superman sequel, but any portion of the reins handed to the man indicates a serious effort on the studio’s part to make the best Superman while they still have the time.

For speculation on the future of two of the biggest superhero franchises on the planet, hit the break.

Christopher Nolan (1).jpgRecall that Superman sequel is in its own kind of production hell right now due to the critical and commercial underperformance (relatively speaking) of Superman Returns as well sa the ongoing legal battle for the rights for the iconic tale of Clark Kent.  Last time we checked, all story rights will return to the families of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the creators of the Superman comics, in 2013.  Not only does this create a deadline for Warner Bros. to make a movie, but it puts into question the profitability of such a move.  After all, why should the studio spend $232 million (the budget of Superman Returns) to reboot a struggling franchise if they do not have the rights to sequels to capitalize on the theoretical success of said film?

Nolan’s involvement is surely a sign, however, that the studio has hope for the franchise.  Superman is, of course, one of the most recognizable superhero brands on the planet.  Warner Bros. values its relationship with Nolan, particularly after he delivered a billion dollar success in The Dark Knight; they bought into his mysterious (and expensive) Inception despite a premise that seems impossible to advertise, and they have let Nolan take his time in crafting a worthy follow-up to The Dark Knight, perhaps foregoing the opportunity to strike while the iron is hot.

I don’t want to overstate Nolan’s control over the project; it seems very unlikely that he will direct any Metropolis-based adventures.  But if you’re Warner Bros., and you truly want to unleash a successful Superman film on the moviegoing public, this seems the best way to announce your intentions: hire the guy who created the most critically acclaimed (and most profitable) superhero movie of all time to mentor the attempt.  The sequel is now closer to fruition than before, but perhaps only marginally so.  They still need a solid script, a director who knows what to do with the material, a star who can fill every inch of the Superman’s red boots, and in all likelihood a deal for sequel rights beyond 2013 before this thing really gets going.

superman_returns_image_screenshot__2___medium_.jpgSo what exactly will the next film look like if Warner Bros. makes it in the next couple of years?  It seems that Bryan Singer and Brandon Routh of Superman Returns are out for good.  Many directors–including Tim Burton, JJ Abrams, McG, and Brett Rattner–came and went before Singer was chosen.  Clearly it’s no easy task to find the director right for such a vision, though I imagine they are searching far and wide as we speak.

Consider the influence Nolan will have in his peculiar involvement.  He is famous for bringing a gritty, realistic touch to his Batman films while shying away from a more traditional escapist approach to comic adaptations.  Warner Bros. Pictures Group president Jeff Robinov has previously mentioned interest in making the Superman franchise “edgier”.  Especially after the announcement that Spider-Man franchise will be rebooted in a “gritty, contemporary” style, confirming a sea change in Hollywood’s approach to costumed heroes, we have every reason to believe that any new Superman movie will be grounded in some form of realism.  I’m excited about any forward motion on a new Superman movie, and am even more jazzed that Nolan, who has yet to make a bad movie, is attached in any manner.  But I do wonder if a gritty Metropolis is the best approach to the infinitely wholesome character of Superman.

batman_the_dark_knight_image.jpgI approach the news of Nolan’s commitment to a Batman sequel with much less reservation.  Though The Dark Knight has the makings of a perfectly suitable end to Nolan’s Bruce Wayne saga, it also set up a potential third movie that could conclude a wonderful trilogy.  If you recall, at the end of The Dark Knight, Batman sacrificed his reputation for the good of Gotham to become an enemy of the state.  I would suggest that the theoretical third chapter would be a redemption story for Batman, as he finds some way to balance the nobility of his intentions with the moral ambiguity of his vigilantism.  It will be hard to top The Dark Knight, of course, in either the critical or commercial realm.  But I trust Nolan’s sense of integrity; if he didn’t believe he had anything more to say on the subject, I truly believe he simply wouldn’t return to the world, and let another director depict his own vision of Gotham.  For me, his participation is confirmation that a Dark Knight sequel could be terrific.

Really, for how cool all this news is, we probably aren’t much closer to seeing either Superman or Batman on the screen than we were yesterday.  Warner Bros. always wanted to make a new Superman movie, but there still isn’t a script, star, or director.  Likewise, the studio always wanted Nolan to return (and he has!), and the story is “cracked”, but the script is unwritten.  But “cool” this news undoubtedly is, and I think it serves as a great foundation upon which to bat around theories on both of these franchises which permeate pop culture so thoroughly.  I would love to hear your views in the comments below.

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