When the dust settled over the critically panned Batman and Robin in 1997 few thought we would see the caped crusader on the big screen again. Almost 60 years earlier Bob Kane and Bill Finger had unleashed one of the greatest characters the comic book world has ever seen - a superhero, unlike most others, possessing no superpowers and no radiation infused special abilities. Not only was he realistic, he was also interesting, a man constantly at odds with himself and unsure of his final goal or quest. The Bat-man, as he was originally known, became a huge hit for DC Comics and through a series of successful comics, TV shows, and finally through the big screen he became a cultural icon. The 1989 release of Batman, a return to the dark roots of the character, was a critical and public success leading to a series of big budget sequels over the course of an 8 year period. Unfortunately as the budgets went up the tone became more cartoon-like and the traits that made him such an intriguing and appealing antihero diminished. The last film of the original set, although a box office success, was a critical disaster and Warner Bros consigned Batman to the archives.
Behind the scenes, almost from the moment it was shelved as a property, attempts were made to bring it back - scripts were written, treatments drafted, and storylines presented but nothing was good enough to persuade the studio that it was worth the potential headaches from fans and the critics if what they created wasn't right. Then in 2003, without a great deal of fanfare, Christopher Nolan and David S Goyer were signed on to work on a then untitled Batman production. Nolan's background in pictures like Memento and Insomnia combined with Goyer's credentials on the Blade series showed a clear direction for the new look Batman - humanity, drama, and darkness. Two years later Batman Begins was released starting one of the most impressive rebirths in cinematic history. The film was a box office and critical smash, the caped crusader was back and three years later a hugely anticipated sequel was teased out to audiences across the world. $1 billion dollars in box office revenue and 8 Academy Award nominations later The Dark Knight had become one of the most successful films of the 21st century and in Summer 2012 Nolan and Goyer will deliver the final part of their epic trilogy - The Dark Knight Rises.
What do we know about the upcoming conclusion to the series thus far? As with all his films Chris Nolan is immensely secretive over his project and what has been released to date is only what he wants us to know. The film is set 8 years after the events of The Dark Knight and has Christian Bale reprising his role as Batman. Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman and Michael Caine also return as their characters from the previous two films. Tom Hardy and Anne Hathaway join the stellar cast as Bane and Catwoman, two villains who have previously featured heavily in the Batman universe. Following on from the plot of The Dark Knight, Batman has assumed responsibility for Harvey Dent's crimes committed when he was overtaken by Two Face. With Dent dead Batman was then hunted by the Gotham Police department and subsequently disappeared from the public eye. 8 years after this Batman returns to Gotham to find it under a cloud of criminality with Bane planning to destroy the City and Catwoman's suspicious intentions unclear. Other information on the plot has been immensely sparse but to help continue the buzz created around the previous films the Warner Bros marketing team have gone into overdrive.
In May 2011 the film's official website was launched which, through using a clever twitter mechanic, helped to reveal the first official image of Bane. A trailer followed in the Summer and although low on new information it clearly showed the direction was following the same path as the previous films; combining dark and atmospheric settings with character driven plot lines and unrestrained action. Over the course of the next few months the studio developed a series of websites linked to the state of Gotham and sent intelligence documents to magazines creating a drip-fed line of information on the production. In January 2012 a 6-minute prologue from the new film was attached to the IMAX version of Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol with fans and critics salivating over the dose of Batman they were set to receive. Aside from problems with people understanding the dialogue from Bane the prologue showed audiences a couple of key plot points. Firstly that Jim Gordon has kept his promise to uphold the memory of Harvey Dent and not the monstrous character of Two Face that he turned in to. Secondly Dr.Leonid Pavel will be a significant character and the CIA operation "Early Bird", teased as part of the viral marketing campaign, is the backdrop for the character of Bane to enter the action. Thirdly there will be some truly amazing action sequences in this film and we should all be prepared to see stunts that really push the envelope whilst retaining the all-important Nolan realism. Finally the prologue showed us flashes of Anne Hathaway, seemingly set to play a very significant role in the film, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in a policeman's uniform.
Thirdly there will be some truly amazing action sequences in this film and we should all be prepared to see stunts that really push the envelope whilst retaining the all-important Nolan realism.
More details remain sketchy but on the surface The Dark Knight Rises could be the most exciting, interesting, and impressive of all the Batman films. The anticipation around the title is already at unprecedented levels and Warner Bros will do everything they can to continue to stoke the flames ahead of the July 20th release date. How will it end and what the studio will do next remain big question marks - whatever happens there is no way they will want to let the franchise as a whole come to a rest when Nolan and Bale finish their roles as the maestros of the reinvention of the caped crusader. For now though all we can do is count down the days - if you've not seen Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, go and buy them now and prepare yourself for a treat. If you have seen them then keep an eye out on your local cinema listings as the Harry Potter pre-booking frenzy will look like a picnic compared to what it's going to be like trying to get a ticket to see the concluding chapter of the best cinematic "reimagining" of all time.
The Dark Knight is released nationwide on July 20th and will also be shown at IMAX theatres
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