The Dark Knight Rises: But Will This Be Another Threequel To Forget?

With Nolan beginning work on the final installment of his Batman saga, the stakes have been set very high indeed, but will he fall victim to the curse of the 'threequel.'
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“Three,” De La Soul informed us, “is the magic number”. The film industry will tell you differently. If someone asks you to name a good “threequel” the possible replies are scarce. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, The Bourne Ultimatum and the wonderful Toy Story 3 are the popular threesome to choose from. Yet reminiscing about the rain-sodden summer of threequels in 2007 evokes underwhelming trips to the cinema. Ocean’s 13 was decent but not difficult to improve upon the egotistical mess of 12, Shrek the Third signalled that franchise’s decline, Rush Hour 3, like The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon a year later, was an unasked for instalment while Pirates of the Caribbean: At Worlds End compelled Mark Kermode to liken Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley’s woodenness to “two chairs mating”. Even Spider-Man 3’s suddenly-pivotal butler and double-teams facing-off bore resemblance to the camp monstrosity and threequel fatality Batman Forever.

So with hope and fear is The Dark Knight Rises anticipated ahead of its July 20 release date next year. Not only is the onus on it to buck the trend of failed superhero threequels (X-Men The Last Stand and Superman III join the abovementioned) but there is an astronomical expectation that it will complete a brilliant trilogy. The Last Crusade made amends for the dull McGuffin and irksome sidekicks alongside Indy in Temple of Doom, The Godfather Part III, despite The Sopranos’ bid to label it “misunderstood” was an unsatisfactory climax to two peerless pictures while Return of the Jedi opted for the ridiculous Muppets in Space theme to undermine its Star Wars predecessors. The Lord of the Rings? The inevitability of The Return of the King’s crescendo and the piles-inducing running time makes it the weakest of Peter Jackson’s outings. Again we come back to Bourne and Paul Greengrass’ impressive knack to improve upon Doug Liman’s Identity and to then supersede Supremacy with the final chapter of Matt Damon's amnesiac saga.

What can be ascertained from details emanating from The Dark Knight Rises production is that Nolan is, refreshingly, employing a finite ending which certifies this as his and Christian Bale’s final outings in Gotham City. Sam Raimi’s vision for ­Spider-Man 3 was scuppered via studio interference, with Sony insisting that Venom (played by a horribly miscast Topher Grace) feature despite Raimi deeming the villain as one for “squares”, yet Nolan’s success from Batman  Begins and The Dark Knight has been his vast control over story development.

During production of The Dark Knight he avidly opposed a Justice League Mortal film (DC Comics’ equivalent of Marvel’s Avengers) since it would have diluted his own Batman saga. Even though George Miller’s production had located to Australia (with Armie Hammer as Batman) the 2007 writer's strike and the Australian government denying a 40% tax rebate canceled the film. The decision to kill off Aaron Eckhart’s Harvey Two-Face reneged on a previous promise that he would be the third film’s main villain was a bold move, yet vindicated by the grim tone that The Dark Knight oozed perfectly.

Hitherto, The Dark Knight Rises’ casting has revealed that Bane, a physical and intellectual villain who will be played by Tom Hardy and a femme fatale who, ahem, goes both ways (Anne Hathaway’s Selina Kyle/Catwoman) will appear. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Marion Cotillard were cast months ago and predicted as Alberto Falcone (son of Tom Wilkinson’s Carmine Falcone from Begins) and Talia Al Ghul respectively. Yet  Warner Bros. confounded fanboys by clarifying that their characters are new creations dreamt up by Nolan and writing partners David Goyer and brother Jonathan.

Gordon-Levitt will play John Blake, “a Gotham City cop who is given a special assignment under the command of Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman)” and Cotillard is Miranda Tate, a “Wayne Enterprises board member who wants to help Bruce Wayne, who's still grieving, resume his father's philanthropic endeavours in the city”. Why so suspicious then? Because Josh Pence – the Winklevoss twin you didn’t see in The Social Network – plays a young Ra’s Al Ghul in flashbacks. This isn’t an incongruous inclusion but an indication that Nolan is bringing the film full-circle and back in tone with the Begins origins, so character announcements may feasibly be red herrings. Especially since when Ken Watanabe and Liam Neeson’s casting was announced for Begins, they were initially revealed as the opposite roles of one another until a second press release reversed the roles. The film revealed this to be a double-bluff.

The unenviable task of usurping 2008’s epic The Dark Knight poses the quandary of which villain to utilise against an outlawed Batman when considering how the second instalment ended and Nolan’s neo-realistic Gotham. The fondness and deity stature Heath Ledger’s Joker is held in mounts pressure on to the story and supporting ensemble to compensate for his absence to maintain the ominous mood, although Hardy's physique and the cerebral depiction of Bane potentially makes him the dark horse for the Dark Knight.

Succumbing to the too many cooks syndrome of villains is the obvious danger to avoid, but Nolan is cinema’s coyest customer and any official statement may consist of ulterior motives. Script readers in the industry lamented how The Dark Knight was unobtainable in 2008, and in March Gary Oldman revealed that Nolan is present with actors when reading the script in the production office, yet omits the ending, preferring to tell them rather than risk a spoiler leaking on to the internet. Oldman eulogised Nolan for outdoing himself with a “fabulous” story, but as filming continues in New York, the looming shadow of the feared “3” hovers overhead as brightly as the Bat-signal.

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