It’s hard to argue that Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy changed the way we think about comic book movies from the release of Batman Begins in 2005. For better or worse, they remain the prime example of the majority’s idea of a “prestige” tentpole, and they still shape the way we think about superhero movies 15 years later.
On his recent promotional tour for Tom Shore’s book, The Nolan Variations, Nolan participated in a virtual discussion presented by cultural center 92Y (via Indiewire) and reflected on his Batman trilogy. Specifically, he reflected on how it was made at a time just before the post-Marvel explosion of comic book movies and how that gave it a unique place in cinematic history.
For starters, it enabled him to tell a story he wanted to tell. As he explained
“It was the right moment in time for the telling of the story I wanted to do. The origin story for Batman had never been addressed in film or fully in the comics. There wasn’t a particular or exact thing we had to follow. There was a gap in movie history. Superman had a very definitive telling with Christopher Reeve and Richard Donner. The version of that with Batman had never been told. We were looking at this telling of an extraordinary figure in an ordinary world.”
With no preexisting blueprint to follow or story arc to continue, Nolan was able to take his time and make the trilogy he wanted, without the studio interference and oversight that most comic book movies have today. He says it gave him an advantage:
“The other advantage we had was back then you could take more time between sequels. When we did Batman Begins, we didn’t know we’d do one and it took three years to do it and then four years before the next one. We had the luxury of time. It didn’t feel like a machine, an engine of commerce for the studio. As the genre becomes so successful, those pressures become greater and greater. It was the right time.”
Now, some comic book movie fans might raise their eyebrows at him referring to modern superhero movies as “a machine” and “engine of commerce,” but it’s not the first time he has talked about this issue. He touched upon the same thing back in 2017 during a BAFTA event saying
“That’s a privilege and a luxury that filmmakers aren’t afforded anymore. I think it was the last time that anyone was able to say to a studio, ‘I might do another one, but it will be four years’. There’s too much pressure on release schedules to let people do that now but creatively it’s a huge advantage. We had the privilege and advantage to develop as people and as storytellers and then bring the family back together.”
The thing is…he’s not exactly wrong. There have been so many amazing comic book movies in the past decade, some truly revolutionary. But more than ever, studios’ survival depends upon tentpole blockbusters, meaning they have to be cranked out with regularity, and franchises need to put out movies at a pace of roughly one sequel every two years. It often means a project is put into production when it might benefit from a longer development period.
Nor is it only superhero movies that fall victim to the rigors of being on such a tight schedule. Think of how many pricey tentpoles in the past few years were meant to be franchise starters only to completely flop at the box office, tentpoles you couldn’t help but feel might have fared better had they gotten six more months to do another pass of the script or a few more months to polish the CGI. Or even innovate and evolve it.
If there’s one bright spot of the massive Covid delays of so many productions, it’s that it potentially offers a number of tentpoles the ability to take a little more time with development and post. That’s not to say more superhero movies, or tentpoles in general, need it – they don’t. But think of how many more great franchises could be launched if only their kickoff movies had some more time in development. It’s an exciting thought, and one that has the potential to shape Hollywood for the better after one of the toughest setbacks it’s ever endured.
In the meantime, Matt Reeves’ The Batman is the next Batman movie in the pipeline. It hits theaters on October 1, 2021. Add The Batman to Your Watchlist for updates.