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The Dark Knight was the last superhero movie saga with an actual ending

Christopher Nolan did something that filmmakers no longer get to do with The Dark Knight Rises ten years ago.

At the end of Christopher Nolan’s 2012 film The Dark Knight Rises, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is far from his regular crime-fighting mission. He appears to have shed the physical and psychological load of becoming Batman. Now he can unwind, cast knowing eyes at Alfred (Michael Caine) from across the café, and get tipsy with the Woman Formerly Known As Catwoman throughout Europe (Anne Hathaway). Meanwhile, former officer John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) discovers the Batcave beneath the reconstructed Wayne Manor in Gotham City. From his disclosure that he deciphered Bruce Wayne’s secret identity to the final announcement that his legal name is “Robin,” Blake has spent the whole film being touted as the closest thing to Batman’s heir apparent.As the credits roll and Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack begins to play, he ascends to assume the mantle.

The series then concludes. Not postponed till the next sequel or spinoff, not officially concluded until a credits scene establishing a new branch of a series, but over. Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight tale finishes, with no plans for a revival or continuation, after possibly the largest finale tease in recent superhero flicks that does not feature Captain America’s shield. In the age of expanding worlds and numerous timelines, that is not only unusual, but completely unique. The Dark Knight Rises was released a decade ago, and it was the last time a big superhero narrative was permitted to conclude conclusively.

Even while Batman films have had a huge effect on the genre, they always feel like they’re from another universe. The fairy-tale fever dream of Tim Burton’s Batman Returns in 1992 and the toyetic glowstick paradise of Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin in 1997 appear to be examples of wild abandon rather than studio blockbusters, especially in compared to the rather somber X-Men in 2000. Nolan’s trilogy is centered on George W. Bush’s presidency. They’re flicks about the complexities and moralities of terrorism and surveillance governments, developed when the embryonic Marvel Cinematic Universe was centered on very straightforward Good vs. Mostly Evil fiction.

The Dark Knight was the last superhero movie saga with an actual ending

The Dark Knight Rises was released the same summer as Marvel’s The Avengers, and with Rises acting as the definitive conclusion to one tale, it’s difficult not to perceive it as a type of passing of the torch between two series that defined their genre. The Avengers was a significant growth milestone for the MCU, concluding Phase One’s prologue and establishing a series in which practically every following entry would be intricately tied to the others.

Soon later, Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel heralded the introduction of the DC Extended Universe, which contained a new Batman who had to cohabit with Nolan’s comic-book daydream. For the first time, a live-action Batman crossed paths with the heroes that congregated beyond the city boundaries of Gotham. Expanded worlds have appeared everywhere, with different degrees of success, from the Fast & Furious flicks to Universal’s failed Dark Universe series about horror legends. With the trend toward films that functioned largely to set up future flicks, the Dark Knight trilogy stood out even more.

Because, from then on, even when other superhero movies appeared to conclude, and its major characters returned to some kind of normalcy, the loose ends were never really wrapped up. Even if they appeared to be, the following film in the series would untie them again. When Fox’s X-Men series was swept up in the Disney merger, it was a jumbled mass of timelines, spinoffs, and soft reboots. Logan, released in 2017, said farewell to Wolverine, the mutant who had carried the X-Men series for 17 years, as well as Hugh Jackman, the actor who never left the franchise, even when it was at its worst.

Even the ostensibly conclusive finale was meant to represent a new beginning. Dafne Keen, who played the film’s young mutant Laura, confirmed that a sequel was in the works. With films like Dark Phoenix, Deadpool 2, and New Mutants following, it became evident that Logan was only a character send-off rather than the series’ grand finale. With speculations of Fox’s X-Men appearing in the MCU’s Multiverse of Madness, we may be in for even more looks into their perplexing universes.

Other seemingly-ending series, such as the independent Sam Raimi and Marc Webb Spider-Man series that preceded the character’s admission into the MCU, were both intended to continue before behind-the-scenes pressure prompted course modifications. The competing Peter Parkers from those films subsequently appeared again in Spider-Man: No Way Home, a film that further demonstrates Disney and Marvel Studios’ current conviction that they are not only the major export of superhero fantasy in the present, but they also have your nostalgia on lock.

Even pre-Nolan Batmans are vulnerable. Michael Keaton, who played Batman in Tim Burton’s films, is poised to reprise the character in the next film The Flash, and will most likely replace Ben Affleck as DC’s primary Batman. Whatever tale Schumacher attempted to depict in Batman & Robin was supposed to be continued in a fifth series entry (dubbed Batman Triumphant or Batman Unchained) before the project was cancelled. There’s also the Batman from 2022’s The Batman, a new series we’ve been told would remain separate from the rest of the Justice League films. So maybe the next time we receive the final chapter of a superhero narrative, it will be with Batman.

The Dark Knight was the last superhero movie saga with an actual ending

However, until then, Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy remains alone in allowing its tale to conclude without plans for brand expansions. While other series have functioned under the idea of “If they come, we will construct it,” the creative team behind The Dark Knight Rises have frequently said that the film is the conclusion of the saga. Despite having the highest international profit of its trilogy, it is generally a dead giveaway that a sequel is on the way. According to Nolan, the climactic scene of The Dark Knight Rises was only open-ended “thematically,” and the tale he intended to convey had a limit.If you want the Dark Knight mystique to go on, you must conceive it.

Christian Bale said that his “skills were no longer necessary” following the film, while Joseph Gordon-Levitt ruled out the possibility of his “Robin” starring in a spinoff. Because of Nolan’s films’ enormous box office and critical success, the filmmaker obtained a significant creative hold on Warner Bros., allowing him to terminate his series on his own terms. When Man of Steel was being planned in 2013, when Warner Bros. executives suggested that it may be a wonderful addition to the Dark Knight’s world, Zack Snyder indicates that Nolan, as the film’s producer, had the authority to shoot the notion down.

The finale of Dark Knight Rises works in the context of the franchise. While in comic books, Bruce Wayne giving up his secret identity is typically considered as a cardinal sin that defames everything the character symbolizes, the Wayne of Nolan’s trilogy fights with his heroic position on a regular basis. He’s divided between assuring Gotham’s safety and the urge to live a regular life, and he gets to have it both ways by convincing Gotham that he’s sacrificed himself while still entrusting its wellbeing to someone he trusts.Gotham now has the renowned emblem of Batman to inspire optimism, a new Batguy to ensure that people don’t jaywalk or whatever, and Bruce can wake up in the morning knowing that he won’t be beaten by clowns.

It’s strange in the perspective of modern franchising. There’s a no-holds-barred attitude to superhero worldbuilding in movie that almost guarantees that every comic book daydream you’ve ever had will one day come true. Though we’ve moved on from reading through Batman’s rogues gallery in descending A-to-Z list form, the promise of endless linked worlds continuing with no end in sight implies that any narrative, allusion, or adaption should be feasible. Robert Downey Jr. was the unquestioned star of the MCU’s first ten years, but even Iron Man’s death is now only a blip in the timeline of other people’s experiences.

Despite this, there’s no hint that Rises will function as an unofficial “To be continued…” After a 19-year association, Nolan decided to take his next picture to Universal after a disagreement with Warner Bros. over their simultaneous theater/streaming release approach. Christian Bale’s role as the Caped Crusader appears to be linked to Nolan’s appearance, and in the meanwhile, Bale isn’t short of work. He’s even entered the Marvel Cinematic Universe, appearing in the fourth Thor film, Love and Thunder. Participating in the colorful series is a far cry from the rumor that Bale promised to “hang himself up somewhere and refuse to go to work” if he had to defend Gotham with a Robin.

The Dark Knight Rises wasn’t the end of an era; it was something entirely new, a synthesis of storytelling skill and behind-the-scenes clout that gave a filmmaker and his crew the authority they needed to call it quits. Previously, if a director or celebrity chose to leave, the studio would simply find someone else to fill the post. At this point, studios’ strategy may be to never give up. Cinematic superhero storylines abound and survive, like stars waiting to be plucked from the sky, in an age of team-ups and crossovers that are only restricted by the IPs a specific firm owns or can negotiate for. Except for one, which went dark.

The Dark Knight Returns is currently available for streaming on HBO Max and for rental or purchase on Amazon, Vudu, and other digital platforms.

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