“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 with. 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 threequel while Pirates of the Caribbean: At Worlds End compelled Mark Kermode to liken Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley’s woodenness akin to “two chairs mating”. Even Spider-Man 3’s suddenly-pivotal butler and double-teams facing-off akin 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 I hear you say? 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 the Matt Damon films.
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 this Gotham world. 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 to Rises 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 cancelled 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’ main villain, yet the decision was vindicated by the grim tone that The Dark Knight oozed perfectly.
Hitherto, The Dark Knight Rises’ casting news 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 on Tuesday morning Warner Bros. confounded fanboys 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 – has been announced to play 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 and 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.
Only a few weeks ago My Entertainment World, a film production site used by crew members and actors to in the industry, updated their information for the film with a new story description indicating that Dr. Hugo Strange is, in fact, the main villain. The unenviable task of usurping 2008’s epic The Dark Knight poses the quandary of which villain to utilise against an outlawed Batman and Strange, in the comics, is a psychiatrist who concocts a plan to reveal the Batman’s identity and replace him, which makes any potential inclusion feasible when considering how the second instalment ended and Nolan’s neo-realistic Gotham. But 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.
So no word on a Strange casting – yet – but 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 month Gary Oldman revealed that Nolan is present with actors when reading the script in the production office, yet omits the ending, preferring to tell his actors it rather than risk a spoiler leaking on to the internet. Oldman eulogised Nolan for outdoing himself with a “fabulous” story, but as filming commences in May, the looming shadow of the feared “3” hovers overhead as brightly as the Bat-signal.