Why Christopher Nolan Can Put As Many Villains Into ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ As He Wants

By  · Published on March 20th, 2011

The Dark Knight was the first sequel Christopher Nolan ever directed. The Dark Knight Rises will be his first threequel, and there’s something special about his bullet-proof nature. Variety has confirmed the long-believed rumor that Joseph Gordon-Levitt would play Alberto Falcone – the Fredo of the Gotham mob family. He’s a villain to be sure, and one of the best because he’s twisted and weak, an outcast from his own kin in many ways.

So it’s another villain added to the pile. Catwoman, Talia Al’Ghul, Bane, and the League of Shadows form the bad guy sundae, and Falcone is the shriveled up cherry on top. Even so, there have been no editorials calling Nolan and company out for their newfound lust for high profile baddies.

If Batman was wearing red and blue spandex with a spider logo on the front, this news would cause outrage. It would hit too close to home. So why does Nolan get a pass just four years after Spider-Man 3 vomited out bad guys all over the screen? There are at least three big reasons.

The Villains Fit Together

Granted the League of Shadows will most likely be little more than the set dressing than they were in Batman Begins, seeing Catwoman, Alberto Falcone, Talia Al’Ghul, and Bane all vying for screen time is a challenging proposition for any director. There’s no reason to speculate as to who will get the bulk of it, if anyone, but even if there’s a lot of heavy lifting to do, all of the villains fit into the same puzzle.

Instead of, say, a completely random black glob of Silly Putty infecting our hero while a son plots revenge, a rival turns vile, and an escaped con leaves a trail of sand in his pointless attacks, these villains are all emotionally invested in similar things. The reason all the villains of Spider-Man 3 didn’t work is because they all had different goals that had to be developed, and whenever they were finally building a foundation, the story would skip to someone else with completely different needs.

As for The Dark Knight Rises, which features one more villain than the third Spider-Man, there are two main camps. One is the mob side with Alberto Falcone as a representative and Catwoman as a creature of the underworld who believes she’s tied to the family in important ways. The other is the mystic ninja side, featuring what must be a revenge-seeking Talia working in concert with Bane – both of whom see Batman as a challenge to be bested.

Then again, those motivations will play out while the fifth villain – the Gotham City Police Department – is actively hunting down our hero.

There’s a lot of antagonists around here. Even if they all feel like connecting parts of the same engine, maybe there should be some concern about just how much is going up against Batman this go ‘round. It’s one man against an army, another army led by a killer ninja, another army led by a creepy gangster, a genius built like a brick church, and a feline prostitute with a complex character arc.

Phew. That’s a lot.

Nolan Loves Complexity

There was some concern over Spider-Man 3 when the plot was moving forward, and the movie confirmed the fears, but Sam Raimi hadn’t exactly earned the benefit of the doubt when it came to intertwining, moving parts. Nolan has. His latest proved that even with a movie made of exposition, he can take a difficult concept and turn it into an action film with a brain. It was an involved piece of filmmaking stuffed into the genre formula, and it stands as even more proof that Nolan can be trusted to cram as many characters and as many goals as he wants and still maintain focus.

The closest thing Nolan has come to making a “bad” film is Insomnia, and that’s a solid little thriller. Somehow, in a world that cares more about what’s next, Nolan has earned respect for what he’s done over the past decade, so if he wants to turn The Dark Knight Rises into Commissioner Gordian, he’s welcome to it.

A Lack of Studio Entanglement

The real issue with the many villains of Spider-Man 3 was the well-documented struggle between Sony and Sam Raimi. At the end of the day, Sandman and Venom having different motivations were a children’s birthday party compared to Raimi and Sony having different motivations. The outcome was a sticky mess with far too many cooks in Hell’s Kitchen and way too many geek focus groups getting their opinions taken seriously.

That doesn’t seem to be the case here. Warner Bros seems to have the same faith in Nolan that fans do. He’s earned it by making them a disgusting amount of money. With that at stake, it seems like Warners is allowing him to make the film his way.

If we hear about studio meddling, though, it’ll be time for concern. For now, it seems as though there should be nothing but optimism for the challenge Nolan has placed in front of himself and his crew.

What We’ve Learned

Almost a year after Spider-Man 3 was released, I wrote an editorial about why we were all wrong about multiple villains in movies (which features an image of Bane luckily enough). They’re a hurdle to clear for sure, but it’s not impossibly high. I asserted that the streets of Gotham should run rampant with freaks because that’s the world The Joker bequeathed by stripping down the mob and burning his share of the money.

That seems to be the direction things are heading: utter chaos. And that doesn’t seem to bother anyone. The vocal pundits in the movie site world have been shockingly silent on this subject. Nolan has aimed his Bat to the bleachers, and everyone seems to think he’ll hit another home run.

He’s an insanely talented director who has a love of the elaborate (and a way of distilling it into easy-to-follow stories) and seems unburdened by studio notes. That’s the best possible personnel to take on the weight and intricacy of a threequel with such high, villainous stakes.

Nolan wants to face off against a city full of bad guys, and the natural response seems to be applause instead of caution. Hopefully that lack of concern will be the right response, and we’ll all see when see he and his cape and cowled hero take on those armies next Summer.

Now when are we going to talk about how many love interests there are?

What do you think?

Movie stuff at VanityFair, Thrillist, IndieWire, Film School Rejects, and The Broken Projector Podcast@brokenprojector | Writing short stories at Adventitious.