Looking Back: Four Years of Rumors, Hype & Build-Up to 'The Dark Knight Rises'
by Alex Billington
July 19, 2012
Here we are, on the eve of The Dark Knight Rises. The legend is coming to an end. Its been four years of leading up to this, ever since The Dark Knight. Honestly, we could say it all began with Batman Begins in 2005. I still remember my first time going to see Begins, when I was living in New York City for a summer, and how much I loved it right off the bat, falling for Nolan's style. But the site launched a year later closer to The Prestige and finally, The Dark Knight. We've come a long way since TDK hit theaters on July 18th, 2008, posting nearly 200 articles on or about the sequel since then; now, it's time. Let's take a look back.
The Dark Knight Rises ends Christopher Nolan's epic Batman trilogy, and puts a grand finale on the series, arriving in theaters everywhere this weekend. We all knew this was coming, we all knew the series had to come to an end, that he would finish the legend of Batman. But right from the start, the question always was: how? One of the first things we launched after TDK was released was a contest, called "Where Could The Dark Knight Go Next?", asking fans to write the best story for the sequel to The Dark Knight in 500 words. The top winners later were excellent, but it was still cool to immediately began to see buzz about how this story could conclude after the way The Dark Knight ends - with Batman on the run in Gotham City.
Not long after The Dark Knight was released in late July of 2008, a few sequel stories started to appear. A fan-made poster hit the web, with a big question mark and the original title "The Dark Knight Returns". That was more early speculation - no one knew what the title would be at first. In late August, producer Charles Roven was quoted talking about the sequel saying: "there are a lot of us who emotionally would love to do it. But it's really Chris' call." That would mean we'd have to wait until he made Inception first before he'd continue on to what would eventually be known as TDKR. Meaning a few for more years of speculation.
One of the most ridiculous early rumors to kick up came out in late 2008, right after The Dark Knight had been released. Gossip blogs started running big stories that Johnny Depp was reportedly going to be "playing the Riddler. And not only that, but execs want Philip Seymour Hoffman to play the Penguin." None of that came true and it turned out to be nothing but early gossip fodder, just to get the mags going on all the TDK buzz. But I remember getting endless emails about "did you hear that Depp is playing Riddler?" Thankfully a outrageous rumor that didn't last long (Depp squashed it) early on, but certainly remembered.
Before everyone started getting serious about it, if you recall, one of the big questions was whether or not Aaron Eckhart as Two-Face was still alive and would be back. I can say he's definitely dead, so don't worry about that anymore. He was first questioned about it in late '08, but the rumors even went as far as early 2009 before dying off. When people started getting serious, the question became something bigger: "How many good third movies in a franchise can people name?" That was something Chris Nolan actually said back in late 2008. While The Dark Knight went on to set a few box office records, earning an impressive $1 billion at the global box office, we went on to ponder where and how it might end for Batman and Gotham.
It Starts and Ends with Time (2009)
That brings us to one of the first big milestones in the development of this sequel. In the summer of 2009, while Nolan was off making Inception, our good friend and contributor Brandon Lee Tenney took a stab at pitching a prospective concept for a Dark Knight sequel. "Batman Begins is Batman's birth. The Dark Knight is both his rise and fall to a place even darker than he thought possible. Should, as I expect, Batman 3 continue to follow this classic biblical structure, it would be Batman's resurrection, his transcendence." His editorial, almost a prediction, came out nearly accurate in the end. A key excerpt from his 2009 post:
"Batman 3 should take place years, if not decades, in the future. Who says resurrection has to be three days? By aging Gotham, it ages the characters (thus avoiding a contemporary recasting of The Joker). By aging Gotham, it raises the stakes. Gotham, the fallen city, having been sunk for years now. A city without any hope. A population without a hero. Batman, still a distrusted wild card. Batman, still torn apart by the loss of Rachel. Of Harvey. Of Alfred - he has to go. But we gain a more mature Batman. One who, in the decades passed, has now seen it all. One who has been continually hated by the very people he protects. One who won't let himself become good in their eyes, become that celebrity. One who truly knows how to use his rage, his torment, rather than the Batman we've seen who only thinks he does."
It's not spoiling anything to remind you that The Dark Knight Rises takes place eight years after The Dark Knight. He nailed that. Beyond that, I will let you figure out how close he gets when you see TDKR yourself, but it's rather eerie how dead on he was. It was one of the last major discussions on Batman we had for a while, right around the time when Christian Bale was saying, "I truly don't know that we're ever going to see another Batman movie." It wasn't until early 2010 that we heard more sequel news. First it was a rumor that David Goyer was working on the Batman 3 script with Jonathan Nolan, but that got overshadowed by news (in early 2010) that Chris Nolan was producing a new Superman movie, now being directed by Zack Snyder.
It's Finally Confirmed (2010)
A few months before Inception hit theaters in July of 2010, Warner Bros officially announced and confirmed the third Batman movie was coming, setting the date July 20th, 2012 (arriving in a few days!). Of course, the next immediate question on everyone's mind - was the Joker maybe, somehow coming back? Nolan quickly answered that in June of 2010: "No. Emphatically and unhesitatingly." Then came the next round rumors: when is it shooting? (Michael Caine was notorious for updates.) Who else was going to be in it? (We posted a big casting tip in July of 2010 that they were considering Joseph Gordon-Levitt to play The Riddler. While the Riddler part wasn't true, the Gordon-Levitt casting definitely was.) So what came next?
It wasn't until late October of 2010 when the official title The Dark Knight Rises was announced. Hero Complex got the scoop straight from Chris Nolan, who told them "We'll use many of the same characters as we have all along, and we'll be introducing some new ones." Indeed. Interestingly enough, Catwoman was name dropped at this time slyly by Geoff Boucher, but I guess we didn't think too much of it yet. Instead, we were thinking about other casting, hoping a Catwoman might not show up in Nolan's world, at least not yet.
Before they even named the title, one of the primary roles Nolan cast was Tom Hardy as Bane. He was the first to land a major role, with news in early October (though his role unrevealed). That was followed up with a lot of interesting disinformation and rumors. Charlize Theron and Vera Farmiga were briefly up for roles. Theron's part was supposedly "Det. Sarah Essen, a love interest for Commissioner Jim Gordon", but no role exists in the final movie. Other name actresses like Keira Knightley, Blake Lively, Rachel Weisz and Natalie Portman were also apparently up for roles: "One will be that of a love interest for Bruce Wayne and the other would be an unnamed villain." One of the first mentions of Anne Hathaway.
One of the last big updates on Batman 3 / TDKR we heard in late 2010 came directly from Christopher Nolan, who talked about how "super-excited" he was to be getting back into Batman. He stated at the time:
"I must say that I'm glad — I'm very, very glad — to be embarking on the last chapter of our Batman saga without any sense of obligation or duty to the studio. They did very well with Inception. So I'm able to go into finishing our story in a very enthusiastic way."
Things were fairly quiet in late 2010 as Nolan continued to work on pre-production and casting in secret.
Big News, Big Reveals (2011)
It only took a few more months for the big news to hit. Out of nowhere, one fine January 2011 morning, on the eve of Sundance, two of the biggest announcements hit - Anne Hathaway was officially cast as Selina Kyle, the altar ego of Catwoman, and Tom Hardy was officially playing Bane, the villain in the movie. Two huge details in one story, it set the fan community ablaze. If you can believe it was only 19 months ago when we first learned who exactly these two would be playing in The Dark Knight Rises. A few weeks later we learned Henry Cavill would be playing Superman, but Zack's movie isn't due until the summer of 2013.
It was right around then things started to get really hot 'n heavy, especially surrounding early buzz. Nolan's cinematographer Wally Pfister was quoted in February of 2011 saying: "It's a phenomenal script. He's still in the process of cutting it back because it's a very long script right now, but it's really phenomenal." That same day, Joseph Gordon-Levitt was officially cast in the movie, in an unrevealed role, originally rumored to be Hugo Strange. A few weeks later, Marion Cotillard was confirmed in the cast, rumored to be playing Talia al Ghul, Ra's al Ghul's daughter, connecting everything to the first movie. We followed up in March with an article about Gordon-Levitt playing Alberto Falcone, but that didn't turn out to be true at all.
Principal photography and production began on The Dark Knight Rises last May, only a year ago. We posted our announcement on May 19th, 2011 and also included news that "Nolan will be shooting even more footage in IMAX than he did for The Dark Knight." Because set photos and other rampant fan coverage had been threatening reveals, it only took one day for Warner Bros to unveil the first official shot of Bane. The reveal came through the twitter @thefirerises, which was oddly never used again throughout the lead-up to its release. The shot of Bane from the back with his mask seemed to be greeted with a warm response from fans, but it was only the start as more photos continued to pour in. So this is the guy who'll break the Bat?
"We were in this together. Then you were gone. Now there's evil rising. The Batman has to come back." Making sure not to miss a big opportunity, Warner Bros decided to run the very first teaser trailer for TDKR on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 last summer. It only ran 90 seconds in length with hardly any footage, besides a shot of Gary Oldman as Gordon in the hospital and some glimpses of Bane. It definitely had an epic feel, but it was barely even a real look at the majestically grand world Nolan was truly crafting in The Dark Knight Rises, as he was still in the middle of shooting when this was released. Between this and the first new teaser poster, it kept fans satisfied but anxious—for at least a few months.
The next big reveal came a few weeks later, in early August, as The Dark Knight Rises continued shooting in Pittsburgh. Right around the time fans were pouring over the first shots of Hathaway in a Catwoman getup, Warner Bros posted this Catwoman reveal, showing her riding the Bat Pod. One of the only official photos we'd see of her for a long time, definitely meant to satiate fans and try and keep them away from set photos.
Everything picked up again last November, with the reveal of a large amount of information in Empire's issue on The Dark Knight Rises. Featuring special covers with Batman and Bane, it was the first time Nolan revealed the "story picks up quite a bit later, eight years after The Dark Knight. So he's an older Bruce Wayne; he's not in a great state." Nolan also spoke about Bane and how important he was to the story. "With Bane, we're looking to give Batman a challenge he hasn't had before. With our choice of villain and with our choice of story we're testing Batman both physically as well as mentally." Indeed. Tons of new images arrived from Empire, but hardly mention of Catwoman, mostly talk about Bane and the challenge of this.
A few other important updates arrived around November. This is was when Hans Zimmer announced he was collecting "bah-sah-rah" chanting voices for his soundtrack experiment. The results of which, I think, are absolutely extraordinary, his score is a tremendous piece of work. Gary Oldman also chatted briefly again about "finality" in TDKR, and Christian Bale actually went out of his way to praise Anne Hathaway as Catwoman, stating: "I'm very impressed when somebody really seems to acquire an ownership of a character… I saw that in Anne." I can't wait until everyone gets to see her in this, she is quite something.
The Prologue Rises (2011)
Everything changed once the Bane IMAX prologue arrived last December. The announcement and list of theaters came out on December 1st, since the plan was to attach something to Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, opening a mere 15 days later in IMAX. I went nuts for it at the time in our video blog, but upon further reflection, I think the experience with Joker's prologue in The Dark Knight is still slightly better. But that prologue launched a large amount of marketing to end the year - between Bane's new "The Legend Ends" teaser poster plus Bane's strike map and t-shirts, and of course the second full theatrical trailer that would eventually arrive perfectly on time at the end of the year. "There's a storm coming, Mr. Wayne."
Of course, one of the big issues the prologue brought to light was an apparent problem with understanding "Bane's voice". I can tell you now it's definitely fixed, this isn't an issue anymore. His voice is still odd and occasionally tough to fully pick-up, but that's part of his character, but the sound mix has definitely been cleared up a lot. I think this overly-negative and overblown reaction quickly made Warner Bros execs a bit nervous, and we wrote a piece that incited a fairly heated discussion titled "Insiders Worried About Understanding Bane." Fans were left wondering if this would be a bad problem while watching, instead of whether or not the story would live up. Thankfully, it's not a problem, but we certainly discussed it then.
As of November they had wrapped production, but Nolan still had a lot of hard work ahead of him. He had only just start editing before the prologue, which might explain the mixing gaffe with Bane's voice. However, we would lead into 2012 knowing that The Dark Knight Rises would finally be out in theaters this year, which is why it ended up on our popular "22 Exciting Reasons Why 2012 Will Be a Spectacular Year for Movies" list. Honestly, it was a pinnacle choice, as the movie truly is the definition of spectacular.
Counting Down to the End (2012)
Here we are in 2012. Ever since the new year hit, we've been slowly getting more and more marketing bits, plenty of updates all around. Midnight tickets went on sale in January, even selling out seven months away. Warner Bros launched a t-shirt design contest at Design By Humans, which resulted in some outstanding winners chosen by Chris Nolan, I'll say now they're befitting the very dark tone of the movie. TDKR also got its PG-13 rating as early as April of 2012, which happened rather quickly, but it shows in the editing. I even got to see footage at CinemaCon that I went crazy for in our video blog, which was quite a bit of fun.
"I'm Gotham's reckoning." They continued to launch new footage through TV spots, TV trailers and one of the most exciting trailers to ever debut, the third theatrical trailer. That guy dropped on April 30th, just before the summer started off with The Avengers, giving it premium placement playing in front of that summer smash hit. Now it has an extraordinary amount of buzz as it leads into the summer season. For those who noticed, Nokia dropped a rather kick ass, more energetic trailer online around late June. But purists trying to stay away from seeing much should avoid, keep their eyes averted the last few weeks.
One of the most annoying early reveals came in March, that a certain well-known actor, Liam Neeson, would appearing in the sequel for obvious reasons. He is in it, of course, but don't worry, that doesn't mean much. You'll see, it's just an appearance, there are many more characters you should be on the lookout for. Amidst fan reports, Warner Bros confirmed Neeson in press notes on March 28th. I would've like to have kept this a surprise, but having seen TDKR I can tell you it's not a big reveal, and it's fine to move on past this, though I wish they'd do a better job keeping a lid on things in the future. Best to keep it all a surprise.
Another spectacle from the final few months leading up to the release of The Dark Knight Rises was the number of excellent official posters, or lack thereof. They released a few, including a sweet Catwoman viral teaser, but then slipped up with this Photoshop disaster for the actual official poster. How did that get through? But the best part came when they released a series of character posters featuring the word "RISE", which at first only came with Batman, Catwoman and Bane. They were good shots, but then the fans took it to the next level. MessenjahMatt started designing an entire series of character posters, featuring the likes of all the supporting characters from Gordon to Alfred to Fox to even the Joker and Chris Nolan himself. One of the best viral fan creations to arise (get it?) out of the marketing material in these last few months.
Now we're coming down to the end. A lot has been revealed, between photos, set photos, trailers, TV spots, posters, there's a lot out there. But savor as much as you can, don't spoil it in advance, and go in and enjoy the experience. They've held a nationwide tour of the Tumbler and Bat-Pod, which ended up swinging by Comic-Con in an awesome display featuring all of the Batman vehicles. Speaking of Comic-Con, while they didn't have a huge presence, they did end up running a mini-viral featuring Bat signals shining on buildings around San Diego late one night. Around five winners were chosen to have "hometown screenings" of the movie this week. That, unfortunately, was the extent of any big viral happenings related to this movie.
Now it's finally time. While we weren't invited to interview Mr. Nolan or any of the other cast, I can point you to a few of the better interviews. Geoff Boucher of Hero Complex: Christopher Nolan takes Batman to new place; David Germain of Salon has some interesting Nolan quotes on 3D; and NY Daily News has a few good quotes. If you really want to dig in, you can see a 13-minute behind-the-scenes featurette.
We've really come a long way since coverage began for this finale. The more I think about it, I still can't believe its been four years, and I still can't believe we're finally here. We're finally about to experience the conclusion to Chris Nolan's Batman trilogy. It all began with, "Why do we fall, Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves up." Now the legend comes to an end. Its been a long journey, and I'm very excited to see how the discussion continues once everyone has the chance to see the movie. I am certain the discussion will rage on well beyond the final minutes of The Dark Knight Rises, and we'll be right here to continue it as always. But for now, sit back, relax, and enjoy Christopher Nolan's epic Batman finale in all of its grandeur.