It's been seven years since The Dark Knight Rises hit theaters and concluded Christopher Nolan's trilogy of Batman films, and that version of Batman has already been replaced twice. Nolan and star Christian Bale launched one of the Dark Knight's most successful eras with Batman Begins in 2005, but in the years since ending their run the Caped Crusader has been played in two films (plus one cameo) by Ben Affleck and will soon be played in a new continuity by Robert Pattinson. It's easy to see why, in an age when superhero media has exploded even beyond the phenomenon of The Dark Knight, Batman keeps getting revamped, but it turns out that we could have had more of Bale and Nolan's Batman even after they ended their trilogy in 2012.
In an interview with the Toronto Sun to promote his new racing drama Ford v Ferrari, Bale explained that from the beginning of their time on the Dark Knight trilogy, he and Nolan took a very one-at-a-time approach to making the films, doing the best they could at the time with individual installments.
"We knew we had to reinvent it. I literally had people laugh at me when I told them we were doing a new kind of Batman," Bale recalled. "I think that the reason it worked was first and foremost Chris’ take on it.
"But also we never were arrogant to assume that we had an opportunity beyond one film at a time. That’s something that Chris always would talk about. He’d say, 'This is it. We’re making one film. That’s all we’ve got.'
"Then when they came and said, 'You want to go make another?' It was fantastic, but we still said, 'This is it. We will not get another opportunity.'"
Of course, The Dark Knight exploded in 2008, becoming the biggest superhero film to date and one of the biggest movies of all time, so naturally Warner Bros. wanted its director and star to return for a third installment. At that point, according to Bale, Nolan declared that it would be nice to put a bow on things and end their run with a completed trilogy. That didn't stop Warner Bros. from coming back to them after The Dark Knight Rises and offering a fourth film, though. When that happened, Bale and Nolan stuck to their guns, with Nolan walking away from the idea of Dark Knight 4 entirely.
"Then when they inevitably came to us and said, 'How about a No. 4?' I said, 'No. We have to stick to Chris’ dream, which was always to, hopefully, do a trilogy. Let’s not stretch too far and become overindulgent and go for a fourth.'
"That’s why we, well Chris, stepped away. After that I was informed my services were no longer required (laughs)."
You can tell from the operatic, highest-possible-stakes tone of The Dark Knight Rises that Nolan had no intention of revisiting his Batman mythos after that film. The movie dramatically reshapes the trilogy's world and its characters, retiring Bruce Wayne and changing the face of Gotham City forever in the wake of Bane's reign of terror. It would certainly have been possible for someone to dream up a sequel (there is, after all, a built-in successor to Bruce Wayne), but Nolan set the movie up as a mic drop, which explains why he walked away.
Still, this means there's an alternate Earth somewhere in which we're all settling down in theater seats right now to see Dark Knight 5.