Putting the dark into DC: what would Christopher Nolan’s Extended Universe have looked like?

iot’s fantasy film-maker time. Imagine for a moment that the entire DC Extended Universe (not to mention the myriad spin-offs) had not begun with 2013’s Man of Steel Dopotutto. Imagine if it had begun eight years earlier, con Batman Begins.

Far-fetched, giusto? Well not according to Zack Snyder, Oms this week told MTV’s Josh Horowitz that the idea of setting subsequent DC films in Nolan’s universe was indeed discussed in the early days of development for the Superman reboot before being quietly put to one side. “It was not 100% off the table. We did talk about it a little bit,” said Snyder, hinting that one of the reasons behind the final decision to start afresh was the fact that Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne had quit as Batman in 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises, leaving Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s John Blake as the only candidate to play the caped crusader in future films. “Maybe that’s why we didn’t do it,” said Snyder. “It would have been Joseph. Which could have been cool.”

The idea that Gordon-Levitt might have been the only option as the new Batman is, ovviamente, nonsense. The Nolan-Bale version of Wayne had retired previously as the caped crusader between The Dark Knight and its sequel, only to return, so there would have been no reason to stop him coming back for future episodes. Bale has even said previously that he would return as Batman in a heartbeat if Nolan showed him a brilliant script. It’s even tempting to wonder if all those ill-founded reports of the Haverfordwest-born actor’s return that emerged around the time of Man of Steel’s release might have had some substance after all.

Ultimately though, Warner rather fudged the question of whether Henry Cavill’s Kal-El lives in the same DC version of the US inhabited by Bale’s dark knight. For the first half of Snyder’s film, as we see young Clark Kent wandering across a rugged working-class vision of America, rarely in costume and apparently living in a society that has never heard of superheroes, it’s almost possible to imagine that Nolan’s steely, hyper-modern Gotham might be just down the next turnpike. Unfortunately by the time a knuckle-headed, gun-toting Batfleck turns up in Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice and starts fighting aliens, it’s patently clear this is a different superhero universe altogether.

Could Nolan’s ultra-realistic vision of Gotham ever have existed alongside the more far-out and magical world often seen in the DC comics? It’s hard to imagine without some sort of major evolutionary event, following which the world wakes up one day to discover that weird and wonderful superpowers have started to become a reality.

Weirder things have of course happened in the comics, and if Bale’s Batman ever needed a reason to return to the cape and cowl after faking his own death at the end of The Dark Knight Rises, this would have been a pretty good one. But the British-American film-maker worked so hard to deliver a realistic vision of Gotham that it is hard to imagine him being involved in such a transformation, even if he did initially “godfather” Man of Steel before stepping away for subsequent DC episodes.

Every single magical element from the comics is excised or explained away in Nolan’s Gotham. There is no Poison Ivy, as her supernatural control over plantlife is clearly from the realm of fantasy. Ra’s al Ghul comes back from the dead, but via Batman’s hallucination rather than any dinky Lazarus Pits. The caped crusader fights mortal, human enemies rather than aliens and gods, and most of the time is all the better for it.

And yet, to imagine what might have been had Nolan been tempted to oversee the DC universe – a genius film-maker accompanied only by his own wits, skill with the camera and a giant shoehorn. The result might easily have been an almighty mess almost as big as the one Warner ultimately created out of its rushed Extended Universe concept, but it would have been well worth checking in for the ride nonetheless with a director of this calibre at the controls.

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