Christopher Nolan finds himself in an unusual position as we prepare for the arrival of The Dark Knight Rises in cinemas on 20 July. For the first time since the release of the film's predecessor four years ago, his Batman saga is not the biggest superhero story in town. That honour, at least for the time being, rests with Avengers Assemble, currently getting even better reviews than The Dark Knight, and showing signs that it will perform more strongly at the box office. Meanwhile, The Amazing Spider-Man waits in the wings: the unknown quantity that just might take out both its rivals (provided the shonky CGI Lizard we've seen in preview footage doesn't mess everything up for director Marc Webb).
Where Marvel studios has managed to build impressive hype and buzz for Avengers Assemble, Warner Brothers has struggled to overcome concerns that nobody in the audience is going to be able to understand a word villain Bane (Tom Hardy) says, after screening the opening six minutes of the film in cinemas to widespread bemusement. There's also been consternation about the fact that Nolan is introducing an outrageously camp (at least in previous iterations) figure such as Catwoman into his stark and unadorned comic-book world, and that she's being played by one-time kiddie-flick fave Anne Hathaway. Don't get me wrong, I personally believe by the time The Dark Knight Rises rolls around we will all be champing at the bit to see the final part of Nolan's trilogy, but it hasn't been as easy a ride as the British director might have expected.
Perhaps that's why the famously protective film-maker let his guard down a little earlier this week to screen unseen footage from the new movie at the annual CinemaCon event for cinema owners, critics and fans in Las Vegas. Batman on Film has an extensive report which hints at a number of intriguing plot points. Please turn away now if you're hoping to see The Dark Knight Rises relatively cold, because there be potential spoilers a-comin' up.
First of all to Hathaway, who I personally think is going to make a fresh and vivacious foil for poor old knackered Bruce Wayne and his gruff-voiced, oh-so-serious alter-ego. "Despite the evidence to the contrary, I was left with the feeling that Batman and Catwoman are indeed allies," reports Batman on Film. "There was a brief shot of the two of them fighting side-by-side, but more importantly was the sympathy Catwoman showed to Batman and his cause. 'You've given them everything,' she tells Batman, to which he replies, 'No I haven't. Not yet.' This was the moment that had the biggest emotional impact for me."
Catwoman – it's notable that Batman on Film does not mention her alter-ego Selina Kyle – is not Wayne's lover, apparently, or at least not his only one. It is Marion Cotillard's Miranda Tate who is seen leaving the billionaire businessman's bed the morning after the night before, as well as kissing him. Wayne himself is apparently a far cry from the fit and determined proto-pugilist of Batman Begins: Batman on Film says he appears "tired and in need of retirement".
It seems almost unfair, then, that the caped crusader is up against his most physically threatening opponent in the twilight years of his vigilante career (don't forget that the new film takes place eight years after the events of The Dark Knight). Tom Hardy's Bane is once again described as an "unbelievable threat", and there are strong suggestions that Batman is incapable of dealing with his opponent for at least a section of The Dark Knight Rises. Here's where Nolan's series has the advantage over its competitors: the best of the comic books have shown us a hero who is up against the odds, who despite his impressive physical skills and hi-tech weaponry is merely a man with a (pretty preposterous) crimefighting plan. It's perfectly acceptable within a Batman film for us to feel that Wayne is constantly teetering on the edge of death and destruction, and all the indications are that this is a factor which really comes to the fore in The Dark Knight Rises.
As for Bane's voice, reports suggest that the audio has been cleaned up, despite Nolan's indications to the contrary. Batman on Film even suggests that the director must have used a different recording of Hardy's scenes, so much clearer are they than those we've already seen in trailers and preview footage. As well as taking out that giant football field, the hulking villain reportedly blows up Gotham's bridges and makes life miserable for a bunch of stockbrokers. So hey, he can't be all that bad.
All in all, Batman on Film described the CinemaCon Dark Knight Rises sizzle reel as "inarguably epic", which sounds about right. It won't have quite as many chucklesome moments as Avengers Assemble, but I have a feeling that come the end of the year it will be Nolan's film that we remember as the comic book movie that elevated the genre to an entirely new echelon. At this stage of the game, which of the year's three big superhero flicks are you most looking forward to?
Burgess Powers builds and designs web sites and applications for high availability