Until recently, Anne Hathaway could imagine only one actress playing Catwoman, and it wasn’t her. In her mind, Batman’s nemesis (and sometime love interest) could only ever be Michelle Pfeiffer, who memorably clawed and pawed after Michael Keaton’s rubber-suited Caped Crusader in director Tim Burton’s 1992 goth-pop hit Batman Returns. ”It was fun and shocking and radical and left a strong impression on me as a kid,” recalls Hathaway. So when director Christopher Nolan asked to meet with her about starring opposite Christian Bale in The Dark Knight Rises, without specifying what part he wanted her to play, an excited Hathaway made a curious assumption — and a strategic blunder.
She convinced herself that Nolan wasn’t interested in reinterpreting a character who had already been done well enough and was instead casting a lesser-known villainess from Batman’s rogues’ gallery named Harley Quinn, the Joker’s sidekick. Nope. ”About an hour into the meeting he said, ‘It’s Catwoman’ and I went, ‘Oh, no, I played this wrong,”’ says Hathaway. ”I didn’t think they would revisit that character, because Michelle’s performance had been so iconic. But Chris just does his own thing.”
It’s worked well enough so far. The director’s sophisticated reinvention of the 72-year-old comic-book superhero has produced two of the most critically acclaimed studio thrill rides of the past 10 years, one of them a certifiable, game-changing cultural phenomenon. The Dark Knight — released in the summer of 2008, three years after Batman Begins — tallied $1 billion worldwide and earned the late Heath Ledger (who died six months before the movie’s release) an Academy Award for his fearless and fearsome turn as the Joker. The movie was also so infamously snubbed for a Best Picture nomination that it is partly credited for the Academy’s brief expansion of the field to 10 nominees in 2009. Sensational success brings inflated expectations for the encore. So The Dark Knight Rises — Nolan’s third and final Batflick, with a reported (and unconfirmed) budget of $250 million — arrives with blockbuster pressures and Oscar hopes. (The film is distributed by Warner Bros., whose corporate parent also owns Entertainment Weekly.)
The movie certainly won’t be lacking spectacle. ”He has created an epic disaster film,” says Hathaway of a movie that includes an exploding football field, a stunning skyjacking, and the sacking of Gotham City by a militant mob. And in the same way that his first two films dealt with heady ideas about terrorism, justice, and morality, Nolan seems to have crafted another cracked-mirror reflection of the real world. Says Joseph Gordon-Levitt, a dream thief in Nolan’s Inception who joins the franchise as police officer John Blake, ”I would say The Dark Knight Rises, even more so than the first two movies, speaks to our specific moment right now.”
We know, we know: Some specifics would be nice. But the notoriously cagey and spoiler-phobic Nolan is loath to reveal much. (”So what can I not tell you about my film?” he says by way of greeting.) Rises is set eight years after the events of The Dark Knight. Gotham City is at peace and prospering, but Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is still recovering physically and emotionally from his tragic battles with the Joker and Harvey Dent, the crusading DA-turned-cynical psycho who shot cops and crooks alike in a mad rash of violence. Batman, who took the fall for Harvey’s crimes so Gotham could remain inspired by the lawman’s former idealism, continues to be reviled and MIA as the story begins.