In news that should shock precisely no one, Christian Bale says he's done with Batman after The Dark Knight Rises. He left open some possibility for doubt in November, when he said that "This will be, I believe, until Chris [Nolan] says different, the last time I’ll be playing Batman." Now it looks like he's confirmed that Christopher Nolan had nothing different to say on the matter, telling the Philippine Daily Inquirer: "I wrapped a few days ago so that will be the last time I’m taking that cowl off."
Again, not a huge surprise: everyone has always kind of assumed that this would be the final Nolan/Bale Batman film, what with trilogies seeming to be the ideal time to wrap up your storytelling, lest you wind up overstaying your welcome and making crappy movies. It's worth asking, though, what Warner's plans are for the franchise going forward: there's absolutely no way that they're going to let Batman lie fallow for more than a few years before attempting to move forward with some other creative team.
Their options would seem to include:
The Continuation: Bring another creative director in to continue the story that Nolan established in his world. Tonally, that would seem to include a commitment to the grittier, real-world Gotham that Nolan and his co-writers have established. And, since The Dark Knight Rises takes place eight years after The Dark Knight, you'd have to assume that a slightly older actor would have to take the role of Bruce Wayne, possibly someone in the 40 to 50 range. (If George Clooney wasn't apparently done with any kind of physical role after some serious injuries, I'd nominate him, partly for laughs and partly to see how he'd approach it 15 years after he killed the franchise the first time.) This would arguably the hardest way for anyone to go, as you'd have to be a pretty hack-y director to want to take over the universe that has been established so well by another creator, but stranger things have happened. (If I recall correctly, there was even talk at one point of having two Batman film series being in production at the same time, like how the Call Of Duty games switch developers. That obviously never happened, thankfully.)
The Reboot: Another option would be to attempt another reboot of the series, although Batman Begins is barely six years old again. Attempting this would allow you to cash in on the goodwill that Nolan created for the franchise while also retaining younger, less expensive actors and creators. They're doing it with Superman and Spider-Man, so don't think that this is out of the question, although I can't see this happening anytime in the immediate future: the three-year gaps between current Batman films seem to be a pretty good pace, but you'd have to imagine that they'd want to give it a little more time to breathe before announcing the inevitable reboot. There will be five years between Spider-Man 3 and The Amazing Spider-Man, which is probably about the minimum audiences will accept between original films and a reboot, but which might also be the maximum a studio will consider appropriate to wait, assuming there's some die-off in consumer awareness.
The Surprise: A third, probably crazier option would be to restart the franchise, but stylize it in such a way as to attempt to reduce comparisons to what's come before. Highly-stylized crime-fighting films have been done before, with some success (Dick Tracy) and some failures (The Spirit), but it is at least some kind of option, perhaps especially if we're willing to consider adapting some of Batman's more odd Elseworlds appearances, or just throwing him into a different time period. Batman in the 50's? Batman in the near-future?
Let's just assume, for a second, that Warner Bros. decides to keep their current momentum going and simply recasts the Christian Bale-esque Batman and finds a new director to replace Nolan. Who would you pick for the roles? I'm struggling to even come up with a name of someone that could actually slip into Bale's shoes and not feel immensely wrong there, but there has to be someone who could bulk up and try to be the hero that Batman deserves. You know they'd try and get Leonardo DiCaprio to do it, although if I had to pick someone a bit older, I think Ralph Fiennes might be an interesting choice. He'd likely never do it, but it'd be fun if he did!