Christopher Nolan confirmed over the weekend that the Joker would not be recast for the sequel to The Dark Knight. Which I suppose means we can rule him off the “list of potential villains” we’ve all been putting together in our heads as Batman 3 approaches. As much as I get the sense (and as much as rumours about the ‘trilogy’ that emerged before The Dark Knight was released would suggest) that the Joker was clearly imagined as playing a fairly lerge role in the conclusion of Nolan’s Batman saga, I can see the reasons for and respect his decision to not to recast the role.
The final third of the movie features any number of moments which are rendered heartbreaking in light of Heath Ledger’s premature passing. “You and I are destined to do this forever,” a dangling Joker remarks to the Batman who has captured him, perhaps referencing the long-term relationship the two share in comic books (mainly enabled by the fact that Batman steadfastly refuses to kill the villain even after all he has done). The fact that Cillian Murphy reprised his role as the Scarecrow from Batman Begins in a brief scene at the start of The Dark Knight also suggested that the series wasn’t strictly following the ‘new movie, entirely new villains’ rule that most superhero films (with the exception of the X-Men franchise) had strictly adherred to. I don’t doubt that Nolan had somewhat larger plans for his version of one of the most enduring adversaries in comic books, which probably continued into the third act of his saga (which he has taken to referring to as a ‘final chapter’, which suggests that more of this was pre-planned than he has admitted in earlier interviews).
Still, despite the fact that the character is in many ways bigger than Ledger, I can respect the decision to excise the character from the sequel. It may be true that Ledger was just the latest in a long line of actors to wear the make-up – Jack Nicholson, Mark Hamill and Caesar Romero arguably the most prominent – but he casts a long shadow. Particularly in this iteration of the on-going saga. Don’t get me wrong, I am not for a moment suggesting that the character of the Joker should be retired from film forever more – to be frank, that’s just nuts. I’m just saying that the Joker in a Christopher Nolan Batman film filmed in Chicago is going to be inevitably associated with Heath Ledger.
I don’t think it’s fair to ask another actor to fill the role. I don’t think it’s fair to ask the audience to accept another actor in the role. Anybody stepping into the cheap purple suit will be faced with a choice of making the role their own or simply attempting to imitate Heath Ledger. Neither is a suitable way to compliment an Oscar-winning performance in a much beloved film. It’s also somewhat unfair to Ledger himself, who went to such great pains to craft a unique take on an iconic and enduring character. If you copy him, you destroy the unique nature of his performance (even if you do it perfectly). If you try something new, you appear to be rejecting the work he put into sculpting the character. It’s a lose-lose situation.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I trust Nolan with the franchise. Hell, I trust Nolan behind the camera on anything. If he announce tomorrow he was using Crazy Quilt as the villain on the final film, I’d remain cautiously optimistic. On this, however, I don’t need to trust him. I agree with him entirely. When I discussed the likelihood of using the Riddler as the villain of the final film in the trilogy, I pondered whether the character would seem two similar to Heath Ledger’s Joker to win the audience over. I stand by that observation, but – if Nolan goes with it – I eagerly expect to be proven wrong.
I think this is a good decision.