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Taking the Joker Out of the Pack: No Joker in Batman 3

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.

This card is off the table...

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.

The riddle of the next Batman villain deepens...

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.

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20 Responses

  1. I totally agree with you that the Joker should be shelved, although not permanently, until the franchise is picked up later down the road by another director. There is absolutely no need for him to come back that early given the circumstances and there is plenty of options in the Batman universe to replace him in the next movie. A couple villains I’d like to see is Bane and Poison Ivy.

    • I think Bane could work. Ivy seems a little “out there” for Nolan, but as long as she isn’t played by Uma Thurman again, I’m there.

  2. man, Id love to see Crazy Quilt on the big screen

    • Yep, I kinda imagine he was on Joel Schumacher’s shortlist if they were making Batman 5 (although I seem to recall it was the Joker (again!) and the Scarecrow).

  3. While I understand why they are not recasting him, for several different reasons, I don’t like the notion that nobody could pull off doing the Joker after what Ledger did. I absolutely loved the performance, but I don’t agree with that. Watch Michael Shannon in Revolutionary Road and tell me that it doesn’t remind you at least a little of what the Joker was like. I thought he was the perfect candidate, but like I said, I understand why the recasting isnt being done.

    I think the perfect choice would be Talia al Guhl. As Nolan said, the third movie will be the finishing of a story as opposed to inifinitely blowing up the balloon and expanding the story. I mean, hell, with the way that they left the first movie open, they really didn’t say what happened to Ra’s.

    • It would lend it a nice bit of symmetry, wouldn’t it? I can’t see Nolan reverting to ninjas from gangsters, but I like the idea.

  4. I’m hoping for Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Penguin.

    • I think that would be awesome, even as a support character like Eric Roberts in The Dark Knight or Tom Wilkinson in Batman Begins.

  5. I’m with you on this… Ledger’s performance was too great to try and redo… at best you would just get an immitation.
    Here’s what I would like to see:
    Batman is forced by the events of the film to vist Arkham Asyklum. While there, he walks by the Joker’s cell. A silhouette of an actor that looks like Ledger sits in the shadows (face covered by darkness) in the corner of the cell… watching Batman. As he walks on, we hear audio of Ledger’s eerie laugh!
    Did you just get goosebumps because I did!

    • I think that might be the best way to do it, if you wanted to hint at the character and remind the audience of him, without being too intrusive. Just an acknowledgement and a shout out. I would love for the third film to spend some time in Arkham.

  6. Ooh… and I think Riddler and Catwoman are most likely… Penguin possible!
    Think of the mind games Nolan could play with Riddler. Think about the Hush G. Novel!

    • I think Hush comes closest to the Riddler’s best moment, even though he’s very much a supporting character in the story. Without spoiling anything, my favourite argument is that The Riddler is Hush, for the purposes of the story (although obviously not literally).

  7. Like Red I’m all for bringing Ra’s back. Talia is an important part of the Batman legacy. I also don’t favour any new versions of villains already seen. Joker was the exception due to his importance but leave Penguin, Catwoman and Riddler out of it.

    Deadshot could work. Batman hunting an assassin…

    • Deadshot would be interesting, but seems a bit one-note. Maybe as a supporting villain, though.

  8. Black Mask, Hush or Talia all could work in the Nolan-verse. Reimagining the Riddler as a Batman-obsessed dirty cop could work as well. Frankly, I just want to see how the Nolan Bros. finish up this trilogy.

  9. After the last two Batman films I am perfectly happy to just sit back, relax and be entertained. Watched Batman Begins again on Saturday, such a brave move to do what he did with the story on film. Nolan is good at playing to the rules, admittedly they are his rules but he seems to know intuitively what will work to create an original idea. He doesn’t take anything for granted so all bets are off. Anything is possible.

    • Yep. When I supported his decision not to film Batman 3 in 3D, she observed that I would have likely supported him even if he had decided to film in 3D. And I think that’s true. I just trust him.

  10. Yeah I agree that it was the right move not to include The Joker in the next one. It would have been crazy to expect someone to step into Ledger’s shoes, it’s a little too soon

    • Yep, I think that’s my biggest reason for agreeing with it – it is just “too soon” and Ledger is too fresh in our minds.

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