Rumours are already circulating that Christopher Nolan may be calling it a day when it comes to his Batman franchise. Anonymous insiders – don’t you love ’em – are claiming the director has reached breaking point with the studio. Rumour has it that they want to recast The Joker and include him in the sequel, whereas Nolan is against the idea. It’s far too early to really start worrying about it – Nolan was initially reluctant to do a sequel to Batman Begins, for example. But, still, it’s a slow news day, so we’ll ponder it: What happens if Nolan doesn’t return?
This is all conjecture – as are the other rumours circulating about “handshake agreements” to do the third film in return for freedom over Inception – so I’m not entirely convinced. I hope he’ll be back, but can accept if he won’t. I can see both sides of the Joker argument (he is bigger than Heath Ledger and an integral part of the universe, but there is a reason that Heath Ledger took home an acting Oscar) – but I’m surprised the studio would not defer to Nolan on this, if he really wanted it. The man knows what he’s doing and is the reason for the record-breakness. If James Cameron got to redefine 3D after Titanic, surely Nolan can exclude a character? Still, what happens if this is the breaking point?
The most obvious option is to simply do it anyway. Most of the cast have contracts requiring them to appear and we can bet that David S. Goyer would continue scripting duties. No disrespect to Goyer – when he’s good, he’s great – but we don’t think that will fill a Nolan-shaped void (and we can’t imagine Jonah would script it without his brother). We doubt any director of the same calibre as Nolan will want to emulate rather than create. And we’re fairly sure that a recast Joker would split an aggressive and disillusioned fanbase down the middle – particularly as it was the breaking point for Nolan himself. Without Nolan, any director on the project is going to lack the leverage to prevent executive meddling in the project, and we don’t think Warner Brothers (still reeling from the losses of Watchmen and Terminator: Salvation) is going to encourage the type of risks that made The Dark Knight so groundbreaking in the first place. Sure, it might all come together well, but we can see potential for massive disaster here.
The other alternative, and the one that the rumour mill suggested Warner Brothers were considering late last year, is somewhat more satisfying than continuing the current franchise. This would see another director behind the camera of a separate Batman franchise. The rumour specified Zach Snyder directing The Dark Knight Returns (and he apparently would love to cast Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Batman). Though denials came quick and fast, we’re not convinced it hasn’t been considered as a solution should just this situation arise. Even if we were, we’d still think it was the best option of a bad lot. Sure, this new film wouldn’t have the shoulders of Nolan’s two films to stand atop, but at least it wouldn’t damage them if it fell. I also think that DKR would suit Zach Snyder better than Watchmen. For all it’s awesomeness, the book revels in the violence Snyder puts forth so well and would adapt significantly easier to the screen than Moore’s masterpiece.
Still, these are worst case scenarios. I would like to see a Nolan trilogy before he moves on, because three is a nice number and also because The Dark Knight feels like the middle act of a trilogy. Still, I can’t begrudge him wanting to move on, particularly if – as has been suggested – the death of Heath Ledger affected him so deeply. He is the one of the most talented directors working today, and his output always demands attention. He’s made two of the finest comic book adaptations ever, and if he believes he’s done enough, who am I to correct him?