We don’t know if Nolan’s coming back. We don’t know (though we doubt) if they’ll recast the Joker. We don’t know that Johnny Depp is the Riddler (though we know he’d like to be). We know nothing about the third film in the Batman trilogy.
Except know that there will be a third film.
The economic factors make it a certainty. The only reason we haven’t had a sequel to Titanic is because the ship sank at the end. Here, we have no reason for Warner Brothers not to push ahead with a third film – be it with or without Christopher Nolan on board. We looked at how they might do it – with a direct sequel from another director or a direct adaptation of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns from Zack Snyder or someone similar. But how do we think, in an ideal world, the film should be done?
Well, we want Nolan. I think everyone wants Nolan back. He’s the single biggest asset to the franchise at the moment. He could announce he was producing a $20 puppet show version of the movie and we’d be happy. That’s a no-brainer. And we’d want the cast back too, but most of them are signed up anyway, so it’s a much smaller ask than getting Nolan back. So, we’ve got the director and the cast, what do we do now?
Whatever Nolan wants, but that would make for a short article, so we’ll give some hypothetical thoughts on what we’d like to see and what we wouldn’t like to see.
When it comes to villains, I have no real preference. I’d love to see a Nolan Riddler, but understand if it’s too close to the Joker for the franchse to touch. I think the Penguin would suit Nolan’s vision of Gotham well – a gangster referred to as “Penguin” somewhat dismissively by other members of the fraternity. I expect we’ll see Catwoman, based purely on the logic that there is no surviving female member of the ensemble. I’m kinda curious about how Nolan will make her fit, but he made us buy Batman himself, so almost anything else is fair game. I wouldn’t get too excited about Talia Al Ghul, as Nolan went to great efforts to give us mobsters instead of ninja’s last time, so a global or even city-scale threat seems unlikely. I think that using two A-listers in The Dark Knight spoiled us – Batman Begins got by with two B-listers. I honestly wouldn’t mind seeing a less well known rogue.
I think the Black Mask would suit Nolan’s vision of Gotham quite well, with some change. He’d make a nice counterpoint to Bruce, as the character is a well-educated millionaire, with the unlikely name of Roman Sionas. Of course, his company is crumbling and that tends to drive you a little insane. If the caharacter spent as much time outside the mask as hidden by it, you could set up a nice counterpart to Bruce. Alternatively, I could see the original Clayface – an actor by the name of Basil Karlo – fitting the Nolanverse quite well. No supernatural powers, just an amazing skill at hiding his identity. If given proper motivation (ie more than he had in the comics) he could work quite well. Still, I can see the safer choices (Catwoman, Riddler) being used.
So, what about story? What should the third part be about? I read a great suggestion which hit the nail on the head as to what I’d like to see thematically. An older Bruce, an older Joker. A confrontation. The idea is a great way to justify recasting the Joker role (in the same way that making the Dark knight Returns – to which the plot bears a slight similarity, save the fact Batman never went away) by setting it in the future. It actually ties with the theory Grant Morrison has about the character reinventing himself, which explains why he’s so different between here and the sixties show and the Sprang comic books and everywhere in between – literally being a different man would be a sly metaphysical reference, a joke even. That said, I have several issues with the proposal.
I don’t like flashbacks, or demoting villains to supporting roles – maybe in a decade or so we can have a good ‘gauntlet’ Batman picture (that’s the gimmick where once every five or so years the writers have Batman work through the bulk of his foes one after another in a short period of time – it’s the staple of almost every big event in the comics and only works because he has such a great rogues gallery), but this isn’t the time or the place. I get that it would be an accurate way of reflecting the role Batman has played on Gotham, but it feels like a study guide, stripped of context and substance these confrontations would mean nothing. Especially if the first time you meet Bane he’s getting his ass handed to him. I’m not sure I want to see a “Best of Batman” montage. It would be cool to see some trophies in the Batcave though, hints that he has more than one big adventure every five years.
My other – and larger – problem with the suggestion is that it relies on a confrontation between Batman and the Joker. There are two possibilities. Either the Joker has been repeatedly escaping and confronting Batman in the years or decades since the Dark Knight, or this is his first escape since then. In either scenario, this needs to be something final, something special, something conclusive. And for it to be conclusive, either the Joker moves the immoveable object or Batman stops the unstoppable force. Or they both kill each other. I don’t see Batman dying but, if he does, it would take great skill and effort (and Nolan has both) to demonstrate that his legacy is indeed immortal and incorruptable, as he suggested in Batman Begins. Otherwise, it’s a bummer ending. If the Joker dies, Batman has sacrificed his “one rule” and his guiding moral principle and the entire nine hours beforehand are for nothing. Ditto if he lets the Joker die. Saving the Joker at the end of The Dark Knight showed us growth from the man who let Ra’s die at the end of Batman Begins.
I sound like I’m being harsh, but I’m not. I like the idea and I think it hits the key themes. The one thing I want if Nolan comes back is closure. I want a well-rounded superhero epic. A trilogy that works perfectly. I want to know everything I need to know about Batman, or at least the beginning of Batman. The Dark Knight showed us a man alone, a silent protector. It was a fantastic closing moment. For a film. But we still don’t know about where Batman is himself. As he tells Gordon, he can be a murderer, but what toll does that take on himself? Fundamentally, the end of the Dark Knight gave us Bruce living off the delusion that Rachel loved him. That seems to be enough for him at the moment, but we know that cannot last forever.
The ideal third film would show us not that he is happy with what he is, but that he is finally at peace with it. He shouldn’t be a city mascot, and Nolan doesn’t need to leave him at peace with the police department, but we’d like to see how all the madness he has inspired has taken its toll on Batman. He wasn’t prepared for the Joker. He had to compromise to catch him – a massive invasion of privacy to track one man. That works once, but he’s made it clear he needs to draw the line. And that’s important, because the third part of the trilogy needs to show us the final impact that Batman has had on Gotham – and we need to know (if we’re going to leave him) that he can handle it.
Batman’s presence has affected the city. ‘Escalation’ was the theme word for The Dark Knight (“… this is how craaazy the Batman’s made Gotham …”). It cleverly gave us in a single scene hints of the changing order, as the gangs begin to deal with the “freeeks” (buying drugs from the Scarecrow). The Joker has shredded what is left of the organised crime families in Gotham. If they survive, they’ll be much weaker. This is a city were the Batman is an urban myth and a man in face-paint has held the city hostage. The normal rules of gangland crime don’t apply any more. I’d like the third movie to show us that this is the case.
If ‘fear’ was the watch word of the first film and ‘escalation’ the theme of the second, I can see ‘acceptance’ becoming the core of the third. For all our fascination with villains, Nolan has always been more fascinated with Batman himself. And he’s right to be. It’s easy to get distracted by all the shiny, gimmicky rogues, but this dark figure is the core of the mythos. I’d like to see the third film deal with Bruce accepting his role as Batman, and the obligations and responsibilities and risks that come with it, and Gotham accepting Batman for what he is, rather than what they wish he would be. It isn’t a happy ending, but it isn’t necessarily a sad one either. It’s bittersweet. And it’s been hinted at in the endings of the other two films – with Bruce accepting his true face and Batman accepting responsibility. I also like The Batman as a title. He isn’t beginning, and he isn’t anything more or anything less than that.
I think we all expect Nolan to finish up on the third film. It seems only fair. I’m not sure if I want him to completely close the book on Batman, or simply the early years of his time in Gotham. I’d enjoy seeing a franchise develop with various writers and directors taking over for a few movies at a time, with each encompassing a little arc. If Warner Brothers could keep the creative talent down for a series of trilogies, that would be fantastic. Even if the movies lost the actors, I could deal with that (provided the replacements were up to par). I trust Nolan to decide if he wants complete closure, or simply closure on the beginning of the character.
I really want a long term franchise. I get the sense that – if managed properly – the Batman movies could have something akin to the life the comics do. An editor or writer takes over the title for a few years and tells their stories with distinct style and flavour before moving on. It’s the only way I can see Robin – who works well in the comics but terribly on screen – working at all. Batman doesn’t just suddenly realise he has a hole in his life, we need to see it there for a few years before he dares doing something as risky as taking a minor out with him. And, if the franchise continues to focus as much on character as on action, it would be nice to see an actually family develop, with Alfred, Bruce and Dick.
Hell, ten or fifteen years down the line, we might see some of the even freakier members of Batman’s rogues appear. I would love to see Mr. Freeze done properly, or Man-Bat. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. They won’t fit in the world that Nolan has crafted, a world that deserves closure in some form. Then others can build upon the foundation. That’s all conjecture. That’s a twenty or thirty year plan. Right now, I’d be happy simply to see the third film get made.
And I’d be happier if Christopher Nolan directs it.
This is one of a series of articles being published to celebrate the anniversary of the release of The Dark Knight and the seventieth birthday of the character. There will be one-a-day for the week – but don’t worry, it won’t interrupt our other coverage of pop culture happenings.
Filed under: Movies Tagged: | batman, Batman 3, batman rogues, batman villains, bruce wayne, caped crusader, catwoman, Christopher Nolan, dark knight, dark knight returns, dark knight sequel, gotham, gotham city, heath ledger, joker