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The Strange Case of Hugo Strange: Robin Williams in the Dark Knight Rises?

You’d imagine that the announcement that Tom Hardy and Anne Hathaway would play Bane and Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises might have put a bit of dampener of cast speculation for Nolan’s superhero blockbuster. You would have been wrong. The latest rumour coming out is that Robin Williams has been tapped to play Dr. Hugo Strange. I’d normally dismiss this the way that we dismiss all those Joseph Gordon Levitt or Johnny Depp as the Riddler rumours, but I figure it’s an interesting enough idea to merit discussion.

By the way, in case you need an introduction to Hugo Strange, here’s the trailer for the upcoming Batman video game Batman: Arkham City, in which Strange is voiced by Corey Burton “doing a Christopher Lee” and put in a very Nolan-esque setting. Give it a watch.

Actually pretty cool, huh?

The main hook that Hugo Strange has over most Batman villains is that – in pretty much every iteration of the character – he discovers that Batman is Bruce Wayne. It was the plot of the seminal Strange Apparitions story arc in the seventies, one of those stories which is credited with restoring Batman to his noir roots after the colourful and camp era of the sixties. Anyway, Strange is a schemer rather than a direct threat to Batman, either plotting to undermine him or playing other villains for chumps.

Strange world...

It’s interesting to note that, before the casting of Tom Hardy as Bane was announced, it was rumoured that the classic story arc Prey would inspire this film – much as The Long Halloween inspired The Dark Knight or (despite their protestations) Year One inspired Batman Begins. In Prey, Strange is hired by the Gotham City Police Department to pursue the fugitive known as Batman. This fits with the ending of the last film, as Gordon is forced to label Batman a murderer on the run from the law. However, while Strange is cooperating with the police, he’s also running his own illegal experiments on police officers – trying to turn them into his own vigilante army. That goes about as well as you might think.

There’s a lot of reasons which work in favour of these rumours, but a lot which count against them as well. Nolan has worked with Robin Williams before, and he’s been known to work with actors across films. Williams himself is a Batman fan – up for the roles of the Joker in Batman (a very unfair story to that one) and the Riddler in Batman Forever. Williams as a crazed psychologist works pretty well. In fact, perhaps a little too well – a little too similar to Insomnia, eh? In fact, all these reasons the story could be true make it all the more likely that the story is just speculation or conjecture or a red herring.

Nolan knows best...

However, the fact that the film has two villains shouldn’t count against the possibility. I’d argue Catwoman is more an anti-hero than an out-and-out villain – and that she’ll likely serve as a love interest or counterpoint rather than a direct foe. So Bane is the real villain of the piece here. It’s also worth noting that, technically speaking, Batman Begins featured three villains from Batman’s rogues’ gallery: Ra’s Al Ghul, Scarecrow and Mr. Zsasz. Although Zsasz had a small role, Carmine Falcone was also a fairly large part of the plot. I don’t think you can argue the film is “overcrowded”, even if Strange is included.

There’s also the fact that Hugo Strange is very similar to Bane. I’m not sure if this counts in favour of or against the rumour. Much like Bane, Strange is a villain who knows that Bruce Wayne is Batman. Much like Bane, Hugo Strange turns the city of Gotham into a weapon against the hero. Bane is a steroid-infused physical threat to the Caped Crusader. While Strange doesn’t represent much of a physical threat, he has a tendency to “create” monsters (so much so that his first encounter with Batman is retold in Batman & The Monster Men).

The Doctor will see you now...

This is a bad thing because it makes one of the pair redundant – they serve too similar a purpose. It’s a good thing because they can be linked so closely thematically and through the plot. It’s very easy to imagine a plot which teams up Bane and Strange, or at least has them interact in a similar manner to how the Joker and Harvey intersected in The Dark Knight. It isn’t like Bane is being teamed up with Poison Ivy or Mr. Freeze again – the villains line up quite well.

And Strange lends himself to the Nolanverse. Remove the monster men and have Strange work on a steroid for Bane. Or simply have him profile Batman. Or even have him consult with the GCPD in a morally ambiguous (yet not explicitly evil) way. The movie needs a “bad cop” to play against Gordon inside the Gotham City infrastructure (otherwise it just seems like Gordon can cover for his ally and the set-up seems a lot less hostile), and Strange might be it. Plus, if Bane represents the criminal element turning against Batman, Strange might serve as a representative of law and order. The two extremes both charging at Batman.

I don’t know if the casting of Joseph Gordon Levitt in an as-yet-unannounced role might impact this. And I have no idea what role they might use Gordon-Levitt for – anyone from Strange to the Black Mask to a gangster to Harvey Bullock seems possible. It isn’t as if Tom Hardy’s casting screamed “Bane” to me. Given how persistently Gordon-Levitt was linked with the film by rumours, you might argue that it’s possible even more rumours are true. On the other hand, the film’s starting to look pretty much full at this stage. Personally, I won’t be convinced until I see it – but it’s still a fun rumour to think about.

I don’t know if this is true. I kinda hope it is. But, then again, I kinda hope every rumour is – if only to see how Nolan pulls it off. As rumours go, I’ve definitely heard worse.

4 Responses

  1. Very interesting read. I think a loose adaptation of the Prey story arc could work and could fit in real well with where Nolan left the story off. You have Batman on the run. Strange attempts to make these mutant soldiers (could fit Bane in there). Also Catwoman makes a “first-time appearance” in that story arc.

    Something else that could be noted, maybe even if Robin Williams isn’t coming on, they could still do Strange. Just have Joseph Gordon-Levitt play him. If you kinda think of his role in that GI Joe movie, with the proper makeup work he might be able to pull it off.

    • Thanks Josh. I’d even argue that Levitt doesn’t need makeup – I don’t mind if he has a full head of hair or doesn’t have a beard (after all, Liam Neeson didn’t look like Ra’s Al Ghul and Heath Ledger’s Joker was the first without a pigment problem since the early days of the comic).

  2. This was just a rumor started by Batman-On-Film.com The originally poster even came out and said it was:

    “All I was doing was thinking out loud after a chat I had with an industry friend of mine. I’ve made no secret that 1) I’d LOVE it if Robin Williams finally got his wish and was cast in a Batman film, and, 2) I’d also love to see the character of Hugo Strange included in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES. Put those 2 together things together and, “RW as Strange? Hmm…..”

    That’s it.

    I’m flattered that all these outlets think that one of my Tweets is a story, but really, they’re all making a mountain out of very small anthill. If I knew that Hugo Strange was in the film for a fact — as well as Robin Williams portraying the character — I wouldn’t say anything about it anywhere. ”

    http://www.batman-on-film.com/BOF-MAILBAG_QUESTION-OF-THE-DAY_1.html

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