“Did, you hear the latest rumor, Angelina Jolie will be Catwoman.”
“I heard it was going to be Johnny Depp as the Riddler.”
“Nah, Phillip Seymour Hoffman will be the Penguin.”
And, it begins.
The speculations and the rumors have already begun to shadow the next Batman sequel before we have already put The Dark Knight to bed. But is Hollywood ready to embrace the dark vision that is the heart of the Batman mythos or will it succumb to tired and true name brand recognition that had ruined the franchise in the past?
Sure, The Dark Knight was one of the best adaptations of the popular DC Comics character ever. Sure, the haunting portrayal of the Joker by Heath Ledger helped launch this movie into the mega blockbuster region only previously reserved for Star Wars, Spiderman, and Titanic. But should there be another Batman movie?
The Dark Knight will go down into the history books as being the second highest grossing movie of all time, probably pushing over the 500 million mark when it completes its run. On top of that, it will probably gross another 400 million overseas, having already grossed over 200 million to date with still six of the top ten overseas markets still to release this movie. After the smoke clears, after DVD sales, this movie will have earned over a billion dollars, and with a sequel being inevitable, the rumors have just begun.
But let’s hold on a minute, folks. Let’s look at this film from several angles and decide if a sequel is even warranted.
Like the famous Hollywood joke of how to make a sequel out of Gladiator, some movies should just be left to stand on their own.
We all know that the Batman is a Hollywood franchise that has been revamped several times throughout the years. I remember seeing the old serial of Batman from the 1940’s which had been the first appearance on screen of the masked crusader. My first discovery as a child, though, was the campy performance by Adam West in the seventies. To me, Adam West will always be the Batman that drew me to the character in the first place and his deep rogue’s gallery of great villains and actors drew me back week after week.
Since I was a child, I have always read comic books from Spiderman to Iron Man, and even classics like Howard the Duck (which I think I am the only one in America who loved the film version). So, when Frank Miller’s version of the Dark Knight came along, I knew was witnessing the rebirth of a legend. Gone were the camp and ridiculous characters like Bat-Mite, and instead was a hard-boiled reimagining of not only Batman, but also all the other characters within the mythos. Then, along came Tim Burton who tried to bring a little of this darkness with Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson, but subsequent films pulled away from the new Batman and went back to the campy roots with Bat-Nipples and Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze.
At that time, I thought like most other people, that the Batman was finished on the screen. But Christopher Nolan went back to those Frank Miller classics and brought us out of the age of the Caped Crusader and let the world see who The Dark Knight really was- a dark and somehow relevant hero of the times.
The Dark Knight went beyond expectations and brought the world into the mystique and mythos of Batman and now people want to know what’s next. Speculation has already begun with names being tossed around like dead seals between two killer whales.
But, has anyone really seen The Dark Knight? I mean, seen deep into what this movie really has become.
How can fans start tossing around names like the Riddler, the Catwoman, and the Penguin and seriously think that the next movie will be anything but a tired retread of a sequel trying to grasp on the coat tails of a legendary film. Everyone is asking for a miracle for the next movie, but will probably hang the next movie as another effigy to the series in the same way that Joel Schumacher killed the series the first time.
While Chris Nolan was able to save the character that Schumacher destroyed, there is an extreme difference between the two aspects of the franchise. The first series, while successful at one point, were just well made versions of superhero movies, so it was easy to just throw in any character and see if they would stick. Jack, Michelle, Danny, Jim, and Tommy did good versions of the villains they portrayed. But with The Dark Knight, Heath transcended all these character types and brought the Joker out of the comics and into the real world.
Ask this question of yourself.
Did The Dark Knight, at any time feel like a superhero movie?
The answer is no.
It was dark, gritty, and visceral.
A crime fiction set in the very heart of noir.
A film that stands up there with Heat and The Departed as one of the best crime films in a long time; a film that goes on the shelf next to directors like Scorcese, Mann, and Taranntino, and not on the same shelf as Ratner, Raimi, and Singer. With The Dark Knight, it transcended what a superhero movie could be and now can never go back down that road traveled by directors in the past. Will anybody take seriously of film with the Catwoman, the Riddler, or the Penguin that doesn’t get into the heart of darkness the same way that the Dark Knight did?
For whoever decides to direct the next film, there will be a lot of pressure. With Heath Ledger dead, so die any further roles for the Joker. There is no way to revitalize that character.
So what does Christopher Nolan or any other director do with this franchise that is now in dangerously uncharted waters. How do you top The Dark Knight without going in the same direction as other failed sequels?
If you are familiar with the current Batman comics, you know there are darker stories out there, darker twists of the psyche that will be hard to bring to the screen.
For example, in The Dark Knight, they left out the complete truth about Harvey Dent. The coin was given to him by his father on his death bed. When Harvey Dent was a child, his father came into his room and would flip the coin and tell Harvey that if the coin was heads he would beat him, tails he wouldn’t. Every night, the coin came up heads, and every night, Harvey would get beat. For his whole childhood, Harvey believed that there was a chance that the coin would come up tails.
Upon his father’s deathbed, he gave him the two-head coin.
Did you know that Selina Kyle, the Catwoman, started out as a prostitute and was involved in the stabbing of Bruce Wayne when he went out as a vigilante the first time?
Did you know Jim Gordon would cheat on his pregnant wife with another officer?
The point is that there is a very dark nature to the Batman mythos that Hollywood might not be ready to see, but will be needed to explore if the series is to continue. No longer will anyone put up with the types of villains that have graced the franchise since its beginning. On the other hand, people might not be able to relate to the lesser known, but more substantial and developed storylines that true fans have enjoyed over the years.
Without visiting the tired roles, The Dark Knight has several other storylines that could be brought to the screen that might satisfy those who want a sequel. If it chooses to continue down the crime fiction route, there is the puppet-wielding gangster Scarface, possibly played by John Malkovich or Crispin Glover (his name was originally tossed around to play the Joker) that could present an eerie character as satisfactory as the Joker. Also, there is the original version of the Huntress, a vigilante daughter of a crime boss who seeks revenge and could offer a great comparison of the fine lines between justice and revenge.
Also, for those who aren’t well versed, Ra’s A Ghul is not dead, for he is immortal, and he has a daughter, Talia al Ghul who has had romantic interests with the Batman before. Tie together the League of Shadows, a romantic interest with Talia, and the frightening origin and story of Bane who studies the psyche of Batman and cripples him all because of haunting visions brought to him from years of existence in a Central American prison and you could send the story back to the high adventure that was seen in Batman Begins.
Whatever route Batman goes down in the sequel, it will never be the bittersweet movie that has reached epic box office figures. Hollywood should let this franchise heal for awhile and not do the same thing that happened with the Crow where Brandon Lee’s death did not stop the series from continuing into a horrid franchise.
And the real question that Hollywood should ponder isn’t who should be who will be in the sequel, but should a sequel even be made.
Heath, you will be missed by us all.