We here at Screen Rant recently asked the question, “What Will Batman 3 Be About?” The third installment of Christopher Nolan’s Batman franchise is easily one of the most anticipated sequels ever – as evidenced by the HUGE outpouring of reader reaction our article is STILL receiving.
Out of the 350+ comments left by you Batman fans, two clear points of debate raged longest and hardest throughout the thread of discussion. After seeing the sparks of that debate, we thought it only fitting that we should fan it into a brush fire. So, without further ado I now ask:
Should Two-Face and The Joker be brought back for Batman 3?
THE NEW IMPORTANCE OF THE VILLAIN
One of the things I really appreciated about Batman Begins and The Dark Knight was that it was clear with both films that scribes Chris and John Nolan and David S. Goyer all truly understood the character of Batman and the universe that he inhabited. More than that, the writers also had a keen eye for what made all of Batman’s supporting characters and (most importantly) the villains in his rogues gallery tick. If I have one criticism of Burton’s Batman films, it’s that the villains were mainly evil foils for Batman, there more for (wonderful) theatrics rather than any sort of pointed reason.
In Nolan’s films, the villains (for the most part) have carried much more dramatic weight. Certainly that’s true for The Dark Knight: The Joker wasn’t just there for show of a trademark smile (cough, cough), he added actual thematic meaning to the story, as did Harvey/Two-Face. And for that matter, so did Ra’s al Ghul in Batman Begins (Bruce Wayne twisted by anger).
There has been some debate about whether Batman 3 should position itself as a direct sequel to The Dark Knight, or perhaps as more of a standalone story, set long after TDK. In either case, if Nolan is at the helm you know that whatever villain(s) go into the script will only be in there if they add weight and meaning to the story. And while it would be a novel kick to see a few new villains rolled out for a flashy sequel, if Batman 3 is to be set directly after Dark Knight then there is still a lot of narrative weight still hanging on both The Joker and Harvey/Two-Face.
So do you bring them back?
Ok, so fans have said it; Nolan has said it; and even Dark Knight star Aaron Eckhart (eventually) said it:
Harvey Dent dies at the end of The Dark Knight. End of story.
However, as many of our readers have pointed out, that “death” marks the end of Harvey Dent’s story. Two-Face has a story all his (their?) own to tell.
I’m going to be honest: I’ve already argued that Batman 3 should bring back Two-Face, so I’m not going to pretend here that I’m not already in favor of that option. TDK did a great job exploring Harvey Dent, what he meant to Gotham and what it meant when he “fell from grace.” Nonetheless, I feel like there is still so much to explore in the character of TWO-FACE, and who that character becomes after the last remnants of Harvey Dent are (seemingly) gone.
Seeing Harvey fully transformed into Two-Face would add the kind of weight and hopelessness which (I think we all believe) is going to be a necessary starting point for Batman’s character in the next film. Picture it: The Caped Crusader is low. He’s hunted. He’s alone. He’s sacrificed much. Lost so much. He’s trying hard to maintain but there is Two-Face, always staring back as a testament to his failure, as morally complicated and conflicted as Batman himself.
Suddenly this character doesn’t sound as creatively exhausted as people are claiming, does he?
Another point of convergence in a lot of our reader comments was that any Dark Knight sequel should involve a flat-out war for control of Gotham City. Of those who held such an opinion, a large percentage also thought that B3 should be titled Gotham City for that very reason. If that is the direction the film goes in, then absolutely Two-Face would be an important cornerstone of the story. After all, as a D.A. Harvey Dent knew the entire inner workings of Gotham city’s businesses, political network, banking network, legal system, prison system, etc… If there was some kind of epic showdown for Gotham, then Two-Face would be one of the most crucial pieces on the chessboard.
Of course a lot of people have said that B3 should feature the criminal mastermind Black Mask (above), a classic Bat-villain who has recently enjoyed something of a resurgence in the comic books. But I have to ask: why drag us all through yet another villain origin story, just to maneuver said villain into a position (a crime boss connected all over Gotham) that you could fill with a villain the audience already knows and (for the most part) loves? Putting Two-Face into play frees the story up to introduce whatever secondary villains it wants, without having to exhaust a lot of time getting into their origins.
For example: Two-Face could approach Black Mask, The Penguin or whoever, deliver a few expository lines of dialogue to fill us in on who the villain is, and how he/she fits into the scheme of Gotham (based on his knowledge as a D.A.), and bada-bing, bada-boom, we’ve got a new player in the game, no time wasted.
So where’s the down-side of bringing Two-Face back? “Because it’s boring?” “Because it’s beating a dead horse?”
IMHO, if you truly understand why the character has been so pivotal and important to the Batman universe (I’d rank him #3 behind The Joker and Catwoman), then you should also understand just how much cinematic juice is left in this character. How do you NOT go after that juice when you know you’ve got an actor (Eckhart) who can truly apply the squeeze? Do people really think performances like his just just come with every Summer Movie Blockbuster?
UPDATE: Here’s what Two-Face himself (Aaron Eckhart) has to say on the subject:
MY VOTE: Bring back Two-Face!
Ok, so obviously this is a pretty controversial call to make. With the passing of Heath Ledger, the question of having The Joker return for Batman 3 isn’t just a frivolous argument about “what’s best” for the movie – it’s also a question of narrative relevance, audience reaction, and plain old-fashioned good taste.
As I said in our last Batman 3 feature, the question of whether or not you want The Joker brought back for B3 really depends on whether or not you think an actor is more important than the character they play or vice versa. However, this is THE JOKER we’re talking about – the character is a genius creation of pulp fiction who has become a bonafide worldwide icon. There simply is no bigger villain out there right now and the character is going to endure long after the celebrations of Ledger’s performance grow silent. And when those celebrations do grow silent – whether it happens next year, or another decade from now – some other talented actor is eventually going to step up and take a crack at the role.
More to the point, NOT having the Joker in Batman 3 would be a HUGE distraction for many viewers. The Joker is such a forceful presence that every second of him not being onscreen would be like an incurable itch in some folks’ necks. People could literally end up sitting in theater going, “Oh here is where they had to write around The Joker,” or “This where they COULD HAVE had The Joker if Ledger was alive. Bummer.”
But let’s drop all pretense: Really, Nolan and Co. will ultimately find themselves damned of they do, and damned if they don’t. Not having the Joker would be a distraction for some, but having another actor step into the role would also force other viewers into the unfavorable position of having to watch the film picking apart how the new actor is different (read: not as awesome) as Heath was. It would be a lively debate, but I suspect not that fun of a viewing experience.
(click image for source)
The double-edged nature of this Joker dilemma makes a strong case for the assertion that Batman 3 should strike a narrative middle path of acknowledging The Joker, without engaging the character directly. Some have said the best way to do this would be to introduce the character of Harley Quinn (above), who could be a “disciple” of The Joker (totally embodying him in spirit), without the messiness of having to deal with The Crown Prince of Crime directly.
I myself have proposed one scenario which I could happily live with. It would be a cinematic nod to The Joker – much like Iron Man did with War Machine. Picture: You do a scene where a main character walks past The Joker’s padded cell and all we see are his eyes, or maybe just his lipstick grin through a window. In the end, that main character keeps on his/her way, not yet ready – both literally and metaphorically – to “open that door” just yet. Cue a voice-over of Heath’s nasally laugh… It’s really the most honest, yet entertaining way to address this sticky situation, IMHO.
[WARNING: I’m about to say something that will likely turn you against me.]
However, something that has not yet been discussed at length is just what kind of purpose The Joker would serve in Batman 3. Unlike Two-Face (for the reasons stated on pg. 1), I totally believe that Nolan and Co. squeezed all the best juice out of the Joker/Batman relationship in The Dark Knight. I also believe that if The Joker were to return for the next sequel, the character would either have to play a diminished role (which The Joker almost never does), or we would end up basically getting re-hashed Dark Knight as the dramatic center of the movie. The last film was all about the chaos inspired by The Joker’s reign; this next sequel has the task of dealing with what happens to Gotham City in the wake of that chaos – not what would happen if that chaos were unleashed all over again!
MY VOTE: It’s hard to envision a Batman 3 scenario that would make proper use of The Joker. Then again, it IS The Joker we’re talking about, and having the character around is almost always more fun than the alternative. In the end, I really can’t call it: This Joker dilemma seems to be a mountain Batman 3 is just going to have to climb. And however the filmmakers choose to handle the issue, I can guarantee that SOMEBODY, SOMEWHERE, is going to feel cheated by the outcome. No wins in this situation.
Suddenly a fresh start is not sounding so bad… (See next page)
So I have to say it at least once before the rest of you do: Maybe the best option would be not bringing back either The Joker or Two-Face, instead introducing a completely new villain (or set of villains) for Batman 3. We’ve already heard a few rumors (Catwoman or Penguin and The Riddler) but even if Nolan and Warner Bros. do choose to introduce a yet-unseen Bat-villain – even a relatively unknown one (Black Mask, Bane, Talia al Ghul) – that doesn’t let them off the hook of having to acknowledge that both The Joker and Harvey Dent were major players in the events leading up to Batman 3, the state of Gotham City and its hero.
Or does it?
Now that I think about it, did Dark Knight ever mention Ra’s al Ghul? We had the Scarecrow thrown in for novelty, yes, but even with that, was there really any nod to the role The Scarecrow played in Batman Begins? It’s not like Batman caught him, kicked him in the face and screamed “You nearly killed Rachel!“
I guess the debate over “Bring the villains back / don’t bring them back,” is really just ours, and if Nolan and his co-writers want to jump back into Gotham City, while ignoring all these strands some of us see as loose ends, they’ll find a way to do just that. After all, as Nolan has stated (and proven), each one of these films needs to stand on its own, apart from the others. Beyond the initial premise – a rich guy who dresses up as a bat and fights crime – each installment should stand on its own foundation, not have to be stacked upon the film that came before it (the Marvel way).
Clearly I recognize the wisdom of that approach (hard not to), but it doesn’t make for that lively of a debate, does it? And besides, I have to confess there’s a small bit of geektastic pleasure that is sacrificed when you don’t wink at the films that came before, will come after, or are currently taking place in the same sandbox you’re playing in (the DC Universe). I mean, how cool were those crossover scenes in Iron Man and Incredible Hulk? Or when The Scarecrow hopped out of that van in Dark Knight?
And please remember: with most new villains inevitably come the burden of origin stories. Unless you’re a random psycho like The Joker, or maybe a middleman gangster with an unfortunate nickname like The Penguin. Those guys just exist, no explanation necessary.
All right, I’ve argued it best I can but in the end your opinion is the one that matters: Should The Joker and(or) Two-Face be brought back for Batman 3? Or is “no returns” the best policy for the next Bat-film?