The Dark Knight got snubbed at the Academy Awards, many nerds think, but the fact that it earned a Best Supporting Actor nomination for Heath Ledger, even if it’s due more to the love of Ledger’s memory than the film itself, should be seen as a breakthrough for this genre, and we can now hopefully look forward to an entirely different level of superhero movies. Not the least of which is a third installment in Christopher Nolan’s deftly crafted Batman franchise.
Producer Michael Uslan is now saying that they’re shooting for 2011 as the target date to bring the Bat back to theaters (not counting the limited re-release of The Dark Knight that’s going on right now that may hopefully nudge it a smidge closer to Titanic’s record). No other details, just vague hints about bandying about story ideas, but anything Batman is interesting to note these days. If this holds true, 2011 would be shaping up to be our next Summer of Geek, since that’s also the expected landing date for both Captain America and The Avengers.
Now let’s engage in some wild speculation about the future of the franchise and the potential villains, shall we?
The massive success of The Dark Knight means they’ll likely want to continue on in the same vein, as there’s plenty of good story potential to be mined from it, and there are villains that would certainly fit the bill.
The Riddler: He seems an early favorite, and every nerd everywhere wants Johnny Depp to play him. Depp is always a great choice for nearly any role, but as far as longshots go, a fun idea would be to let Jim Carrey take another swing at it with a completely different tone (and some competent direction). There’s also the notion that Nolan’s original plan was to have the Joker be a recurring villain, and while The Riddler is not the psychotic sociopath that the Clown Prince of Crime is, he is a guy who plays games with Batman and depends on him to hold up his end of their battle of wits. Tone down some Joker plans and give them a more intellectual spin, and you can get your Riddler on. And ditch the question-mark pajamas.
Dr. Hugo Strange: An extreme longshot, but this head-shrink who gets so deep into psychoanalyzing Batman that he eventually figures out his secret identity, and then grows obsessed with becoming a Batman himself – a better Batman than Batman, although he completely lacks the requisite compassion. I offer this up because I think it would be a fantastic irony to bring Michael Keaton back to the franchise in this role, and it would continue the theme of ‘Batman inspires a different class of criminal’ so prominent in The Dark Knight.
Nolan has to know he’s not going to top the perfect storm of ingredients that resulted in The Dark Knight’s colossal popularity, so it’s possible that he’ll try to make a clean break and do something different, and Batman certainly has a broad enough gallery of rogues to give flavor to very different kinds of stories.
Catwoman: Another popular choice, especially now that Rachel Dawes is out of the picture. A major knock on the franchise is the relative lack of strong female characters, and the treatment of the only one there was (see the aforementioned Dawes, what with recasting and brutal murdering and all). Bringing in a woman like Selina Kyle, in complete control of herself and exerting a bit of it over Batman himself, could go a long way towards mending that fence. Naturally, everyone thinks of Angelina Jolie in this role and she’d be absolutely fantastic and perfect for it, but they could very well decide to skew a little younger (and likely less expensive, given the economy) and do something unexpected, much like casting Ledger as the Joker was. Nobody would’ve considered it before, but after how interesting she proved herself in GQ, would Megan Fox be out of the question? She’s completely unproven, but she’d certainly wear the costume well.
Poison Ivy: She's traditionally been a broken mad scientist sort who actually had power over plants. In the more realistic vision of the "Nolanverse," as I will now obnoxiously call it, Pamela Isley could work well as a strident eco-terrorist using all-natural hallucinogenics and toxins alongside her significant seductive prowess to control and poison the men she feels are contributing the most to environmental destruction and/or mistreatment of women. If Nolan really wants to have some remnant of the recurring Joker theme he initially planned, he could always bring in Harley Quinn, the crazy Joker-obsessed ex-therapist whom Ivy had a strange bond with, but Nolan's version would likely not be as adorably broken as she's been traditionally depicted, but rather closer to Ledger's creepy mania. Perhaps Rachel McAdams as Ivy and, should he go this way, Elizabeth Banks as Harley?
Penguin: Oswald Cobblepot is not the disfigured freak from Batman Returns, but rather a scheming opportunist who uses the unrest in Gotham City to position himself as the ultimate resource man – you need something, you need anything, The Penguin can get it for you; be it armed goons, a buyer for your stolen goods or the floor plans for Gotham National Bank. But it’ll come at a price. He’d be better suited to use as a recurring supporting character rather than a guy scheming to kill Batman or terrorize the city with a crime spree. Philip Seymour Hoffman had been rumored, but he himself has said he doesn’t think he’d make a good Penguin, and he’d rather watch these movies than be in them. So how about Eddie Izzard?
Break With Reality:
There are corners of Batman's universe that border on the supernatural, the creatures of science gone wrong. Taking this route would be bold, but incredibly dicey, as it risks alienating the massive crowds that have flocked to the franchise due to its grittier, more realistic tone. These guys could more likely be saved for a time when the Justice League movies might be more feasible.
Man-Bat: Dr. Kirk Langstrom's concoction to improve human hearing accidentally turns him into a savage human bat monster. It'd make for very creepy visuals and lots of sonar jokes.
Killer Croc: The Curious Case of Waylon Jones is about a man born normally who slowly evolves into a crocodile monster. Cool as he is, this ain't happening.
Clayface: Basil Karlo is a down-on-his-luck actor who, through the magic of science, becomes a hulking shapeshifting brown monster who can play any role and look like anyone at the cost of his basic humanity. Yeah. These guys don't work in the Nolanverse.