A Beautiful Gory Display

A Beautiful Gory Display: What’s Next for The Dark Knight (Aug 6)

After three weekends of release, The Dark Knight is already the 8th highest grossing movie of all time. Having set records for the biggest opening weekend, and then going on to crack the $200 million, $300 million, and $350 million marks faster than any other movie, one would think they’re running out of records to break. Personally, I wouldn’t be surprised if the movie found a way to win a hot dog-eating contest at this point. Lately, there’s been a lot of speculation about the next film in the series.

It’s an impossible act to follow, not only is it a massive hit, but The Dark Knight is both critically and artistically successful and features the final performance of an incredible actor, playing one of the most iconic villains in American culture. You can’t top the Joker, and you can’t top Heath Ledger as the Joker. So, what’s next?

The mainstream media, secure in their belief that there are only four Batman villains, trumpet Catwoman (Angelina Jolie), Riddler (Johnny Depp), and the Penguin (Philip Seymour Hoffman). And really, that’s just silly. Hoffman? See, despite his sewer-mutant characterization in Batman Returns, the Penguin is supposed to be a classy guy with a comical appearance and a mean streak. You can just tell that Philip Seymour Hoffman smells weird and there’s always a mustard stain to be found on his person. The Penguin wouldn’t be caught dead looking that shabby.

I, on the other hand, know literally hundreds of Batman villains from A to Z. (Abattoir to Mr. Zsasz) There’s nobody bigger than the Joker, but they don’t have to be. Batman Begins focused on a couple of lesser-known villains. I’m fairly certain the average moviegoer had never heard of Ra’s al Ghul, after all. There’s no reason to believe they can’t strike gold again by hitting the B-list. There are any number of established characters who’d fit into Christopher Nolan’s vision of Gotham City.

For the record, the Nolans and David Goyer are approximately one thousand times better at this than I am, so take my ideas for what they’re worth.

Obviously, the Joker is off the table as a character, but he could certainly serve as an influence. After all, people in the real world have been committing crimes in Joker makeup, so why wouldn’t the mentally ill of Gotham City go to the same lengths? The Joker casts a long shadow, and dropping him in a padded cell for all eternity doesn’t change that. Harley Quinn (usually portrayed as the Joker’s girlfriend) or the Mad Hatter would work well here. Personally, I think most movies would benefit from the addition of a cute clown girl whose inability to distinguish fantasy from reality leads her to commit acts of cartoon violence with horrific results. And a maniac with a hat fetish who speaks entirely in lines from Lewis Carroll, well, that guy’s going to disturb people.

I can understand that they’d want to stay away from any villains with super powers – they don’t fit into the established reality of the Nolan movies. Sorry, Clayface and Poison Ivy, your shape shifting and control of plant life will have to wait. Man-Bat, however, he just might work. A guy mutating into a half-bat creature (stem cells, anybody?) could fit into a world with cell phone sonar. And he’s completely creepy, which is always a plus.

But that’s not to say the big guns are unusable. Well, Catwoman might be. Not only did the Halle Berry movie pretty well crush the character’s viability, but Catwoman’s really just a burglar. Sure, you have the sexual tension, and the character can be interesting. Still, it would be a pretty big step down from Ra’s al Ghul and his desire to cure society by eliminating the weak or the Joker’s low-budget anarchy to a woman in leather who’s stealing jewels.

Still, you can keep that sexual tension and also sustain the “big ideas” that characterize the current movies. I’d suggest Talia, the daughter of Ra’s al Ghul. She’s taking over where her father left off, controlling his worldwide network of criminals and assassins. And depending on who you talk to, she’s the mother of what may or may not be Batman’s son. She’s a pretty significant figure in the Batman mythos, and could bring a lot more to the story than a museum heist.

With Batman Begins and The Dark Knight both devoting large amounts of screen time to the structure of organized crime in Gotham City, there’s a perfectly good angle to introduce the Penguin. Bridging the gap between the old-school mobsters and the new wave of “freaks”, he’d be ideal to step up as the guy running the mob. Picture Paul Giamatti, all dressed up and proper (like in John Adams) and suddenly freaking out and going apoplectic with rage (like in the winery in Sideways) and murdering somebody with an umbrella. By himself, not a legitimate threat for Batman, but definitely an interesting addition to the Gotham landscape.

Personally, though, the villain I’d most like to see is the Riddler. But not as a guy in a green leotard who leaves clues to his crimes. When you break it down, the Riddler is a guy who just wants to be smarter than Batman. How about if he’s the host of a Mythbusters-style show where he solves life’s mysteries? A celebrity debunker, if you will. And so, he turns his attention to publicly unmasking the Batman. Tell me that wouldn’t make a great B-plot! You can’t, because it would. This is a guy who would complicate Batman’s life, and yet, it’s a problem that the hero can’t solve by beating somebody up.

With the first two movies focused on the nature of heroism and the gradual redemption of Gotham City, I would like to see those themes followed to their logical conclusion in a third film. With Batman officially an outlaw, a new hero steps up to fill the void left by both Batman and Harvey Dent. A vigilante who works within the confines of the law, perhaps even with official sanction. Only this new hero is weak and corruptible, which will inevitably bring him into conflict with Batman. The public face of heroism vs. the spurned hero for the soul of the city. Throw in a major media figure hounding and vilifying Batman further, and you’ve got a movie I would pay to see. Well, I’m going to pay to see any Batman movie, but you know what I mean.

And as an aside to Christopher Nolan, who I’m sure is totally reading this, feel free to use any of this. All I ask is that you name an ill-fated Gotham cop after me.

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