No matter who wins the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor three weeks from now, Christopher Nolan has a serious dilemma in front of him as he decides where to go with his inevitable third installment in the juggernaut Batman franchise.
To Joker, or Not To Joker?
Even if he hadn’t received a single award nomination for his performance, Heath Ledger left behind some huge shoes to fill with his breathtaking spin on Batman’s best-known and, arguably, best-loved villain. It’s pretty clear that Nolan intended to bring him back for the next movie, and not just for a brief Scarecrow-like cameo Cillian Murphy made in Dark Knight.
So now, he has an unenviable decision in front of him, whether to leave the Joker out of the next movie completely and focus on other villains, or take a risk recasting him and get a similarly astonishing performance out of someone who can expect to have every syllable and tic scrutinized by critics and fanboys alike.
My first instinct was that he should move on, offering a quick explanation that the Joker is locked away in Arkham Asylum, maybe edit in 15 seconds from Dark Knight to honor Ledger, and focus on a new arch-villain like…
Well, there’s the problem.
Been there, done that, and while Michelle Pfeiffer was the best thing about Batman Returns, the character probably couldn’t stand alone as the primary villain in Nolan’s version of Gotham City. Penguin? Riddler? Too silly for the tone Nolan has already set. Poison Ivy? Dr. Freeze? Hell no! That’s drifing too close to Joel Schumacher and Superman IV territory. Killer Croc? Mr. Zsazz? Bane? Low name-recognition and none of them come close to the menace of the Joker.
The right answer is to recast, making the Joker the central villain — perhaps in an Arkham Asylum-based storyline that pays homage to Grant Morrison’s slightly overrated story, while fulfilling its true potential — and getting an actor who will not immediately be rejected by critics and fandom as unworthy, and who has the chops to build upon the foundation Ledger established.