With The Dark Knight now in theaters, IGN Movies is already looking ahead to a third Christopher Nolan-directed Batman movie and pondering what it might be about. Just as the ending of Batman Begins introduced the theme of escalation that its sequel explored, The Dark Knight established that things were going to get much worse for Batman and for Gotham City before they will get better.

(PLEASE BE ADVISED OF SPOILERS FROM HERE ON OUT.)

TDK ends with Batman a wanted man, falsely accused of murdering five people including police officers. Batman sacrificed his own reputation in order to protect the memory of fallen district attorney Harvey Dent, who had transformed into the vengeful Two-Face. Gotham needed a hero, a figure of hope to believe in so that it could remain inspired to save itself from crime and corruption. In the end, Batman finds himself alone, hunted by his former police allies, and mourning the loss of his beloved Rachel Dawes.

A third Batman film would likely focus on the redemption of the Caped Crusader in the eyes of the public. What better or more obvious way for that to happen than for Batman to save the city (once again) from a villain bent on its destruction. The trick is to select villains that can be adapted to a real world environment AND fit in thematically with the storyline and stakes established in the first two films. That’s a rather tall order and would seem to narrow down the list of potential villains quite a bit.

Why not just recast the Joker and bring back Two-Face, you ask? With Heath Ledger dead and his portrayal of the Joker now indelibly etched into filmgoers’ minds, we think it highly unlikely that the filmmakers would recast the role to bring the Clown Prince back. It would also be tough for that character to top what he did to Batman and Gotham in TDK so perhaps once is enough. Likewise, the ending of TDK seemed to suggest that Harvey Dent/Two-Face was dead, although producer Emma Thomas told IGN after an early press screening that Dent’s last scene was ambiguous enough to suggest that perhaps he was still alive.

If Dent is still alive, did Gordon have him covertly locked away in Arkham? Given TDK’s overt political overtones, the idea of a secret prisoner hidden from the world would be in line with the ethical questions raised in the second film. Having Dent escape and show the city what he’d really become would at least get Batman off the hook for the murders that he didn’t commit, but we don’t see the filmmakers bringing Dent back either. Story-wise, what more could be done with Joker or Two-Face that TDK didn’t accomplish? We suggest the filmmakers bring in new villains for the third movie, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be tied to the events of the first two films.
Employing a villain such as Talia al Ghul, the estranged daughter of Batman Begins’ Ra’s al Ghul, would not only tie Batman 3 back to the first film but also give the series a new female lead (and potential love interest) now that Rachel Dawes has been killed off. Talia could be out to finish the job her father had failed to do: destroy Gotham, which after TDK seems more hopeless than ever. Ra’s may have had a Lazarus pit in the comics, but we don’t see Nolan resorting to such comic book gimmickry to bring him back. Talia and a new League of Shadows would be enough. Talia would have the resources and will to bring about Gotham’s destruction, the prevention of which might just put the Dark Knight back in the good graces of his hometown. (One problem with Talia, however, is that Warner Bros. might not want Nolan to use the character if they make a JLA movie and she’s a villain in that.)

Perhaps the filmmakers could use a No Man’s Land”-esque storyline that finds Gotham City sealed off from the rest of the county, the victim of some terrible calamity such as a biochemical attack or a viral outbreak. In keeping with the series’ war on terror metaphors, as well as the abandonment of Gotham City in “No Man’s Land,” a private corporation could be brought in to save and secure the city and those who have stayed behind. This outfit, obviously, would be a front for the villains who were behind the attack (Talia and the League). Batman would have to expose and defeat them, thus restoring himself as Gotham’s savior. Even playboy Bruce Wayne could be redeemed in the public eye thanks to his philanthropic efforts in aiding his forsaken city.

What of the more colorful (and better known) members of Batman’s rogue’s gallery? Is there room for them in a third Nolan Bat-flick? The answer might be found in TDK.As the Joker told Batman, “You’ve changed things forever. There’s no going back.” A third film would likely show how this has panned out, with the underworld being divvied up between increasingly eccentric criminals, such as The Penguin (who is perhaps never referred to by that name), Black Mask and maybe even the Ventriloquist. None of them have to be the main villain; they could merely be there to show how wild and bizarre things are getting in Gotham. Some characters, no matter how popular they are, just might not fit into the world that Nolan has created or operate on a grand enough scale for the stakes that have been established in the first two films (nothing less than the salvation of Gotham City and Bruce Wayne’s efforts not to abandon his own moral code in pursuit of that goal). Catwoman might be cool but how exactly does she fit into Nolan’s take on the Batman universe? How do you explain a woman dressing up as a cat? It took a whole movie just to justify why Batman wore his outfit. The real world tone necessitates a supervillain who could conceivably exist. That’s why we think the next major villain Batman will fight on-screen will be King Tut. Just kidding. No, our hunch is that the Riddler will be the secondary (yet better known) supervillain in the next film.

Given the ending of TDK, the most obvious antagonist for Batman to face in a third film would be Jim Gordon and the GCPD. With Batman now a wanted murderer (a cop killer to boot), it would make sense for the public and politicians to demand the GCPD bring in Batman once and for all. But seeing as how Batman has made short work of the cops in the past, they would need help catching him. The Mayor (or perhaps Boss Rupert Thorne) could demand that they bring in a hired gun to help get the job done. Enter the Riddler, who is currently portrayed in the comics as a good bad guy who helps the cops crack cases. He possesses a superior intellect and proves it by solving mysteries.

The trick with the Riddler is not portraying him as a Joker wannabe or a garish buffoon. By making him Batman’s intellectual equivalent and a possible replacement hero for the city, he becomes more of a threat to Batman. What if Edward Nygma is brought in to find out who Batman really is and help the cops get him, but he secretly has his own nefarious agenda? Primary villain Talia al Ghul doesn’t have to know that Bruce was Ra’s pupil or is Batman, so her seeking Riddler’s help would make that much more sense then. Whomever that next villain is their job will be to test Batman. Ra’s al Ghul did so by seeing if Batman’s compassion was also his weakness; the Joker pushed Batman to the brink of breaking his one rule (no killing) and almost revealing his true identity. Seeing as how the Riddler has always posed questions to Batman, he seems like the right villain to continue Nolan’s tradition of testing Batman’s ethical boundaries. 

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