Click to viewWith The Dark Knight continuing to rule at the box office, passing the $400 million mark and still going (relatively) strong, it's not surprising that everyone is talking about the next movie even before director Christopher Nolan has agreed to do one. But what's slightly more surprising is the new speculation that a third movie from Nolan would be his first straight adaptation... and that it would be adapting Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns.
Spinning out of Watchmen director Zach Snyder's offhand comment that he'd like to see Miller's classic 1986 bat-book on the big screen, Newsarama.com's Michael Doran argued why such an adaptation would make sense as a follow-on to The Dark Knight:
By leaving the Joker (literally) hanging at the end of The Dark Knight, Nolan left open-ended a story that begs to be finished. Even Tim Burton knew he had to kill Jack Nicholson at the "end". Nolan himself killed Ra's at the end of Batman Begins and he even tied-up a loose end regarding the Scarecrow in The Dark Knight. These are both clear signals Nolan knows the story has to have an end and has some idea for that end already in mind.
Nolan further foreshadows the future in The Dark Knight's climatic moments as well. Remember when the Joker tells Batman the two of them can "do this for years"? Filmmakers of Nolan's talent don't throw away lines like that, especially in a moment like that. That was the director signaling to the audience that he understands one of "The Dark Knight Returns'" main themes - that the Joker's very existence is primarily to be Batman's nemesis and their fates were inevitably intertwined, as well as a signal that their final showdown will in fact come years down the road.
Which brings us back to the three-act structure: Act One (Batman Begins) was the first Batman story. Act Two (The Dark Knight) was a classic tragic turning point.
So what does this demand Act Three be?
Well, not only the final battle of Batman and the Joker, but also the last Batman story, of course.
He even helpfully listed all the reasons for a DKR conclusion to the movie series:
1.) The Dark Knight's title and ending makes the next film being called "The Dark Knight Returns" logical.
2.) The next film needs to further "escalate" the series, and be even bigger and bolder than The Dark Knight.
3.) Nolan seems to be crafting a three-act structure, and left the Joker's fate open to be a major element of a final act.
4.) The "Dark Knight Returns" future setting gives Nolan some "room" to help recast the Joker.
It's almost compelling, but I think Frank Miller doesn't need to be breaking out the champagne just yet (Instead, go back to the editing bay and try and make The Spirit look a little more promising, Frank). After all, while Nolan and his team have tipped their hat to classic Batman comics in their two films so far (Batman Begins pretty much ends with the final scene from Year One, and The Long Halloween informs a lot of The Dark Knight, to name just two), they really haven't shown any sign of wanting to just outright film an existing story just yet. The idea of making The Dark Knight Returns into a movie may be thematically sound, but would either require significant reworking or else the recasting of all roles for actors ten or fifteen years older than Christian Bale, Michael Caine and Gary Oldman.
The further practicalities of having to rework the story to remove Superman, Green Arrow and Robin - whom Nolan has already said will not appear in any of his movies, perhaps because of his dislike for green trunks - as well as Ronald Reagan somewhat beg the question... What's left after you've done all of that? A story about Batman returning from retirement, fighting the Joker and some mutants and then faking his own death to avoid capture which may be interesting - and could definitely be used as the basis for a great movie - but isn't really The Dark Knight Returns anymore.
The third Christopher Nolan Batman movie, when it comes - and it really must be a matter of "when" and not "if" at this point - is likely to draw the story from the last two movies to some kind of conclusion, and it may even feature a new version of the Joker, should anyone be brave enough to step into Ledger's shoes. But will it be The Dark Knight Returns? I very much doubt it.