The preparation of the sequel to “The Dark Knight” was impacted by the death of Heath Ledger, supposed to reprise the role of the Joker. But how did Warner and Christopher Nolan handle this tragic situation?
How did The Dark Knight Rises deal with the death of an iconic actor who is supposed to reprise his role: Heath Ledger as Joker? Just after the release of Batman Begins, screenwriter David S. Goyer announced that the Joker would be present in the second part of the trilogy where he would be arrested, then tried by prosecutor Harvey Dent in the last opus, and that it would be at this occasion that the Joker would disfigure Dent, creating Double-Face. It is not known if this initial version of Goyer was the same as that of brothers Nolan, Christopher and Jonathan, co-writers of the films.
The unexpected death of Heath Ledger on January 22, 2008 after the shooting of The Dark Knight, however, nipped in the bud the plans for the third Nolan film (The Joker had to appear there as well as Harvey Dent alias Double-Face) and the studio had to react quickly. It was a painful period, especially for Christopher Nolan, who hesitated then to start again on a new adventure of the Black Knight without Heath Ledger, and without solid scenario to offer to fans. He will eventually find one of course, but it has not been easy.
The changes made
Forced to take the Joker out of the equation, the creative team are also removing Double-Face in favor of an entirely different villain. Following the loss of a very psychologically tortured villain to whom the public has completely embraced, the studio wants the next Gotham terrorist to emerge to be The Mystery Man, if possible played by Leonardo DiCaprio, with whom Nolan comes from. turn Inception. After the wildest rumors circulated as to who would actually play Edward Nygma (the names of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Johnny Depp and David Tennant are cited), it was finally to an entirely different villain that the team turned. : Bane.
But why such a mountain of muscle after the frail and tortured Joker? The co-writer David S. Goyer explained it in 2015 during a conference given in Toronto (via The Shelf):
“The first time I suggested the villain be Bane, Chris [Nolan] wanted to strangle me because he thought the character was stupid, but for the story we wanted to tell, he was the only one that made sense. We wanted to tell the story of an aging, physically fragile Bruce Wayne and we wanted him to face someone who was physically better than him. We literally remade Rocky III. “
The name of Tom Hardy will be announced in October 2010, but that of his character only in January 2011, at the same time as the recruitment of Anne Hathaway to play Selina Kyle. On April 20, we learned that Joseph Gordon-Levitt would not play Edward Nygma but a policeman, and that Marion Cotillard joined the cast.
So what happened to the Joker?
If the film absolutely does not address the fate of the Joker in Christopher Nolan’s Batman universe, we find answers in the novelization of The Dark Knight Rises, written by author Greg Cox. It is told that following the Dent law suppressing the conditional freedoms granted to delinquents, many criminals plead insanity to obtain the reductions of sentences which were formerly granted to them.
Arkham asylum is therefore abandoned, and the island penitentiary of Blackgate becomes the place of reception of these criminals recognized potentially “crazy”. The consequence of all this, the novel tells us:
“The worst of the worst were sent [à Blackgate], except the Joker who, according to rumors, was imprisoned in Arkham and remains its sole occupant. Or maybe he escaped? Nobody knows.”
An answer that leaves the door open to all possible solutions, but in the case of a film franchise whose future is unknown, it is never good to close doors simply to answer a question that can narratively remain in suspense. The choice of Greg Cox is therefore not risky but logical, given the possible desire of Warner to later bring back the Joker in one form or another.
It turns out that there will never be a fourth film, for a simple reason, told in Toronto sun by Christian Bale:
“Chris [Nolan] always told me that if we were lucky enough to make three films, we would stop there. (…) So when they invariably came to see us and said, ‘Why not do a 4?’, I said, ‘No. We have to stick to Chris’s dream, which has always been to (…) make a trilogy. Let’s not go too far, let’s not get too complacent with a fourth film. ‘ This is the reason why we – well, Chris – withdrew. After that, they informed me that they no longer needed my services. (laughs) “.
Batman has since returned as Ben Affleck for Batman V Superman, Justice League and Suicide Squad, and now wears the face of Robert Pattinson, in the upcoming film directed by Matt Reeves, scheduled for March 2, 2022.