Photo courtesy of marvelousRoland.
Ah, the summer of 2008. It sounds like a time too recent to be getting all nostalgic over, but things were very different back then (just ask President Obama). Lest we forget, the economy was merely sucking wind rather than grinding to a halt, Justin Bieber hadn’t quite yet inked his big record label deal, and perhaps the first truly transcendent blockbuster of the 21st century had arrived in theaters: The Dark Knight.
With Heath Ledger’s untimely passing undeniably casting a dark shadow of mystery and intrigue over the already hotly anticipated Batman flick, director Christopher Nolan still delivered a beyond entertaining centerpiece to a trilogy that even my mom felt compelled to see. Sure, Avatar may have since gone on to reign as the highest grossing movie of all time (which I still don’t understand), but The Dark Knight may have been the last time, probably since Titanic, that a movie has qualified as a genuine cultural moment.
With Dark Knight‘s epic conclusion, the comic book nerd community and Hollywood blogosphere immediately wet their pants in anticipation of the third and final installment of the series. No one could quite help themselves from trying to predict who, if any actor could/would dare fill Heath Ledger’s shoes – be it in a re-cast of his iconic role as the Joker (since the character was originally intended to live on in the series), or merely to play any villain in Christopher Nolan’s sequential incarnation of the Batman universe.
In honor of the big night, as I imagine many of you are preparing to catch a midnight viewing of the new movie, here are a few of my favorite predictions for who the villains of Dark Knight Rises will be, as well as the actors hypothetically filling their roles. Some are admittedly implausible, while others have actually been championed by the film’s production company, Warner Brothers. Some came from conversations I had with close friends but otherwise are properly attributed to their official (or maybe just their loudest) source.
10. Paul Giamatti as the Mad Hatter
I cannot find this one anywhere on the internet, so I’ll have to assume it came up in a bar conversation with my film geek friends. Really, the choice of Giamatti for the role is pretty interchangeable with #6 as far as either actor being perfectly capable of playing either role is concerned. At the same time, there is something about Paul Giamatti’s facial hair and his association with The Prestige‘s also-ran The Illusionist that makes his Mad Hatter easy to imagine. Plus, Giamatti tends to do blockbusters better than Philip Seymour Hoffman. You can give me the campy comic book run off of Shoot ‘Em All over Mission Impossible III any day of the week.
9. Marion Cotillard as Thalia al Guhl
One of my favorite features of Nolan’s Batman franchise is that for the first film he plucked a somewhat obscure villain from the new-school comic book universe: biological terrorist, Ra’s Al Ghul. The shadow organization Al Ghul leads in the first movie, known as the ‘League of Shadows’, is where Bruce Wayne gains his fighting chops. Liam Neeson had no trouble playing the role of surrogate father to Christian Bale playing Batman at his best (so far), so having his daughter make an appearance in the latest addition to the series could make for some interesting drama. Mania.com made a good call picking her as a worthwhile villain, but I take issue with their choice of Olivia Wilde for all the reasons they seem to like her (what about appearing on Maxim or having origins in the OC would make her appealing to a guy like Nolan?) In which case, I’d take better advantage of Marion Cotillard, who was cast early on in a supporting role in Dark Knight Rises that was initially and incorrectly thought to be Catwoman. If you’ve seen Inception, you know she could make a great villain, so why not take better advantage of that accent for unknowing American audiences?
8. Viggo Mortensen as Black Mask
More so than any villain on the list, Black Mask is the least well-known, which is part of what would have made him a perfect choice. It’s also perfect that the part calls for the kind of realism that Nolan’s approach to the world of Batman has prided itself on. While the idea of Aragorn the King playing the little-known bad guy generated on various blogs and fan threads, more than anything, I’m just dying to see Viggo Mortensen in front of Nolan’s cameras. It doesn’t have to be a Batman flick, though a Viggo appearance in DKR would have been nice. Hell, nix the Black Mask. Mortensen could probably have made any nemesis on the list worth seeing – the Riddler, the Mad Hatter, Dr. Hugo Strange… Okay, maybe not the Penguin. Sure, he may not have the physical appearance for any role listed here but his already multi-faceted career matches for the kind of arch-villainy that could juxtapose his best-known role in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
7. Johnny Depp as the Riddler
Soon after Dark Knight, rumors of Depp’s casting as the Riddler became so ubiquitous that actors from the Nolan franchise couldn’t help but gush at the possibility. Michael Caine in particular was quoted by MTV as confirming that Depp was in consideration, but alas neither the villain nor the casting was meant to be. Given the hype, I’m pretty sure this casting was every movie and comic book geek’s dying wish and Depp appeared the natural selection (no pun intended, I swear) to fill the vacuum of talent left behind by Ledger. Besides being a go-to Hollywood heart-throb and successful box-office guarantor, Depp’s capacity for transcendence is undeniable, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory aside. Plus, he’s well acquainted with the source material having worked with Tim Burton throughout his early career surrounding the man’s own version of the Batman universe.
6. Philip Seymour Hoffman as the Penguin
Another widely espoused fantasy casting by the fans. After fan-crafted movie posters featuring Hoffman with pointed noses and top hats flooded the interwebs, Hoffman answered the obligatory press with typical dismissiveness. While various sources reported his being in consideration for the role, he himself denied any involvement in talks or very much interest at all. But Hoffman’s Penguin makes the list only because if it actually happened, I would be the last person complaining. At the same time, it’s obvious the choice is just too Hollywood perfect for Nolan’s penchant for throwing creative curveballs. Plus, Hoffman doesn’t necessarily knock it out of the park that often with blockbusters, though I’m sure a franchise like this would have given him cause to rise to the occasion.
5. John Malkovich as Dr. Hugo Strange
All due credit for Mania.com for this one, they nailed it right on the head. Dr. Hugo Strange, like Ra’s Al Ghul, is the perfect Batman villain for the Nolan universe. While he’s as old a villain as any in the world of Batman (first appearing in the Detective Comics #36 published in 1940), he’s still not terribly well known. The gaping hole between the public’s awareness and the comic book origins of the character leave a lot to be played around with by both actor and director, as has been done with the treatment of Bane in DKR. In a fantasy-land where Nolan and his writers actually took such a chance, it’s hard to see anyone, even my beloved Viggo Mortensen filling the shoes of the stand-offish mad scientist better than Malkovich. Sure, argue he could largely play himself and pass for the role but I say, if teamed up with another heavy hitter actor/villain of the obscure variety (let’s say Giamatti’s Mad Hatter or Cotillard’s Thalia Al Ghul), Malkovich’s knack for interplay and adversarial chemistry could steal the show like Aaron Eckhart did in Dark Knight as Two-Face.
4. Leonardo DiCaprio as the Riddler
As the media widely reported as the Riddler being the most likely villain, Warner Brothers reportedly threw their weight behind casting Leonardo DiCaprio for the role. It made sense. For one, he and Nolan became well acquainted on the set of Inception, but what intrigued me most about the possible selection is that it would give Leo the chance to play the villain for the first time in his film career. Like Philip Seymour Hoffman as the Penguin, Leo’s Riddler as Hollywood’s ideal choice (if not the two packaged together) immediately disqualified either of them from happening. But I’ll confess, the biggest reason I wished Leo donned the question mark blazer is that may have kept Baz Lurhmann from sodomizing F. Scott Fitzgerald later on in the summer, or at least just stalled that monstrosity from happening for another year.
3. Bob Hoskins as the Penguin
If Penguin were to be chosen as the arch-villain of Dark Knight Rises, Bob Hoskins would beat out Philip Seymour Hoffman as my choice and many others for the role for two reasons. First, as I mentioned before, the choice of Hoffman is too Hollywood for Nolan. Secondly, what great actor is more game for a comeback these days than Bob Hoskins? If you’re in your twenties, your best memory of Hoskins might be as Smee in Stephen Speilberg’s ’90s box office bomb of a Peter Pan sequel, Hook. If you want to see the man actually act, check out him as Iago in the BBC Television Shakespeare production of Othello. Or hey, if Shakespeare’s not your bag (or rather seeing Anthony Hopkins clearly reading cue cards from off screen in really terrible makeup isn’t your idea of a good time), just watch 1986’s Mona Lisa, which earned Hoskins an academy nod.
2. Ellen Page as Harley Quinn
At first, many blogs were rooting for Brittany Murphy to take on the role of the Joker’s sidekick, at least while she was alive. I didn’t understand the idea in the slightest. With Ellen Page’s appearance in Inception and buzz flying around that its cast members would possibly be plucked for DKR, I couldn’t help but take this one seriously, however unlikely by then it was becoming that Nolan would be entertaining any reference to Joker in the conclusion to his Batman trilogy. But anyone who has seen Hard Candy knows Ellen Page can play more than the cute, sharp-as-a-tack, pasty white girl. In fact, she can scare the living bejesus out of you. If you haven’t seen it, and are in the mood for losing sleep this week, rent Hard Candy tonight. Pedophiles be warned, it’s not for the feint of heart … or loins.
1. Christian Bale’s Batman as the villain
Go ahead, call it a cop out. I thought this inspired choice of villain, courtesy of News In Film contributor, Matthew McKibben, was pretty genius. What better plot twist for a more dismal, hopeless vision of Gotham City than if our hero lost his moral compass entirely, not unlike Harvey Dent did in the last film? One of the Joker’s immortal lines from that movie is that “madness is like gravity – all you need is a little push.” And it appears, by the initial premise of the third movie, Bruce Wayne has been living on the edge of his own sanity ever since.
Not to completely jump the fences here, but it would be interesting to see the Batman franchise break the ultimate Hollywood rule that Toy Story 3 only flirted with – not in the sense of killing off its heroes exactly, but more so in intentionally delivering a movie that completely foils audience expectations. I wouldn’t put it past Nolan if he chose to go down that path, and neither would I expect anything less than a characteristically all-encompassing and harrowing vision for the demise of my childhood hero.
Who knows? That just may happen. After all, I haven’t seen the movie yet. I’ll be catching my own midnight viewing in San Francisco later tonight. Perhaps a complete Michael Corleone-style transformation is exactly what Christian Bale and Christopher Nolan have in store for us this evening.