Saturday, August 09, 2008

How I'd pitch the Dark Knight sequel

Batman Begins was about fear. The Dark Knight was about corruption. The third Chris Nolan Batfilm should be about truth. I'll lay out me reasons in a moment but first know that this whole pitch is filled with DK spoilers. You've been warned.

Let me preface by saying I greatly admire the moral complexity and gritty realism of Nolan's Batfilms, especially Dark Knight. I feel the most important tenet of DK was its concession that district attorney Harvey Dent was a more vital, inspirational, effective and -- above all -- pure hero than Batman could ever be. Vigilantes are by definition criminals, and asking a criminal to save us from crime is itself a form of corruption. Batman is a necessary evil.

The Dark Knight ends unsatisfactorily for many people because Batman sabotages his own symbolism in the end. He takes the fall for Two Face's crimes, to preserve the image of Harvey Dent. According to Batman, the symbol of Dent is more important than the truth of Dent. Thus, it is Batman who takes the fall as a savage, murderous vigilante who killed the corrupt cops that betrayed Dent. He's now an even more terrifying bogeyman for the criminals of the city, but also a less potent symbol for its innocent citizens. His guilt is also untrue, and protecting Gothamites from the truth is a patronizing, pandering form of salvation. They deserve better, and so does Batman. That's why Batfilm 3 should be about truth.

It's also why the signature villain of Batfilm 3 should be the Riddler.

Setting: Gotham, brighter than before, with a glitz and glamor creeping back, but it's a false sheen. The Batman is a murderer, and it has made the people distrusting of symbols, yet still in love with them. Case in point, the new celebrity gangster, Oswald "The Penguin" Cobblepot -- yes, I said The Penguin -- an eccentric, glamorous, dapper "Teflon Don"-style mafioso who has taken majority control of Gotham City's underworld and taunted Commissioner Gordon for being unable to stop him. A Harvard-educated trust fund baby, he bridges the worlds of every elite: criminal, businessman, entertainer and politician. He is glorified corruption lovingly re-embraced by Gotham. The opening of his new Iceberg nightclub is the social event of the season.

Batman, naturally, crashes the party. Batman's intent is to reinstill fear in The Penguin, to let him know that his money and his fame can't protect him. It backfires. Cobblepot is the legitimate businessman -- so far as anyone can prove -- and Batman is the outlaw. Gordon and his men are forced to protect the Penguin and pursue the Dark Knight.

Batman's very public reappearance -- and his impotence in the face of the Penguin -- is the news event of the year in Gotham...until the first riddle arrives at the every newspaper and TV station in town. It's from a blogger known only as The Riddler, and within the cute mindteaser is evidence of The Penguin's guilt. The Riddler, presumably a hacker, has pierced Cobblepot's vaunted security and business acumen and nailed him. Gordon gladly brings The Penguin down -- he puts up a token fight, including taking a potshot at Gordon with a ridiculous umbrella gun from a collection of KGB artifacts that is laughably ineffective -- and the city has a new hero. Welcome the Riddler.

(For what it's worth, RiddleMeThis.Net will be a TMZ-style Gotham gossip and inside info blog, complete with all the over-the-top campy question mark motifs and green-and-purple color scheme. It sidesteps the need for a stupid Riddler costume and lends itself to a great alternate reality game for promotional purposes. Also, I'd go out of my way NOT to reveal who had been cast to play the Riddler, hinting at several Hollywood heavyweights but doing my best to set up the big reveal onscreen. That's promotional gold.)

The mayor is the next to fall, undone by The Riddler's exposes. The town is desperate to know his real identity, as is Batman. As Batman attempts to hack into his blog, the Riddler hacks back -- and let's Bruce know he's aware of the double identity. Not to worry, The Riddler is a fan. He believes in truth, in exposing secrets, in solving riddles. Everyone has secrets and masks, and uses them to hide their real darkness, but Batman is different. Batman uses untruth for good. Bruce Wayne pretends to be less than he is -- an idiot, rather than a savior. Batman does too: a murderer, rather than a protector. Batman has nothing to fear from the Riddler, who wants to see justice done as well.

The Riddler himself is a riddle. He is the symbol Batman wanted to be, but one of intellect instead of brawn. Until now, Nolan has displayed Batman as an urban commando rather than a vigilante detective. Perhaps the Riddler is a better hero than Batman, untouchable and incorruptible, and not vulnerable to the same frailties as himself...or Harvey Dent.

Then the Penguin turns up dead. Then the mayor. And the Riddler confides in Batman that he is responsible. Now Batman has to find a defeat an enemy that he can't beat into submission. One that is beloved by Gotham while he is feared and distrusted. Who has the technology to do what the Riddler does - -see into every space and know every secret? Why, Bruce Wayne, as we saw in Dark Knight. Who could possibly know that Bruce Wayne is Batman? Lucius Fox? Alfred? Ra's Al Ghul, Two Face, or even Rachel Dawes, back from the dead? Batman is truly alone, unable to trust anyone, and his past actions have made sure no one will trust him.

Batman will have no choice but to defeat the Riddler by facing his own mistakes and his own failures -- eliminating everyone he's ever known as a suspect. He'll have to win back the hearts and minds of Gotham in order to flush the Riddler out, to make the city see that this unknown character can't be trusted, and force the narcissist Riddler into the open to re-earn their love.

Imagine that, a mystery movie involving Batman. In fact, I'd probably call it that: Batman: Detective. I'd pay to see that.


Side notes:

The current comic book incarnations of the Riddler are about as far from the Frank Gorshin/Jim Carrey goofball image as you can get. In the (overrated) Hush storyline, the Riddler famously deduced that Bruce Wayne is Batman, and tormented the Caped Crusader with that knowledge. He then disavowed his villainous ways and became a detective for hire. In both cases he is a measured, controlled individual. The new film Riddler should combine these factors to terrifying symbolic effect.

Also, if the studio is making you ramp up the villain count but you don't want to revisit any of the bad guys you've already shown, I could work in a spot for Catwoman. Play her as a Robin Hood-esque celebrity cat burglar who robs from the rich and gives to the poor...mistreated animals, children, and such. She's Batman but skewed, a vigilante who preys on the wealthy to "right society's wrongs" rather than fighting the violently criminal. Her definition of evil is different. The city will love her too, but Batman will take her into confidence, trying to fill the void left by Rachel. They're both outlaws, and she can tempt him into being happy with that. Then, when the Riddler makes known that he knows who Batman is, he'll assume it's Catwoman that sold him out. Loyalties will shift. Women will be scorned. Drama will be amped. Also, the new Catwoman suit will be completely obscuring with a gas-mask, and she'll openly remind Bruce of Rachel, to the point he suspects her of being Rachel. Use Maggie Gyllenhal in flashbacks if you want. It would be a total mindjob. It also amps up the reveal of who Selena Kyle really is.

You could drop in enough winks and nods to the comics that even the fanboys would love this story line. Chris Nolan, David Goyer, I await your phone call.

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  1. Sounds awesome. I have two ideas I would pitch for the Riddler.

    Idea One: Jim Carrey reprises his role, but instead of the over-the-top Ace Ventura Jim Carrey, it is the Number 23 version (the one who doesn't overact). That would make for a great reveal.

    Idea Two: (and you have made this one easy with your plot) Bruce Wayne is the Riddler... a fragmented personality created by Bruce's mind to deal with the fact that Batman is no longer a beloved hero.

    Either one of these would be a total mindscrew for the audience.

  2. That is total gold. You put a lot of thought into this. My wife and I were thinking that, when and if the next sequel is announced, they would introduce Catwoman as an anti-hero. But I like your ideas (sans Catwoman) better.