How Joker Would Have Played A Role In The Dark Knight Rises

As long as there have been Batman movies, there's been a Joker. The Dark Knight and the Clown Prince of Clown's rivalry almost always finds new ways to be represented on screen — heck, there's even a deleted scene from "The Batman" featuring Barry Keoghan as the Joker doing his best Hannibal Lecter impression. With all due respect to Joaquin Phoenix, it's probably safe to say that the image most people think of when they think about the Joker is the late, great Heath Ledger's performance in "The Dark Knight." Ledger's twitchy, unhinged take on the character not only stole the show from its main lead, but it was also enough to nab Ledger a posthumous Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

And there could have been even more of the Joker in the third and final Christopher Nolan-helmed Batman film. David S. Goyer, who crafted the story for the entire "Dark Knight Trilogy", discussed his initial plans for the trilogy during an interview with Premiere Magazine (via ScreenRant) for "Batman Begins." In Goyer's words, there were plans to have the Joker in both a second and third film in the trilogy. 

Half the man he used to be

Goyer's initial plot for "The Dark Knight" had the film ending with Batman capturing the Joker with the help of newly minted Commissioner Gordon and Dent — but their victory would be short-lived.

"The next one would have Batman enlisting the aid of Gordon and Dent in bringing down The Joker...but not killing him, which is a mistake they made in the first one...In the third, the Joker would go on trial, scarring Dent in the process."

This plot point is almost lifted verbatim from the classic Batman story "The Long Halloween," which served as a major influence on "The Dark Knight." However, director and co-writer Christopher Nolan chose to combine these elements into a single story: one of the Joker's traps ends up scarring Dent and he becomes Two-Face, descending further into madness. Looking back, Nolan made the right choice, as the decision to have "The Dark Knight Rises" explore the fallout of both the Joker and Dent's actions made for a more interesting, if slightly scattershot movie.

Three Is the magic number

But "The Dark Knight Rises" almost didn't come to be. In a USA Today interview following "The Dark Knight", Nolan expressed his reluctance to return:

"I don't know why they're hard to do...Maybe there's so much expectation to them. But I wouldn't want to do one if it weren't going to be as good as the first or second. That's not respectful to the fans."

He isn't wrong: for every "Return of the Jedi" or "Return of the King" there's a "Blade: Trinity" or "Speed 2: Cruise Control". There was also the shadow of Ledger's presence hovering over any third installment; how do you top that? 

But Nolan eventually did return for a third film, closing the book on his Dark Knight trilogy and fundamentally altering the way comic book adaptations were looked at. And I think it worked even without the Joker; after all, part of the fun of writing Batman is getting to play with his rich roster of villains. A Batman cannot live on fighting clowns alone.