Monday, November 08, 2010

Op-Ed Article: Bring Frank Miller’s ‘The Dark Knight Returns’ to the Big Screen

Bring Frank Miller’s ‘The Dark Knight Returns’ to the Big Screen

When “The Dark Knight Rises” is released in 2012, it likely marks the end of Christopher Nolan's tenure at the helm of Batman films. The director has said the story is a conclusion and it is fair to assume Nolan and lead actor Christian Bale will wrap up their involvement in Gotham City. If that happens, it is the perfect time to bring Frank Miller's legendary graphic novel, “The Dark Knight Returns” to the silver screen.

As great as Nolan's vision for Batman is, he has also put some major restrictions on the Bat Universe. The two major ones are his emphatic statement against the use of Robin and the refusal to include other superheros. While I agree with Nolan regarding those two things for this particular set of Batman films, I'd also like to see those handcuffs taken off at some point. Giving The Dark Knight Returns” the big-screen treatment would accomplish that and also give Nolan's vision for Batman the respect it deserves, by not pushing his storyline any further.

In addition, it is a complete win-win scenario for Warner Bros. and Batman fans. Making a film of “The Dark Knight Returns” would allow a legitimate re-cast of The Joker, it would introduce Superman – which would be great timing given Superman is being rebooted once again, ironically with Nolan as a consultant – and add in the interesting twist of a female Robin character, all without upsetting the Nolan-led Batman continuity.

For fans of the 1989 Batman film, which starred Jack Nicholson and Michael Keaton, the latter has already stated that he'd be very interested in reprising his role as Batman/Bruce Wayne in “The Dark Knight Returns,” if a movie were to happen. That would work well, given it would be almost 25 years since Keaton first donned the cape and cowl. Keaton did an excellent job in “Batman” and “Batman Returns,” and stated that he only left the franchise because the writers would not develop the Batman/Bruce Wayne character further, opting to throw more villains in the mix instead.

Re-casting the Joker? It's a lot easier than you might think. Tons of names, both known and unknown would vie for the spot, given how popular “The Dark Knight” and Heath Ledger's iconic portrayal of the character was. It's an older Joker, however, so you really need to spotlight a guy probably in his 50s or early 60s. In my mind, this would be an opportunity for Mark Hamill. He's hailed as the quintessential voice of the Joker with his voice-over work in “Batman: The Animated Series,” but I'd love to see him get a crack at acting the part as well.

I know some would say “well, if you bring back Keaton, why not talk to Jack Nicholson about being the Joker again?” It’s true that Nicholson did say he would have played the Joker in Nolan’s franchise if asked. But technically, in “Batman,” the Joker did plunge to his death (one of the film's major flaws in following Batman canon). And since this isn’t a continuation, I say give someone else who is applauded in the Bat-world and/or has credibility outside of it, a chance to shine. I'm not wedded to Hamill at all, but feel free to throw me into the camp of those who love his vocal enactment of the Clown Prince of Crime.

It is true that by putting “The Dark Knight Returns” on the big screen, you take a gamble that the casual Batman fan has to figure out that this is separate one-off story and different than the Nolan franchise. But that can be overcome by a well funded marketing campaign. As the viral marketing of “The Dark Knight” proved, you can create a huge buzz and set up a movie perfectly if the right team is assembled.

The energetic response over 2009's “The Watchmen” showed that legendary one-off graphic novels can succeed at a high level. It’s time to test that theory in the Bat-world by giving “The Dark Knight Returns” its time in the spotlight.

Matt's Replies: Ok, firstly I love what Brian is saying about bringing this film as a one-shot to the big screen.  I think that the story is there and with 300 and Sin City we've seen Frank Miller's work come to life in a great way.  A few things that won't work...firstly, Mark Hamill has said in interviews he is retiring the voice of the Joker, so I highly doubt we'd get him for the film.   Also, I've worked closely with WB for years, and your chances of Superman making it into a non-Superman film is little to none.  They're very paranoid about branding confusion.  Why, I have no idea.  We're not so simple that we can't separate one film from another...but ok.
If Jack Nicholson was cast, I think that would guarantee a box office smash....especially if you bring back Keaton.  Attention Hollywood: THAT is the way to go if you want to make money and a great film.  Also, bring in "300" director Zack Snyder.  He can give the film the surreal dystopian future feel it needs to really make the fans happy and create the atmosphere for the characters to work off of.  With that cast the film would feel like a follow-up to the original Burton Batman and would be so much fun.

After that, lets see some more fun with Batman films!  Larger scope story arcs, not just Batman vs. Villain of the week.  Lets do a real arc for once.  Hush..Knightfall...something fun.  That is all!

Brian Heaton is a regular contributor to Legions of Gotham. When not opining on Batman-related news at LoG, he works as a music journalist and communications professional in Northern California. His work covering the world of hard rock/heavy metal music can be found at The Breakdown Room –

Matt MacNabb is the owner and editor of the Legions of Gotham website.

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