Even though Batman Begins ended with a scene seemingly written with the express intent of paving the way for a sequel with the Joker, co-writer David S. Goyer says it was written and film with no plan to follow through.
“(Director Christopher Nolan) did not call me until about three months after Batman Begins had opened to talk about the second one,” says Goyer, who returned to help the director write the story for The Dark Knight, which opens July 18.
Though titled The Dark Knight, echoing Frank Miller’s classic graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns, the film follows its own story, Goyer says. “I think that there are elements from The Dark Knight, elements from The Long Halloween, elements from The Killing Joke,” he says. “But it’s not like we were specifically adapting one specific comic book or comic book arc.”
Goyer says he and Chris Nolan spent a month together writing a detailed outline of the story. There were some changes from the outline to the final produce, but not many — a fact sure to disappoint fans of deleted and alternate scenes. “The basic building blocks were there,” he says.
Turning the story into a screenplay fell to the director and his brother, Jonathan Nolan, who says the comic books provided a deep library of stories that could be cherry picked for the best ideas.
“One of the reasons why this is such a cool job is because you have all these incredible writers who’ve worked the character before you. And the fans will actually get mad at you if you didn’t try to incorporate some of those cool ideas they came up with,” says Nolan, who also collaborated as writer with his brother on The Prestige and Memento. “I would like to think if I watched this film without having worked on it, I would enjoy the moments that I recognized from the books.”
What may surprise audiences and spark some debate are the parallels between the Joker’s crime spree and terrorism in the modern world. But Goyer says they did not set out to make a political film. “I think that if you try to do that, you’re going to screw up.”
The starting point was again the final scene of Batman Begins, in which the idea was floated that Batman’s presence alone would bring out a more freakish and unstable element in a dangerous game of escalation.
Goyer says the Joker is at heart an anarchist, and since anarchy leads to terrorism it’s an obvious leap for people to make. But Nolan points out there are plenty of differences between the story in the film and terrorism in the real world, most notably that the Joker has no political cause behind his crimes.
“The Joker’s cause is chaos. To me that’s very different, somewhat timeless and a little more frightening,” he says.
That point of view in the film evokes the Batman-Joker relationship as defined in comics like Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke, with each seeing in the other a dark and necessary reflection of themselves.
“In this movie, the only goal of the Joker when he’s sort of evoking this reign of terror is for the Batman to turn himself in. But you also get the sense that — well, he says it — he doesn’t even want Batman to do it. He just wants to keep playing,” Goyer says
Though neither writer spent much time on the set, Nolan says was thrilled by the contributions the late Heath Ledger made to the Joker. “I felt like Heath took what we’d written and took it to a whole different, extraordinary place,” he says. “I almost feel like he took authorship over the whole thing. I’m just glad to have been along for the ride.”
As for whether there would be a third film in this series, both Nolan and Goyer said it would be up to his brother. Nolan says the key will be simply whether he thinks a third film could improve on The Dark Knight. “There’s got to be a real reason to go back and do it,” he says.
Goyer says that will be a tall order. “This one is better — and it’s going to be harder to do it again,” he says.