The Batman 2 Should Not Use Joker as the Main Villain

We consider why Barry Keoghan’s Joker should not be the main villain in The Batman 2.

Robert Pattinson and Zoe Kravitz as The Batman and Catwoman
Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures

Warner Bros. Discovery just had a very good CinemaCon—its first under the new banner. At the Las Vegas event, the re-christened studio revealed our first look at Greta Gerwig and Margot Robbie’s intriguing Barbie movie, which will now open in direct competition with Christopher Nolan and Universal’s Oppenheimer (it would seem the bad blood between studio-and-director exes is mutual); WB also dropped an apparently sizzling trailer for Olivia Wilde’s thriller Don’t Worry, Darling; and, oh yes, announced a little movie called The Batman 2.

It’s of course been a foregone conclusion that The Batman would get a fast tracked sequel ever since the picture dropped a mere 50 percent in its second weekend off a solid (if not spectacular) $134 million opening. It has since proven to have incredibly strong word of mouth, grossing $755 million globally in only 45 days ahead of its expedited HBO Max premiere last week.

So the studio was always going to make The Batman 2. Yet fans of Matt Reeves’ brooding and noirish interpretation of the character, and those who just like to watch Robert Pattinson in Guyliner, still got the thrill of receiving official confirmation this week.

Already, fans are speculating about what The Batman 2 could mean for Reeves and Pattinson’s seedy vision of Gotham, and which villains he could face next. That latter bit is perhaps doubly intriguing given the continued hype around the not quite a post-credits scene reveal of Barry Keoghan as the Joker, as well as the deleted scene of the character having his first onscreen tête-a-tête with Pattinson’s Caped Crusader.

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Even so, if we were allowed to offer our wholly unnecessary two cents to Reeves (who has already shown a complete command of the Batman mythos), it would be this: Don’t use Keoghan’s Joker in a major way. Not yet.

Break Away from The Dark Knight Template

When Batman Begins was released in 2005, it felt like a shocking breath of fresh air. A Batman movie that takes the character seriously? It was a revelation, one where no less than Roger Ebert said, “It was the Batman movie I was waiting for.”

But in retrospect, it looks a bit safe and certainly formulaic when compared to the movies that followed under director Christopher Nolan’s guidance, especially 2008’s The Dark Knight. As great as Begins is, and it is, the movie was built in the template handed down by Richard Donner in 1978’s Superman: The Movie. All the best superhero movies up to that point followed in the footsteps of that picture (and maybe its first sequel, which also began under Donner). That changed when The Dark Knight showed a different path.

Ideally, The Batman 2 will have a similar departure from audience expectations and formula. To be sure, Reeves’ first Batman film is a triumph, and one we personally consider to be among the best superhero movies ever made. However, it still very much operates in the shadow of Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, presenting a Bruce Wayne at the beginning of his crime fighting career and who is seeing his city descend into chaos as it transitions from an underworld of organized crime to the age of the freak. It also felt almost obligated to end with a citywide existential threat (like two of Nolan’s three Batman movies)… and a tease for the Joker in the sequel.

Making The Batman 2 in the image of Nolan’s second Dark Knight picture—which would mean making a Batman vs. Joker movie—will inevitably invite difficult comparisons while retrodding familiar ground. Why do that when Reeves already has gone so much his own way in the first two acts of The Batman? Now that he’s earned his spurs at the box office, like Nolan in 2005, he should be allowed to completely throw away the existing formula and do something incredibly unique.

The Batman ended with the city literally under water. Could we get a whole film about Gotham under martial law and in a veritable no man’s land situation (as opposed to being only an aspect of The Dark Knight Rises)? Or better still, follow a thread Nolan never even attempted. Mr. Freeze, for example, is begging for a Gothic and dramatic onscreen adaptation, and we imagine Reeves could have a lot of fun with that. And this is just one example to get away from the Mistah J of it all.

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Build Up to Joker

With that said, even if Joker isn’t the main villain in the next movie, it does not mean he cannot play a role. One of the better things about The Batman is how it utilizes the Dark Knight’s vast rogues’ gallery as an ensemble. While the film is marketed around Paul Dano’s Riddler being the big bad, there really isn’t a single main villain—not with Carmine Falcone (John Turturro) and Penguin (Colin Farrell, allegedly) running around. There’s even a lot of floor space to develop the interior life of Selina Kyle (Zoë Kravitz), who no one would call a villain in this movie.

Bringing back Kravitz for The Batman 2 is certainly a must. Beyond that, the way is wide open to allow multiple villains to co-exist in Gotham’s shadow world, including the Joker.

While we personally find the inclusion of Keoghan’s Joker in The Batman to be shoehorned—a result of a possible studio note—now that he’s here, make it organic with him having a small supporting role, whether that’s on the streets or in Arkham. He can be building his own legend while Bruce crafts another. Have audiences anticipate the first true confrontation between Keoghan’s clown and Pattinson’s vigilante without plexiglass between them. And then save it for…

An Arkham Asylum Movie

There is currently ambiguity around whether Reeves will spin off “Arkham Asylum” into an HBO Max television series or if he’ll instead do a show around Farrell’s Penguin. Or maybe the streamer will make both? But honestly, we’d advise saving Arkham for a movie set almost entirely in and around the Arkham grounds. Explore the “hell” Riddler expected Batman to wait out the flood with him in.

The seeds are already planted with Joker becoming very friendly with the Riddler in The Batman, so build to the clown staging a riot where the inmates literally run the asylum, inviting Batman (and Catwoman?) into a nightmarish scenario for a third movie. For younger fans this will be appealing since it was the launching pad of the popular Batman Arkham video game series. But for a film, pulling more from Grant Morrison and Dave McKean’s Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth would be ideal. That brooding and surrealist graphic novel toys with elements of psychological horror and fantasy as Batman is forced to confront his own demons by looking at the devils he locked up.

It’s material that seems natural to the rogues gallery Reeves is building, as well as to his and Pattinson’s incredibly damaged interpretation of Bruce Wayne. Building to a third film with all of them joining forces to make it the worst night of Batman’s life would be a hell of a movie.

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Just a thought.