So, sure, we all love Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy - after all, it's Batman - but there are some parts of it that we might just love a little more than others. The Dark Knight, for instance, is pretty much universally beloved, whereas the response to The Dark Knight Rises was...a little more mixed.
It now seems, though, as if that movie almost didn't happen - and that Christopher Nolan instead came close to making an entirely different third entry in the legendary Bat-franchise. It seems that a few key events may just have changed the original plans for the trilogy completely - and that if they hadn't, we could have seen a very different version of The Dark Knight Rises. What's more, we just might know a surprisingly large amount about what it would have been like...
The Joker Would Have Returned
Now, obviously the major reason this didn't happen was the tragic death of Heath Ledger - but, as it turns out, the plans for The Joker appearing in a third installment came about well before Ledger was even cast in the movie - and before The Dark Knight ever had a finished screenplay.
Way back in 2005, in the lead up to the release of Batman Begins, writer David Goyer revealed that:
"The next one would have Batman enlisting the aid of Gordon...in bringing down the Joker…but not killing him, which is a mistake they made in the first one."
Which, of course, ended up being pretty close to the plot of The Dark Knight - but Goyer wasn't done there. In the third movie, he suggested, "the Joker would go on trial," with the plot following on from there.
What, though, would the rest of that movie have been about (assuming it wasn't set to be a courtroom drama)?
Two-Face Would Have Had His Own Movie
Specifically, the third one.
Y'see, those quotes from Goyer originally featured a detail or two that I didn't include above. His full quote in fact read:
“The next one would have Batman enlisting the aid of Gordon and [Harvey] 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.”
Because, of course, Harvey Dent was set to be a major part of the series, just as he was in The Dark Knight. The key difference being that Two-Face wasn't originally set to appear until the third installment - meaning Harvey would have had both a major role in the first sequel, and a starring (and villainous) one in the second.
The Dark Knight Rises Would've Been VERY Different
As in, The Dark Knight wouldn't have featured any of that final act business involving Two-Face at all - instead leaving it until the third installment.
Instead, the movie would have ended with some variation on this:
The Joker would have found himself in prison (presumably still having killed Rachel Dawes, and goading Batman about how they're destined to fight each other forever), while Gordon, Dent and Bats all celebrated in their usual, light-hearted fashion, and the Dent act presumably still became law:
Then, cut to credits, presumably with a suitably enticing post-credits tease.
And then, a few years later, The Dark Knight Rises arrives, and, instead of starring Bane and Catwoman, would've opened on an intense courtroom drama, featuring The Joker going up against Harvey Dent.
Only for this to happen...
At which point, cue a very public, and very movie-length, adventure featuring the one and only Two-Face...
...and a very different movie from The Dark Knight Rises we eventually saw.
The big question, then, is this:
Why Didn't We See That Version?
Well, the short answer is that, from the sounds of it, Christopher Nolan had very little interest in making a third film. As a result, he reportedly wanted The Dark Knight to function as a standalone movie, so that he wouldn't feel any pressure to return for a third. Which, presumably, prompted Goyer's original idea to be reworked into the basis for the epic second installment in the franchise.
Why, though, didn't we see Harvey Dent in the final installment? After all, it wouldn't have been out of the realms of plausibility to have the character resurrected, and included in The Dark Knight Rises as a more recognizable secondary villain.
Well, as it turns out, it sounds as though the same reason we didn't see The Joker applies to Two-Face, too: The untimely death of Heath Ledger.
As Aaron Eckhart, Two-Face himself, put it after The Dark Knight's release:
"No, I’m not coming back. I think unfortunately, Heath [Ledger] was supposed to go on and that didn’t work out. I’m nobody. I’m a cog. I have no say over this sort of stuff."
Which suggests that not only was The Joker originally set to return - but that Two-Face might just have come along with him.
As Forbes' Mark Hughes suggests:
"Christopher Nolan's work with Heath Ledger resulted in a close friendship between them and an immense respect and love for what Mr. Ledger did in bringing the Joker to life in the film. From that, there was -- again, according to some people who worked on the film -- a very broad and general sense that IF a third film was made, then whatever else it was about, Heath Ledger would probably be asked to come back and reprise his role as the Joker in some form or fashion."
Then, sadly, Heath Ledger passed away, and his death clearly changed the plans for a third installment, even after Nolan was persuaded to return.
All of Which Means...What, Exactly?
Well, mostly, that in the end, that original plan for a Two-Face and Joker-heavy third Dark Knight movie may never have happened, irrespective of the death of Heath Ledger - since Nolan had clearly already shelved the original Goyer idea before The Dark Knight. It was, though, still ultimately the tragic loss of Ledger that finally put an end to any chance of that original idea playing any part in the final installment - and of The Dark Knight's villains carrying on into the final movie.
Now, don't get me wrong - there's no lost version of the movies out there - and all of this seems to have very much met its end at the preliminary ideas stage - but it's still fascinating to see just how different a version of [The Dark Knight Rises](movie:39011) we almost got to see - and just how we got - for better or for worse - the version we eventually ended up with.
What do you guys think, though?