NEW YORK — Batman's a solitary figure in Gotham, but in NYC, he gets lots of support — from the crowds on the street to the celebrity fans such as Ethan Hawke, Josh Hartnett, Lauren Conrad, Blake Lively and Penn Badgley, who all walked the "Dark Knight" black carpet Monday night.
Only one person was conspicuously absent from the festivities, though very much present in the hearts and minds of the movie's cast and crew, as they all touted Heath Ledger's performance as the Joker as "Oscar-worthy," "iconic" and "groundbreaking."
"He was an incredible talent," said Christian Bale (Bruce Wayne/Batman). "He got immersed in the role the way I like to — off-set and on. He was wonderful."
"He was very committed to the role," said Gary Oldman (Jim Gordon). "It's an intense portrayal. When you see him, not only is he remarkable, but you think about what could have been."
"He's the finest villain I've ever seen," said Michael Caine (Alfred).
All this praise is great when it comes to this film, but it becomes a hurdle when it comes to the next one, should there be a next one. The Joker is set up as the great antithesis to Batman — anarchy to his order — and as in the comics, you'd imagine they would cross paths again. After all, Scarecrow reappears in "The Dark Knight," for a quick moment, as if to demonstrate that this round of Batman movies is more about creating a consistent universe. "Chris [Nolan] has shown that you can bring back or have recurring bad guys or antagonists," said Aaron Eckhart (Harvey "Two-Face" Dent).
So can you bring back the Joker?
"There have been other Bonds," pointed out Chin Han (who plays businessman/villain Lau).
"I don't think anybody involved would really want to do that," said David Goyer, who collaborated on the story for "The Dark Knight" with Christopher and Jonathan Nolan. "Once fans see the movie, it's almost impossible to think of someone else in that role now."
That means the filmmakers have to choose a new villain to terrorize Gotham next. Who could it be?
"Let me get a grasp on this one first!" Bale said.
"I'm clueless right now," laughed director Christopher Nolan. "All I can think about is taking a vacation — for a month!"
Luckily for them, Batman has an extensive gallery of rogues and enough hard-core fans in the "Dark Knight" cast, so there's no shortage of suggestions.
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"What Heath did with the Joker was amazing," Eckhart said. "To see a guy come in here and have a vision for a character and make him fresh and new and scary and thrilling. If someone could do that with the Riddler or the Penguin, that would be insane."
"I always liked the Riddler," Oldman said. "I liked the whole Riddle aspect. I loved the suit."
"Obviously, as a man, I would love to see Catwoman or Harley Quinn," Han said, "in one of those Jean-Paul Gaultier outfits. That would be awesome."
"Catwoman, you can always bring her back," agreed Nestor Carbonell, who played the mayor of Gotham. "You can never see enough of her."
Considering that this Batman lives in a less comic, more realistic universe than his predecessors, that could determine the portrayal of his villains. "I doubt we'd see a Mr. Freeze or someone like that," Goyer said.
Like his relationship with Two-Face, Batman and his new foe might not always start out on opposite sides. "What I really like is when you turn people into villains, when you see them flip," Carbonell said. "That's a great twist. And there's certain people you see in this one, certain characters who you didn't realize could go the other way, who could show up in the next one in an unexpected way."
So should, say, Selina Kyle become Catwoman, she might start out as a prostitute, as she did in Frank Miller's "Year One." "Whoever the villain is going to be, you have to keep it realistic," Han said. "So it might be the more seedy side. That dark world of prostitution might rear its head."
Even though Catwoman might be an obvious front-runner, Goyer said fans shouldn't expect anything to be a given. He has 70 years' worth of villains to choose from, and he's going to take his time thinking about it.
"Chris [Nolan] didn't even call me for three months after the last one," Goyer said. "I think there's plenty of characters we could use if we were to do another film. We used Ra's al Ghul and the Scarecrow in the first one, 'Batman Begins,' and that worked just fine. We'll be fine."
Check out everything we've got on "The Dark Knight."
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