PASADENA, California -- When last we saw the caped crusader Batman, he had taken down enigmatic evildoer Ra's al Ghul, pledged to rebuild his father's mansion and lost Katie Holmes' Rachel Dawes -- presumably to someone with fewer "issues" than him.
Now the final draft has been handed in for his next flick, "The Dark Knight," and fans are awaiting one more plot development that was teased at the end of "Batman Begins."
"Oh yeah, that's the Joker," Michael Caine grinned recently, looking forward to revisiting the role of Alfred in the "Batman Begins" sequel. "Heath Ledger is the Joker."
For those with memories as short as the Penguin, "Begins" concluded with future Commissioner Gordon discussing a new criminal: "Armed robbery, double homicide, got a taste for the theatrical like you," he said. "Leaves a calling card." Flipping over a playing card to reveal the Joker, Batman was off into the night, perhaps to meet his archenemy for the first time.
"If you look at the final scene of 'Batman Begins,' it suggests a very strong direction through which the story will continue," said filmmaker Christopher Nolan, discussing his plans for the next installment of the franchise. "That's what hooked me and excited me about continuing the story."
"It's all top-secret stuff," Christian Bale said, insisting that he hasn't yet read the script penned by Nolan's brother Jonathan and "Blade: Trinity" director David Goyer. "Chris will call me in due time, and I trust him completely. On that, I know I'm in very good hands."
Several roles in the upcoming film still need to be cast, but this much is known: Bale, Caine and Gary Oldman are set to return; Nolan will bring ill-fated District Attorney Harvey Dent into the "Knight" mix; and Ledger will indeed bring his unsettling smile to the role of comicdom's killer clown. And apparently, everyone already has words of advice for Nolan and Ledger on how they should fill the enormous, floppy shoes of 1989 Joker Jack Nicholson.
"I spoke to [Nolan] about it and said, 'This is how I think the Joker should be,' " Caine remembered. "I said a certain thing about how it should be done, and he says, 'I've got a better way than that one.' And I went, 'Whoa,' because my way was good -- my way was really good. Because, I mean, you have got to top Jack -- and not a lot of people can top Jack."
"I really had no intention on doing the sequel when I made the first film," Nolan remembered. "But there is something about the way the film ended that really makes me want to explore the story further."
The director insisted that his unique take on the makeup-heavy madman will work just fine once he puts his own finishing touches on the pages turned in by Goyer and his brother. "It isn't quite finished," he said of the give-and-take process he and his brother have perfected with scripts like "Memento" and this month's "The Prestige." "I'm still working on it. I had to take a little bit of time out to do ['The Prestige'], but I'm actually pretty excited about how it's coming along."
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Saying that "Dark Knight" will focus on "the idea of escalation, and all of these things that Gordon talks about in the last scene," Nolan said that he's tried his best to avoid Internet speculation on what the film should be. "I really don't look at any of that stuff, because when you work on something like 'Batman,' it's simply too confusing with all of the different amounts of interest in it."
Nolan's recent confirmation that Dent would appear in the sequel set off a flurry of activity -- but the director wouldn't answer any questions on whether the D.A. would become the famed villain Two-Face in this sequel or the next.
"I couldn't possibly comment," he shrugged. "It's very gratifying that there is such a loyal fanbase and that they are interested. But I'm a bit of a Luddite when it comes to technology; I don't really use the Internet. I'm aware of some [rumors]; my wife tells me about the more outlandish ones and so forth. It is fun that people are so interested, and it's really a great thing that the fans are so passionate."
Targeting a June 2008 release, Nolan will soon turn his full attention to making sure Batman takes flight again -- and we can only assume that, at some point, his stars will get to read the script as well.
"Christopher is very tight with everything. He won't tell you anything, even though I know him so well," Michael Caine laughed. "But I think it will be incredible."
"All I know," Bale added, "is that we will be improving upon a pretty damn fantastic first 'Batman Begins.' "
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