SEQUELS THAT NEVER WERE: Batman Triumphant

What if Joel Schumacher made a third Dark Knight film and righted the wrongs of Batman & Robin? Joe investigates. 

As a huge Batman fan, I have to envy the youth of today. Director Christopher Nolan pushed the boundaries of blockbuster cinema and elevated his Dark Knight franchise to a level that seemed unimaginable when I was growing up. And now, we’re getting another Caped Crusader more or less ripped from the comic pages. Apart from the odd television screening of Tim Burton’s Batman and Batman Returns, the Dark Knight I grew up with was the camp and cartoonish creation of Joel Schumacher. Despite strangling the franchise to within an inch of its life from a fan’s perspective, the Dark Knight remained a bankable prospect for the studio. Therefore, Schumacher was set to return to the director’s chair in 1999 for Batman Triumphant.

Alas, the movie never materialised due to Batman & Robin‘s heinous reception. Schumacher would even apologise for his efforts years later in a DVD documentary:

But the director had promised to go “back to the basics” and make a grittier portrayal of DC’s character. Triumphant’s planned subject matter was certainly darker than his two previous efforts. The film would have centred on a villainous plot by the Scarecrow, with Batman falling victim to his fear toxin and hallucinating the return of Jack Nicholson’s deceased Joker. It was also planned for the principle cast of B&R to return; George Clooney as Batman, Chris O’Donnell as the Boy Wonder, Michael Gough as Alfred Pennyworth, and Pat Hingle as Commissioner Gordon. There was even the possibility to see Batgirl (Alicia Silverstone) again, with Nicolas Cage, Steve Buscemi, Ewan McGregor, and Jeff Goldblum on the list for the Scarecrow. Little did we know that it would take until 2005 for us to see the villain on-screen.

Much of what Schumacher had planned would form the basis of my own sequel, but I would also take inspiration from Adrian Lyne’s psychological horror Jacob’s Ladder, as well as segments from the Batman: Arkham Asylum videogames.

The opening sequence of Jacob’s Ladder sees Tim Robbins’ Jacob as a soldier in Vietnam whose unit comes under heavy fire. As the firefight rages on, and many of his fellow infantrymen begin to suffer from strange seizures, a frightened Jacob flees into the jungle and is wounded by an unseen attacker. We then flash-forward to Jacob’s post-war life living in New York, which begins to unravel when he is haunted by bizarre hallucinations of demons. Jacob’s mind becomes so twisted that he is eventually living in two versions of reality, and starts to question whether he is alive at all. Jacob’s struggle is an uncanny mirror of the troubled psyche of Bruce Wayne, particularly in the comics. Take for instance Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth where, after a harrowing experience with the Joker, Batman forces a shard of glass through his palm in order to bring his mind back to reality.

So, act one of my sequel would begin with Batman hot on the heels of the Scarecrow, attempting to halt some sort of devilish scheme to bring down Gotham. He manages to corner his nemesis, but during their confrontation, the Caped Crusader is blasted with fear toxin and is critically wounded and left for dead. Act two would then begin several years later when Batman has seemingly defeated the Scarecrow. However, his crime-fighting career is put in jeopardy when he begins to experience strange hallucinations; he is visited by the Joker (although, obviously not portrayed by a 75-year-old Nicholson) who proceeds to torment Bats from beyond the grave.

For me, the most effective parts of Batman: Arkham Asylum were its Scarecrow segments, where the Dark Knight is transported into a nightmarish and surreal dreamworld. These segments would also have a big influence on my proposed sequel, particularly the moments when Bruce disturbingly envisions his dead parents. As Batman’s mind continues to dip in and out of reality, new threats against Gotham come into view. Despite his increasing inability to distinguish what is real, Batman continues to fight for Gotham’s safety. But as the public slowly become aware of his fractured psyche, they fiercely question whether their lives should be placed in the hands of a malfunctioning vigilante. Even Alfred considers institutionalising a defiant Bruce.

The third act would consist of Bruce accepting his insanity and questioning whether he did die during his showdown with the Scarecrow several year previous. He is now being tortured in limbo. Nevertheless, he decides he must confront his enemy once more in a final battle for Gotham’s sake. So, is Batman struggling with psychosis? Or is he in fact dead? For this film to be greenlit, it would most likely have to be the former, as the studio wouldn’t dream of killing off their prized asset.

If I could resurrect Rock Hudson to play Batman just for this film I would, but the ideal move would obviously be for the cast of The Dark Knight trilogy to return, although in a world of Batfleck, this is unlikely. However, my ideal director would be Darren Aronofsky, who has displayed an interest in directing a Batman movie before, and has brilliantly portrayed a character’s battle with madness in Black Swan. Oh, screw it! Why not just give the role to Michael Fassbender? The man can do anything!

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