With The Dark Knight Rises at the box office and Christopher Nolan’s imminent departure from the helm of the Bat-franchise, what better time to do a fantasy casting call for one of the most beloved, cinematic arcs in all of Bat-dom? Of course, we are talking about Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, a seminal DC tale that took Batman to the brink of old age while at the same time reinvigorating a franchise with vital new energy.
THE ELEVATOR PITCH
The Dark Knight Rises is Christopher Nolan’s last Batman film. The best way to avoid an unnecessary reboot? Advance the story some 30 years, adapt one of the most influential and well-regarded Batman stories of all time, while retaining the familiar, gritty tone of the Nolan trilogy. Additionally, The Dark Knight Returns finally delivers the Batman/Superman crossover that fans have been clamoring for.
If you have not read The Dark Knight Returns, do so immediately. Frank Miller’s story is a modern classic, helping to revitalize the Batman franchise in the mid-80s, and serving as a major thematic inspiration for the Chris Nolan Batman films.
The story takes place decades down the road in a dystopian Gotham, with an aged Bruce Wayne having retired as Batman some years previous. On the cusp of Jim Gordon’s retirement as commissioner, one of Batman’s most familiar villains resurfaces. Harvey Dent is seemingly rehabilitated, but his surgically-repaired visage has become the obverse of his marred soul. When Two Face returns to committing crimes, Batman returns to fight him. In the process, he reignites the criminal passions of the Joker, inspires a young, new Robin and draws the attention of Gotham’s feared and foremost gang, the Mutants – not to mention the President of the United States.
The Dark Knight Returns is a bold, cinematic book and would not need much in the way of alteration to be properly adapted. The original printing had a four book structure, which could easily be molded into a two picture deal (since Hollywood loves stretching out those adaptations these days).
Kurt Russell as Batman/Bruce Wayne
Kurt Russell is in his 60s now, right around the proper age for Dark Knight Returns-era Bats. And he still looks like he can kick plenty of tail. Russell has been in Hollywood since childhood, and has played a seasoned, salty badass since at least 1981 when he created the legendary persona of Snake Plissken for Escape From New York. He can bring a world-weariness that the aged Bruce Wayne requires, coupled with the spark of daring that leads him to put back on the cape and cowl. Kurt Russell has always had the look of a larger-than-life superhero; with the passing of time, he’s only become more weathered just like DKR Batman. Russell has brought A-list aplomb to many B-movie roles. On The Dark Knight Returns, he can truly shine.
Chloe Moretz as Robin/Carrie Kelly
This casting is too obvious and stupidly on the nose, but who else would be better? Kick Ass serves as the perfect audition tape, since Hit Girl is basically an ultraviolent Robin with a few curse words mixed in. Moretz is age appropriate for the role, but more importantly, she has every talent necessary to succeed with it. Moretz has already played a facsimile of Robin; now let’s have her play the real thing.
Liev Schreiber as Superman/Clark Kent
The characters in The Dark Knight Returns are older and greyer, but Superman’s alien physiology would keep him looking youthful. Still, you don’t want someone too baby-faced in the role. Liev Schreiber has Clark Kent’s square-jawed features, with a thespian range honed from years on the Broadway stage and the silver screen. And the guy’s not above playing a comic book character, as his turn as Sabertooth in Wolverine: Origins shows. The Superman role in The Dark Knight Returns particularly requires nuance. The last active superhero, Supes works at the behest of a government that may not represent the best of the American Way as he knows it. Forced to do battle with foes who were once his friends, this role requires someone with the Superman look and the acting chops to back it up.
Powers Boothe as Green Arrow/Oliver Queen
Man oh man, nobody rocks a mustache like Powers Boothe. Like Kurt Russell, he’s past sixty, but he still looks like he could kick anyone’s ass. Ollie Queen has a small but key role in the story, and it requires someone in with some tread on their tires who can still pull off some amazing stunts. Powers Boothe has the cocky charisma of the Green Arrow, and the facial hair to boot. Boothe bites into every acting job, small or large, and he brings the necessary presence Oliver Queen needs.
Dwayne Johnson as The Mutant Leader
The Mutant Leader is a massive, physical freak but he is also frighteningly charismatic, able to inspire and control a huge gang of misfits and psychopaths. Johnson has the physical size but in this day and age, CGI muscles render physicality mostly moot. What Johnson brings to the table is his ridiculous amount of charisma. And the guy’s been playing too many family-friendly heroes lately. Let’s get him back into the heel business, where he can really go all out.
Billy Zane as Two-Face/Harvey Dent
In The Dark Knight Returns, Harvey Dent’s disfigured face has been surgically repaired (which has the side effect of eliminating his mental duality – now the guy is just all bad, instead of going halfsies). So he’s looking pretty good, and also sporting a curious cue ball look. And I submit there is no better-looking baldy than Billy Zane. Guy can also bring some seriously sinister, oozing menace to a role. He’d be perfect as the handsome on the outside, ugly on the inside, Two-Face
Brad Dourif as The Joker
Not gonna lie, Brad Dourif freaks me out. I’m sure he’s a nice man in person, but he’s got a knack for choosing mentally unhinged roles from Billy Bibbit to Chucky to Grima Wormtongue. With his piercing blue eyes and wildly flaring hair, the guy can really look like a total psychopath. And there’s no bigger psycho in comicdom than the Joker. I would love to see Dourif totally let loose with this part, which features Joker at his most terrifying, in a final showdown with the Caped Crusader. Dourif can definitely play a killer that will the the fear into an audience.
Donald Sutherland as James Gordon
Donald Sutherland has played a lot of roles where he is just oozing with confidence; over time, this confident quality has turned from something cocky into a steely inner strength. And that strong, steeliness is at the core of Commissioner Jim Gordon. The Dark Knight Returns finds the commissioner at the end of his career, ready to turn the reins over to by-the-book youngblood Ellen Yindel. Gordon is still the man he always was – strong, brave, and just. But now he’s tired, too. Sutherland is an actor with enough talent to play all those things at once.
Mariska Hargitaty as Ellen Yindel
Hey, typecasting! But sometimes typecasting occurs for a reason. In this case, Mariska Hargitay has proven she can play a strong, effective police detective from her many years on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Why not give Hargitay a promotion and have her play Ellen Yindel, Jim Gordon’s no-nonsense successor? We already know she could be believable in the role. All she needs is some glasses.
James Brolin as The President
In The Dark Knight Returns, the slick, PR-savvy, good ol’ boy president is a very thinly veiled (or not at all veiled) version of Ronald Reagan. James Brolin has the bland good looks of a politician, and experience playing presidential types, as he played George W. Bush in Oliver Stone’s biopic W. With a little make-up, he’d be a dead ringer for The Gipper, and as his role as a younger K in Men In Black 3 showed, Brolin is a pretty adept mimic.
Bruce Spence as Alfred Pennyworth
For some reason, Frank Miller drew Alfred Pennyworth with a very weird, squinchy head. Bruce Spence is the only guy I can think of in Hollywood with such a squinched head. Sure, he’s from New Zealand so the accent will be slightly off. But we need that head, fellas. This picture needs that head. Spence can also bring a lot to subservient roles – witness his excellent work in the latter two Mad Max movies as the Gyrocaptain.
Stephen Tobolowsky as Dr. Bartholomew Wolper
Dr. Wolper has a tough job as the Joker’s psychotherapist. Luckily, he’s a pandering, attention-seeking windbag, worried more about getting his patient on the talk show circuit rather than curing, so the reader never feels too much sympathy for the strangely mustachioed Freudian weirdo. Character actor Stephen Tobolowsky can play smart-sleazy and academic-slick. He’s one of those actors that shows up everywhere, but I will always remember him as Ned Ryerson in Groundhog’s Day, the kind of oily insurance agent that gives people the creeps. The capacity to act a too-smart unlikeability makes him perfect to play Bartholomew Wolper.
Bernadette Peters as Selina Kyle
Selina Kyle never swings into action as Catwoman in The Dark Knight Returns, instead getting the unfortunate “Women in Refrigerators” treatment. As a madame who’s clientele includes some of Gotham’s most powerful, Selina still exudes her trademark grace. Bernadette Peters is better known for her stagework (she is a multiple Tony Award-winning Broadway megastar), but she does act on the silver screen from time to time, most notably in Steve Martin’s The Jerk. A classy and beautiful veteran actor, she could easily match talents with any of the actors in this production, and bring needed pathos to the role of Selina Kyle. And who else has curls like that?
THAT’S A WRAP
It’s unlikely Hollywood will ever make a movie about a sixty-something Batman. But in a perfect world, we know who we’d pick to play the part.
Or do we? If you’ve got someone else in mind for these roles, tell us in the comments.