With news and rumors about the third Batman film starting to circulate, and an announcement of some sort expected any time in the coming weeks/months, most speculation has focused on what villain(s) will appear in the film. This has led to much debate about whether or not we are most likely to see some of the best-known villains, and whether in fact such villains "have" to appear.
I'd like to talk about three issues: whether or not we are most likely to see better-known villains, or lesser-known villains; whether or not any particular villains "must" appear (and whether or not the film will be inherently inferior if it lacks any particular characters); and which, if any, villains don't work in Nolan's illusionary realism. Then I"ll take a fun direction, and list a collection of villains that I think can and would work in Nolan's illusionary realism (the list is longer than you might think), and I'll finish up by giving examples of how a few particular villains could work on film.
WHO MIGHT WE SEE?
First, are we most likely to see a more famous villain, or a couple of less well-known characters? David Goyer and Jonathan Nolan spoke to this very issue ["An Interview with David Goyer and Jonathan Nolan," BOF/June 2008 - "Jett"] when they said publicly that Batman's gallery of villains is so broad and has so much history, that it is not required to simply rely on the most famous characters. They specifically pointed to the fact that BATMAN used Ra's al Ghul and the Scarecrow as an example of reaching for villains who are not as familiar to the public.
I happen to strongly agree with their viewpoint. In fact, some of Batman's best adversaries -- and, in my opinion, some characters who would work best in Nolan's illusionary realism -- are characters less popular and less familiar. Most of the public has probably never heard of Hugo Strange, The Monk, or Deadshot, for example. However, they are strong characters with a lot of potential and who could be fit into Nolan's illusionary realism quite easily and well.
In light of BATMAN BEGINS using Ra's and Scarecrow, coupled with Davie Goyer and Jonathan Nolan pointing specifically to that film to make their point that Batman has a large cast of lesser-known characters ripe for use on film, I think the odds seem at this point to favor a villain who isn't well-known to the general public.
However, I think there is a possibility that while the main villain might not be from the list of publicly popular villains, we may see a supporting villain or two who are indeed more recognizable to the public or to fans. One example would be a return of the Joker, something that might be considered controversial (especially among fans), but which would fit with what we heard about Nolan's expectation of using the character again before Ledger's tragic death changed things. There is also speculation that a major character might return from THE DARK KNIGHT, and certainly the Joker is on the short-list of such characters. Finally, the inclusion of the Joker in a supporting role -- even just a couple of scenes -- would make it easier to follow up THE DARK KNIGHT with a story focused on a lesser-known primary villain.
So if we are more likely to see a less well-known villain, does that mean the filmmakers are ignoring characters who are "necessary" for the third film to work? Are there characters who simply have to appear, lest the next film fail as a story?
The most often mentioned such characters are The Riddler, Catwoman, and The Penguin. Again, David Goyer and Jonathan Nolan stated that there are enough options that it is in fact not at all necessary to rely on the most popular and well-known villains in order to tell a compelling story, a belief I very much share. In making their point that there are no villains who "have" to show up, they pointed to Catwoman and The Penguin as examples of characters that are being said to be necessities but who in fact are nothing of the sort, in their opinion.
The claim that any given characters are "must-have" villains assumes a lot. It assumes the direction of Bruce/Batman's own arc, the direction of the overall narrative of the ongoing story, and the direction of the themes of the film. It also assumes that other characters are inferior and/or cannot adequately serve the arcs and narrative and themes, as well as assuming that Chris Nolan, Jonathan Nolan, and David Goyer are incapable of crafting a story and film that works without the characters fans feel are the most important.
I reject all of those claims that any specific characters are a necessity and that a third film will fail if it doesn't use such characters. I'd first point to BATMAN BEGINS. Prior to that film's conception, how many of these same fans might have insisted that a Batman origin story would simply not work if the primary villains were the Scarecrow and Ra's al Ghul (let alone Ra's as Batman's ninja trainer)?
Second, anyone claiming that no other characters will work or adequately serve the story/arcs/themes needs to take a look at the Batman comics. Look at the BATMAN AND THE MONSTER MEN or THE CULT, or STRANGE APPARITIONS, or BATMAN AND THE MAD MONK, for a few examples. There are of course a plethora of storylines over the decades the prove great Batman tales don't require the inclusion of only a handful of most popular and well-known villains. To claim only one or two characters could possibly make a third film successful is to ignore more than 70 years of Batman lore.
Nolan and company delivered big-time with BATMAN BEGINS, and then shocked everyone with the stunning quality and success of THE DARK KNIGHT. So, to place the success and quality of their third film squarely on the question of which villain they pick is grossly short-sighted and seems to underestimate the filmmakers, not to mention the history of Batman comics as well.