I’ve seen a lot of talk recently about which Batman villains wouldn’t work, under any circumstances, in a Christopher Nolan film. I think the far cooler question is: how might some classic Batman villains turn out if that’s just where they happened to show up?
I decided to take a look at four of Batman’s most iconic villains. Though they’ve all appeared in a Batman film before, I’m pretty sure this is the first time that they’ve been “Nolan-ified,”
taking a swing at what a third film’s potential villain could be like.
What to keep:
The coolest parts about Catwoman have always been her purgatorial placement between hero and villain, and the promise of a masked love interest for Batman.
What to lose:
A specific origin story presents issues for explaining how Catwoman’s physical prowess matches up against Batman’s. Anything supernatural (see Halle Berry’s 2004 debacle, in particular) should especially be avoided.
Goodbye nursing cats. In fact, say goodbye to any specific origin story. The Nolanverse Catwoman is always
in the mask and is always
Catwoman, making her a character for Batman, not Bruce, to fall in love with. It’s an important distinction.
Instead, say hello to a lightning-fast, agile cat-burglar anti-heroine. Yes, she steals – but only from the incalculably rich or the criminally corrupt. There’s a part of Batman that knows she should be locked up, and another part transfixed by what he’s seeing: the familiar image of a caped crusader sticking to a strictly personal moral code. Oh, and you know, one who is also potentially single.
Yes, the subtext of sexual temptation is important here, as that’s how Catwoman does her real dirty work. She’s a seductive, rather than physical, threat, and she isn’t strictly evil, either. Not even mostly evil, though as a burglar, rather than vigilante, her moral compass is considerably looser than Batty’s.
What she offers is personal adventure – a social life of sorts, or at least sexual conquest – but for Batman. For the man in the suit. For the idea
of the hero. And she makes an argument to Batman – a persuasive, but ultimately incorrect one – that Bruce is dragging him down, is his weakness, and should be let go. Resisting the temptation to give in fully to the masked persona, Batman is forced to recognize just how essential Bruce is in grounding his actions in an element of humanity.
What to keep:
Look to the comics for an already realistic version of this aristocratic crime-lord. The key here is he’s more or less a normal criminal, just ugly.
What to lose:
No offense to Batman Returns, but Burton’s mutant, supervillainous Penguin just doesn’t work anymore. Oh, and no penguins with bombs on their backs. Make that no penguins at all (can I nix the umbrella-gun, too?).
The new Penguin would look more at home going to trial for defrauding investors than murdering hostages, and frankly, that’s the way it should be. A rotund Gotham aristocrat and apparent philanthropist, his friends call him by his birth name, Oswald Chesterfield Cobblepot, and his enemies by his tuxedoed animal resemblance.
The Penguin correctly suspects that another of Gotham’s wealthy elite is behind Batman’s considerable means (how he is the first
to deduce this, I don’t know). Eager to rid his criminal enterprise of the troubled vigilante pest, he uses his position in high society to begin a ruthless public fundraising campaign against our hero, painting him as an out of control vigilante (you know the drill) and hoping to force the hand of Batman’s high society financier.
What gets interesting here is that the Penguin largely becomes a villain for Bruce, not Batman. As one of Gotham’s rich playboys on the Penguin’s short list of suspects, Bruce is forced to take up the anti-Batman crusade. We find him not just publicly arguing against the hero, but also reluctantly financing counter-operations by the police. His social, not martial, arts are tested.
Whatever, so Bruce has to deal with snobby socialites and hand out some extra dough: never a problem before. The issue here is that the Penguin has reasonable – and might I add, in general, morally correct
– arguments against vigilantism on his side. In the midst of the anti-Batman charade, Bruce begins to wonder: Is what he’s doing right? Is Batman, like the criminals he apprehends, just a mockery of justice? (Maybe, but mostly no.)
What to keep:
The standard comics interpretation of Bane as both highly intelligent and physically powerful is by far the most intriguing. Intelligence here is key.
What to lose:
Schumacher’s idiotic reimagining of Bane as a stupid grunt incapable even of speech is not worth revisiting. Additionally, Bane’s super-serum “Venom” needs to be brought down to Earth a little, dragging with it the experimental test subject origin and those garish skull tubes.
In the comics, Bane once broke Batman’s back. That’s the kind of threat we’re talking about here. The new Bane needs to come from a place that makes his physical and intellectual strengths plausible, even before he starts to juice up.
Ex-military may sound cliché, but it serves up a reasonable explanation for Bane’s considerable talents. Let’s be clear though, Bane 2.0 is a highly capable, well-trained, and physically fit former officer
, and not just some grunt soldier with too much machismo to spare. After a disastrous mission leaves his faith fractured and his mind unsettled, he leaves the army for retirement in Gotham, drawing inspiration from Batman to fight the good fight on his own terms.
The two meet in the vigilante wild, where Batman is impressed by an imitator who measures up to his skill. Nevertheless, they eventually brawl over a dispute on how to handle some victims (perhaps Bane is inspired to murderous rage upon recognizing an enemy face from his mission). Bane barely loses, vows never to be bested by the Bat again, and begins to consider some more questionable ways of ensuring that.
The new Bane isn’t on some all-powerful Venom substance, turning instead to drugs, like steroids, that are largely grounded in reality. The idea is he’s already nearly as capable as Batman; the substances just push him over the edge. Unfortunately, they also begin to push his mind into the deep end, and his morality gradually grays into oblivion. Batman is forced to confront not just his physical and intellectual equal, if not superior, but also a vigilante rival he
created, who begins “policing” the streets without the dark knight’s moral code.
What to keep:
My pick for a silver-screen Nolan-ification, The Riddler’s character has always depended on his hallmark intelligence and, of course, his penchant for puzzles.
What to lose:
His riddles need to darken up a bit and become a less gimmicky component of the character, basically going the way of The Joker’s jokes. Also, bye bye to the question-mark suit and “E. Nigma” pun.
The new Riddler adheres to the most literal interpretation of the phrase “twisted genius.” Let’s get one thing out of the way first: he would be, canonically, the smartest person in Gotham. We’re talking about an IQ through the roof, and certainly well above Bruce’s. You see, The Riddler has a weapon and it’s called intelligence.
His origin is hazy. He seems to be a former mathematician/engineer/computer-scientist (take your pick) whose job fell prey to corporate politics, though there’s evidence suggesting mental illness has been with him for a while. The considerable resources he needs to enact his more elaborate schemes are procured electronically. As it turns out, Gotham has its first major cyber-criminal, so expect the police to be hacked and a hilarious Bat-firewall to be developed.
The Riddler’s demands are, more or less, outrageous – he wants nothing less than control over the entire city – but they’re not quite irrational
. He’s making an offer to Gotham: put him in charge and he’ll be a benevolent dictator, using his considerable know-how to fix up the city for good. There’s earnestness in the claim, in spite of the morally bankrupt crimes he’ll commit to coerce the city to his will. It’s this shred of honesty that makes him so intriguing.
He gives Batman and the city a sort of multiple choice: allow his crimes to happen, surrender the city to his superior control, or solve the complex clues he leaves before his crimes, thus proving their equal intelligence (and, in his mind, their equal right to run the city). The point of this Riddler is that his riddles, while solvable, still go unsolved. He is just that good. You’re floored by how impressive, how intelligent he is. And when he starts to talk about how Batman, as a sort of morally-driven secret police, is really the first step towards a benevolent dictatorship, you’re left to wonder: maybe, just maybe, this nutcase should be in charge.
What do you guys think? How would you update these villains? Which other villains would you include? For the love of God does someone have an idea for making Mr. Freeze seem reasonable