If it's crap ... We'll tell you
Of all the superheroes in all the world, Batman is one of the most iconic and legendary. Why is that? Is it his great fortune? His ultimate humanity? His unique symbol or quest for justice? Or is it partly the fact that he has spawned some of the greatest villains in all of modern literature, never minding their origins in comic book form? Yes, it is safe to say that Batman's rogues' gallery is arguably the greatest in all of comic books simply because each villain has a fascinating thing about them that makes them unique while at the same time holding a mirror up to Batman's fractured psyche. Not only that but Christopher Nolan's films have illustrated Batman and his rogues in a way that is so fresh and new in terms of them being grounded individuals. They aren't just villains. They have back stories (even if we don't see them), they have motivations, they aren't just there to give Batman a good fight, and they are driven to achieve their goals as much as Batman is. While it is bittersweet that Christopher Nolan's interpretation of Batman is over and that we didn't get to see many other villains that he could have remade or brought to life brilliantly for the first time, Jonathan Nolan, David Goyer and Christopher Nolan did a fantastic job with the villains that they brought to life for their story to work (even if there were one or two villains that didn't fully stick). So here are the best of them and the worst of them.
8. Miranda Tate / Talia al Ghul. I think almost all of us can agree that Talia al Ghul was most definitely the weakest of the Christopher Nolan Batman villains. Is she necessarily bad? In the context of all three films, no. In just the context of The Dark Knight Rises by itself as a singular work, yes. If you've pulled a single trick with your plot and characters like having a mysterious villain in the shadows manipulating things whilst appearing as one of the good guys, the smarter people in your audience will be expecting it to potentially happen again. The casting of Marion Cotillard didn't help either since she played a rather villainous role in Christopher Nolan's previous film. To be fair to the writers and Cotillard, Talia is given hints of a back story that is initially thought to be Bane's story and that was a clever way of misdirecting even the most sceptical of audience members and Marion Cotillard plays both Miranda and Talia with admirable skill. She's smart, she's deceiving, she's collected, she's passionate and she seems like the closest thing to Rachel Bruce could have at this point in his life. What bothers me about the character is that we never get to see the inner turmoil that she could have had if she actually did fall in love with the man who "killed her father" and we only get to see her as Talia for all of about five to ten minutes! Aside from being the most blatant lie that the filmmakers made, she only reveals her true intentions at the end just before she's sent off a road to die and that's what makes her the weakest villain of the trilogy. She's barely even there and then when she appears, she announces herself to Batman and then she's sent off a hole in the road to die. A neat idea that isn't fully explored and it easily becomes the most forgettable thing in the entire series.
7. Victor Zsasz. Even though this guy doesn't say anything or even really do anything, he really leaves an impression and that automatically makes him a better villain over someone like Talia in this particular case. We know that he butchers people for the Mob and that he's a complete fuck-nut with tally marks all over his body and in the context of Nolan's films, the mystery actually adds to the effect of what Batman Begins was trying to do with its villains. This interpretation of Victor Zsasz might not be the one that really shows why he's a dangerous yet "normal" foe for Batman but it's the image of him and the mystery to the image that makes him memorable. His appearance in this film could have also foreshadowed the arrival of the Joker in a certain way since Victor Zsasz represented the fear of the unknown and the Joker was also a representation of the worst aspects of unpredictability. He was also a wise choice to have as a villain cameo for the hardcore fans since he is a fan favorite and he is also one of the few that could actually pass as a real serial killer in a world that was only introduced to costumed super-criminals because of Batman. For a villain that doesn't really do or say anything, Tim Booth's Victor Zsasz is a villain that I won't soon be forgetting.
6. Dr. Jonathan Crane / Scarecrow. Even though he was the most underused of all the Nolan villains, it was nice to see him as the first villain to appear in three films in a row and to have him be played by the same actor. It would have been cool to not see him as a second fiddle to anyone involved with the League of Shadows but in the context of the larger story, he's a fun villain to have in the story that's always there. Since the constant theme of the trilogy is fear, his presence adds to that feeling of fear while watching the films even if he's not the primary focus or facilitator of fear. Not only that but Cillian Murphy gives a consistently subtle performance through all three films, even if he's only in one piece for a single scene only. At least we were treated to an entire act with him as the villain in Batman Begins so it's not like he wasn't completely underused. Some might say that Cillian Murphy doesn't look creepy enough to be believable as Jonathan Crane but that side of his personality needed to be unassuming. There might have been hints of a more demented side to him but the way that Murphy played the part was perfect for what they were going for. If you didn't know that Jonathan Crane was the Scarecrow, he would pass for almost any other doctor working in a mental hospital but if you did know that he was the Scarecrow, you could see the tiny little moments with him without the mask and you could immediately tell that he was hiding something very sinister and sadistic. Perhaps he doesn't get enough credit as he should but as a subtler villain that's in the background of the grand scheme, he's done perfectly and it's the role that I will always remember Cillian Murphy for.
5. Selina Kyle / Catwoman. Sadly for me, Anne Hathaway and her portrayal of Catwoman is lower for me on the list simply because I was never a nay-sayer when she was cast in the part. I actually thought that she was the perfect choice of all the actresses that had gone in and screen tested. Maybe it would've been better for me in the long run if I was a nay-sayer because then I would be blown away by her performance but I wasn't. It was just what I expected and it doesn't help when she doesn't get enough screen time as I feel she deserved. This is Catwoman after all, one of the most important characters in the Batman universe. While she does well as the anti-hero type character, I would have liked her as a character more if she was more of a villain who only sided with Batman when she needed too rather than a vigilante along the same lines as Batman but just happened to play dirtier. Whenever Selina or Catwoman was acting out in anger or was being a bitch, I thought it was great like the part where she kicks away Bruce's cane in the beginning or when she stole his car at the gala. The parts that were a little unbelievable to me were the romantic moments with Batman and Catwoman toward the end. I mean, this was a woman who led him into a death trap and stole his mother's necklace and yet he still finds her alluring. I understand that he would especially appreciate her for basically bazooka blasting Bane into spaghetti paste when he was ready to blow his head off with a shotgun but it just seemed like something was missing. Either way, Anne Hathaway's Selina Kyle is the best rendition of the character to date and for what screen time she had, she makes the most out of one of the most kick-ass anti-heroines in recent memory.
4. Henri Ducard / Ra's al Ghul. A lord of darkness worthy of the company of Emperor Palpatine, Lord Voldemort and Sauron among others. His name alone seems to be something you would expect to hear from an ancient Bible or Qur'an story. Half of his name is even practically identical to the most powerful of all ancient Egyptian gods! What was most amazing to me was the fact that it was a twist that I don't think anybody really saw coming. Liam Neeson playing a villain? No. He's too much of the wise, old mentor who helps the hero find their way... only to try and stab him in the heart! People might think that Neeson was too boring or monotone as Ra's but I think it was intended to be that way. Even if Viggo Mortensen or Daniel Day-Lewis played the role, I still think they would have gone with the static and stoic approach to his character because this is a man with virtually no humanity. In the comics, he is essentially viewed as a demigod with the aid of his Lazarus Pit but here, he plays off the angle that he is a devil-like creature by using theatricality and deception simultaneously. Even though Batman uses theatricality, the way he uses deception is very different but according to Ra's, they are one and the same and that's what makes him fascinating. Even though he isn't wearing his traditional garb, you can still look at him right away and figure there's something off about him but you don't know what exactly. Maybe it's the beard. But even in death, he still haunts Bruce in his dreams with only his voice and conviction! The Joker might have challenged Batman the most but he didn't manage to infect his soul like Ra's did. While Ken Watanabe does a good job as the decoy, you could tell that he had some sense of anger whereas "Henri Ducard" sees things for what they are and thinks that certain things must be done to restore balance to the world. The emotionless determination that Liam Neeson brought to Ra's al Ghul is what ultimately made Ra's al Ghul so compelling. One of the most powerful voices in Hollywood today providing one of its greatest lords of darkness. What more could you ask for?
3. Bane. There's finally a villain that gives Darth Vader a run for his money as far as an almost unstoppable physical force is concerned. How the hell do you fight an enemy that feels no pain? It's like fighting a punching bag that actually hits back! He's as big as a bear, he walks like a silver-back gorilla and he fights with the ferocity and animosity of a tiger! It doesn't matter how you look at it, Bane is a fucking animal! If Bane were to represent any ideal of life, it's the inevitability of pain followed by death. It doesn't matter where you try to hide or run, he will find you and he will strip you of absolutely everything until there's nothing left! If there was any villain to destroy the Dark Knight legend, it would be Bane. While Tom Hardy's performance may not be Oscar worthy, it comes damn close and it will be forever labelled the definitive take on Bane. Christopher Nolan took a roid-raging buffoon and he gave Darth Vader a serious contender for the greatest physical villain in popular culture. Not an easy feat. Bane may not have revealed that he was Bruce Wayne's father but he told him that he saw right through his mask and not only did he shatter his mask but he actually broke his back! That makes a sabre chop to the hand look like a paper-cut because not only is Batman left physically broken but Bane went a step further by committing character assassination. After seeing The Dark Knight Rises four times, my heart is still pounding through my chest after that initial fight with Bane is over. But even aside from the physical strength, he's still fundamentally intimidating with his mind and personality. He's about to blow up a football stadium to make his grand entrance into Gotham as its new ruler and he's still able to recognize beauty in a child's voice as he sings The Star Spangled Banner! He's the first villain that I've ever seen to truly see what it is that makes despair despair: hope. No matter how bad things are, the thing that seems to make despair what it is is the fact that there is still an incredibly slim slice of hope. If there was no hope at all, people would become apathetic and just surrender to the darkness but since there's still something left to fight for, they feel like they're against all odds but they still care. I've never seen despair explained so well in my life and that is what makes Bane so insightful and intelligent. He knows the how, why, what, who, when and where of everything that's involved with his plan and his goal thus having a fantastic motivation for doing what he does. Even though he's ultimately revealed to be Talia's muscle, he is still the monster that will stop at nothing to see Batman dead... that is before his guts would be splattered all over the wall. It was kind of disappointing at first to not see him get his mask taken off but upon re-watching it, we are led to assume that the nature of his injuries caused by the violence in the Pit was so gruesome that to show it would be too disturbing to anyone who was watching regardless of little children. No villain has ever been this intimidating and fascinating at the same time and when you hear the first round of chanting when it comes to deshi basara, it will never leave you! The greatest theme to a villain EVER!
2. Harvey Dent / Two-Face. As much as the mystery adds to many of the villains that are in Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy, the one villain whose story is fully explored is undoubtedly one of the very best! Even though all three films are kind of about Batman and Batman Begins and The Dark Knight Rises are primarily about Bruce Wayne, there's no question that The Dark Knight is truly Harvey Dent's story. In fact, the way that The Dark Knight was written made it feel like William Shakespeare was still alive and well and just managed to write one final tragedy for the modern age. If these characters weren't initially based in comic book form, I could just as easily see the film being called The White Knight and have the film be from Harvey Dent's perspective because his character is developed the most and he is the single character that sets all the events into motion. It can be easy to forget Aaron Eckhart and his performance at times due to what he has to work with or against but he still creates a character so strong that you forget he's the bad guy by the end. He's just misled, like a lot of us can be when terrible things happen that are out of anybody's control. Never have I felt so drawn in like the final scene in The Dark Knight where Harvey is holding Gordon's family hostage and deciding each other's fate through random chance. The first time I saw that scene, I thought I was going to have a heart attack and die I was so scared and emotional. What's also heartbreaking about Two-Face is the fact that his facial scars aren't there to look cool or to be used as a tacky way to acquire the name, his scars are something out of a bad nightmare that could be easily found in real life and the name is applied to his actual character and not his appearance. The Dark Knight was not only the greatest Batman film ever made but it was simply the greatest villain story of Batman ever told because as far as a villain's story goes about being told and reinvented, you can't get any better than Aaron Eckhart's transformation from Harvey Dent into Two-Face! And now the villain you have all waited for...
1. The Joker! Well... yeah! In the deck of cards that are the Dark Knight's enemies, Bane might be the Ace, Ra's al Ghul might be the King, Catwoman and Talia might be the Queens, Two-Face and Scarecrow might be the Jacks and somewhere Mr. Zsasz gets lost in the shuffle but there's one thing that's for certain... the Joker will be the Joker and that's that. Of all the Batman villains, the Joker will always be the trump card that will beat all others and that was especially true of Heath Ledger's Joker. Despite the fact that Heath Ledger died six months before The Dark Knight's release, he was able to create a character that was not only frighteningly enigmatic yet hilariously charismatic but he also managed to create a character and a performance that would fit right in with the greatest performances of other acting legends like James Dean and Marlon Brando. In a weird sort of way, Heath Ledger's Joker by itself managed to be a composite (in spirit) of the best of Brando and Dean (as far as a performance goes) in order to create something truly unique and yet he nailed the general spirit of the Joker down better than almost anyone else with the possible exception of Mark Hamill. He was lethal, cunning, corrosive, funny, intelligent, diabolical and most of all, unstoppable. Ra's al Ghul might have talked a lot about being a symbol for immortality but he had to go to extraordinary even metaphysical lengths to ensure that and even then, it's Bruce's mind that makes Ra's immortal and not even the man himself. The Joker simply became a symbol for anarchy and chaos by orchestrating a master plan with tiny individual plans in between and pretending like it was all being improvised on the spot. He could have died many times to make his point and the scary thing is that he wouldn't have had a problem with it. In fact, what's possibly even scarier is that he wanted someone to kill him just so his point could be made. When the architect of a grand plan like this is perfectly willing to surrender himself to the fates that be even if it costs him his life, you know you have an incredibly dangerous individual who is a threat to everyone around him. With every twitch, twinkle in the eye, lick of his lips and raise of his eyebrow, the audience became more and more nervous. Not to mention his theme seemed to be the theme from Jaws taken to the next level. With unkempt, green hair, pale features, black eyes, a multi-colored suit and a bright red Glasgow smile, this knife-loving, gun-toting, maniacal, destructive agent elevated his status from being the Clown Prince of Crime to the Agent of Chaos in just forty minutes of screen time after a cinematic absence of nearly twenty years. In The Dark Knight, the Joker said "in their last moments, people show you who they really are," and I can not think of a better way to compare and contrast the two cinematic Jokers in live action to perfectly illustrate the point of arguably calling Heath Ledger's Joker the best (at least in live action). When the Joker fell to his death in Batman, he screamed. When the Joker was thrown to fall to his death in The Dark Knight, he was laughing like never before and while he was saved at the last minute to hang in the air, suspended by a rope, he was still laughing louder than the sound of helicopter blades nearby. Now that Heath's performance has solidified him as a new Hollywood legend, his final scene in The Dark Knight seemed to speak volumes about his life and legacy. At first, the Joker wasn't taken seriously but with a few smart moves and unconventional scare tactics, he was able to grip Gotham's citizens in his very hands and squeeze them until they could no longer move. Then when he was on top of the world, he was cast down to serve his punishment but it wouldn't matter. Everything that Heath and the Joker would achieve would live on. The mastermind might have physically lost but his ideas were to be imprinted on the minds of citizens everywhere from screen to screen and sea to sea... with a laugh, a wink and a smile.