The script isn't even finished yet, but already rumours are circulating that the villain in the next Batman movie is set to be the Riddler, and that Joseph Gordon Levitt is in talks to play him. While this would be excellent casting if it were true (witness Levitt in the excellent Brick for proof, and factor in that he's just worked with Christopher Nolan on Inception, and the rumour does gain a certain level of credibility), is Riddler the best villain for the piece? With Two-Face dead, and Nolan stating that he's not willing to recast the part of the Joker after Heath Ledger's tragic death, some websites and magazines are saying that the pickings for the next Bat-bad guy are slim indeed. One article I read basically said it had to be Riddler, Mr. Freeze or the Penguin, and that's it. No other options. This is actually a pretty shortsighted point of view. Take the time to look at Batman's rogues gallery, and you realise that it's actually one of the richest in comics, giving the films writers a plethora of weird, bizarre and downright scary characters to pit the Dark Knight against. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that maybe only Spider-Man has a list of enemies to match Batman's. With this in mind, I'm going to run through a few ideas for the new movie. If any of these come true, well, I'm not saying I want credit, but just remember where Nolan got the idea in the first place!
Thought it best to start here, given the rumour that prompted this piece. When he first appeared in the pages of Detective Comics #140 in 1948, Riddler wasn't a big deal. A second tier bad guy at best, it wasn't until his appearances in the sixties TV show, played by Frank Gorshin, that Riddler became one of Batman's most recognisable and popular foes. A criminal genius, Edward Nigma's compulsion to leave clues about his crimes in the form of riddles often lead to his defeat at the hands of Batman, making him a joke among the other criminals of Gotham City. Not even Batman took him particularly seriously, and he suddenly wasn't helped by the wildly over the top performance of Jim Carrey in Batman Forever. That is, until the Hush storyline, which ran through Batman #608 - #619 in 2002/2003, written by Jeph Loeb with art by Jim Lee. In Hush we were reminded how clever the Riddler actually is when he did something ver few others have managed to do before. He worked out Batman's secret identity. Suddenly, the Riddler was a major player again, and much more dangerous, despite his compulsion for riddles meaning he couldn't actually just come out and tell anyone that Bruce Wayne and Batman were the same person. Still, if they play up this clever, manipulative side of the character, then the Riddler could work very well in a new film.
While he may have started out as a waddling crook with a penchant for trick umbrellas, Penguin is these days played more as a major Gotham City crime boss, whose legitimate businesses are mere fronts for his more illegal activities. Both Burgess Meredith and Danny DeVito have played him wonderfully on screen before, but in both cases, there was an element of the buffoon about him. Okay, so DeVito was pretty creepy as well, but the strange Penguin man of the sewers isn't quite going to cut it in Nolan's Gotham. Instead, they should make Oswald Cobblepot into a dangerous and intelligent man with connections everywhere, and the money to buy off anyone. In the comics, he is Batman's Kingpin. In the films, he has the potential to be a character along the lines of Tony Soprano, and someone who could give Batman a serious challenge. And who looks like a penguin. But who to play him? I've been racking my brains on this one, and it's a tough part to cast. It's a bit out of left field, but how about Bob Hoskins? Hoskins has played a gangster before, managed to come across as menacing in Unleashed, and he can do a convincing American accent (see Who Framed Roger Rabbit?), but I think we can do better. Who do you see as Penguin?
Using Penguin, of course, still leaves some room to throw in a second bad guy, someone who can provide a more physical threat to Batman. Have Penguin hire someone like Killer Croc (maybe Rampage Jackson under prosthetics?), Deadshot (I'm thinking Tim Roth) or Lady Shiva (Michelle Yeoh, perhaps) to have a proper throwdown with Bats as well.
Forget the disastrous monstrosity that was Batman and Robin, and Arnold Schwarzenegger's worst performance ever. Mr. Freeze is, arguably, one of Batman's more sympathetic villains. Driven by a desire to cure his wife of a life threatening illness, he's actually a very tragic figure, warped by the accident which made him unable to survive in any temperatures above sub-zero. There have been some excellent comics featuring Mr. Freeze, as well as some of the best episodes of the numerous Batman animated series. However, he would be a very difficult fit indeed for Nolan's version of Batman, and it's highly unlikely we'll be seeing him on our cinema screens in the next few years. Of course, if Nolan were to prove me wrong, then he'd want to avoid casting someone like Schwarzenegger as a character who is, essentially, an armoured scientist. After playing the Green Goblin in Spider-Man, Willem DaFoe may seem a little obvious, but to me, he'd also be a natural fit for Mr. Freeze the way he should be done.
Very few villains have actually defeated Batman in the past. Some have come close, almost killing him numerous times, but actually beating him? That takes something special. And this brings us to Bane. Forget the lumbering henchman from Batman and Robin, Bane is intelligent, ruthless, and immensely strong. On his debut, he masterminded a plan which broke the Batman. Creating a massive jailbreak in Arkham Asylum, Bane unleashed all of Gotham's criminals on the city at once. In his quest to recapture them, Batman was drained to the point of exhaustion, both physically and mentally, leaving him ripe for a vicious beating at Bane's hands which left Bruce Wayne in a wheelchair with a broken back. When they met again, once Batman was fully healed and back at his peak, Bane came close to besting him again, and has continued to do so on numerous occasions. As clever and skilled as Batman, but stronger and with no morals holding him back, Bane would make an excellent on screen opponent for the Caped Crusader, so long as they stay close to the source material. As for casting, getting someone as large as Bane is in the comics would be difficult, but you do want to cast someone who can seem physically intimidating when compared to Batman. Michael Chiklis or Jeffrey Dean Morgan are among those actors who can play characters you don't want to mess with, no matter how tough you are, and can both act as well. Or, just say screw it, and cast Michael Clarke Duncan. He's quite big.
Return outings for the Scarecrow and Ra'S Al Ghul would also work. Cillian Murphy's Scarecrow already had a brief encore in The Dark Knight, and as any comic fan will tell you, it takes more than a train crash to permanently kill the immortal Ra's Al Ghul. Either of them could be brought back to challenge Batman again.
There are so many other options that could be considered as well, from Catwoman, to Clayface, to the Ventriloquist, to Hugo Strange, and on and on. However, personally, I think there's one bad guy who would work, particularly in Nolan's version of Batman, better than any other. I'll be honest, it isn't likely to happen, mainly because this character is more associated with a different superhero. However, he and Batman have clashed several times in the comics, and it's always fun when they do. As clever as Bruce Wayne, as scientifically gifted, and just as rich, with as many resources as Batman has, he's also as manipulative as they come, able to convince almost anyone to do his dirty work for him. He's a greedy bastard too. Come on Chris Nolan, pit the world's greatest detective against Lex Luthor in the next Batman film. No one will see it coming, and it'd make for a damn fine movie to boot!
So, there's my opinions on who they should use. I could've gone on, but then this blog would've been as long as the Knightfall storyline (geeky in joke alert!). What do you think though? Who should Batman go up against in the next movie? And why? And who should play them? Over to you.