When Ra’s al Ghul (Liam Neeson) and Dr. Jonathan Crane (The Scarecrow, played by Cillian Murphy) appeared as villains in Christopher Nolan‘s 2005 film, Batman Begins, it was obvious that this Dark Knight series would be a drastic departure from the previous Batman movies by Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher.
Sadly, Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy has come to an end, and after a heartfelt farewell letter it’s obvious he won’t be revisiting Gotham City any time soon. There’s still hope, however, that instead of rebooting the Batman franchise (and minimizing Nolan’s masterful trilogy), Warner Bros. will find a way to continue the story and put a new twist on some classic villains.
Below are 5 Batman Villains Who Deserved The Christopher Nolan Treatment – impractical, fantastical, altogether colorful bad guys who could be effectively re-worked as gritty, reality-based foes for the Dark Knight…
[Mild spoilers for The Dark Knight Rises ahead…]
At the conclusion of Batman Begins, Lt. James Gordon (Gary Oldman) and Batman (Christian Bale) meet on a Gotham rooftop to discuss their next move in purging the city of crime and corruption. “Now, take this guy,” says Gordon, who presents Batman with a clear plastic evidence bag containing what appears to be a single playing card. “Armed robbery, double homicide. Got a taste for theatrical, like you. Leaves a calling card.”
Batman turns the playing card over to reveal a Joker. Our fearless Dark Knight examines it a moment and simply replies, “I’ll look into it.” The card, of course, belonged to Batman’s arch-nemesis, The Joker – played fearlessly and brilliantly by the late Heath Ledger. Most of you are probably familiar with the 1960’s Batman television series, with Caesar Romero portraying the clown prince of crime. Romero’s Joker was an ultimately harmless, goofy trickster that Hee-Hee’d and Hah-Hoo’d his way through bank heists and criminal capers.
Then, there’s Jack Nicholson‘s performance in Burton’s 1989 Batman. Nicholson’s interpretation took the fun-loving trickster of ’60’s camp and gave him a more murderous edge, but even still the Joker’s role was more a comical jester than anything – complete with joy buzzers and acid-squirting flowers. The collaboration of Nolan and Ledger led to perhaps the most intriguing, disturbing on-screen villain in movie history – an anarchist who lives without rules, a dog chasing cars.
District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), who becomes the villainous Two-Face, also received a considerable upgrade in The Dark Knight. Played by Tommy Lee Jones in 1995’s Batman Forever, Two-Face was nothing more than a schizophrenic sociopath whose absurd costumes and makeup made the ’60’s technicolor television show costumes look like funeral attire. By taking the comic book’s more outlandish characters and grounding them in reality, Nolan has made them even more iconic and threatening. Eckhart’s Dent is a tragic, almost Shakespearean character – a crime-fighting crusader turned into a vengeful murderer by the Joker.
With The Dark Knight Rises, Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) is a high-tech cat burglar whose night-vision goggles resemble cat ears when flipped up. She’s never once called Catwoman in the film and instead is referred to only by her real name, Selina Kyle, though some newspaper headlines describe her as ‘The Cat.’ Then you’ve got the masked mercenary Bane (Tom Hardy), a terrorist who won’t stop until Batman is broken and Gotham is ashes.
Unless you’ve successfully erased Joel Schumacher’s 1997 film Batman and Robin from your mind completely, you’ll no doubt remember Bane (played by Robert “Jeep” Swenson) as Poison Ivy’s muscle-bound bodyguard, a diminutive criminal transformed into a masked professional wrestler straight out of Mil Mascaras vs. The Aztec Mummy. Needless to say, Hardy’s Bane is a menacing, definitive take on the villain. With Nolan’s approach to tackling Batman’s rogues gallery, I thought it would be interesting to explore 5 villains who could have benefited from ‘The Christopher Nolan’ treatment.
#5: Oswald Cobblepot (Penguin)
Penguin is a short, rotund villain known for his love of birds and his specialized high-tech umbrellas. Cobblepot is typically portrayed as a ‘gentleman of crime’ – a high-profile aristocrat and mobster.
Portrayed by Burgess Meredith in the ’60s Batman television series, Penguin is known for his signature top hat and cigarette holder. For Burton’s 1992 film, Batman Returns, Danny DeVito played a more grotesque, deformed version of Cobblepot that made him a sideshow freak – a living, breathing fish boy with flipper hands.
It would have been great to see Cobblepot as a mob boss at some point in The Dark Knight Trilogy. I always loved the idea of Philip Seymour Hoffman playing Penguin as Gotham’s kingpin of crime, a monocle-wearing aristocrat that deals in high society and heavy artillery. Of course while Penguin isn’t a physical threat to Batman, he’s one of the Dark Knight’s more resourceful, intelligent villains – which would make him perfect for a team-up with a more brutish, bone-breaking villain…
#4: Waylon Jones (Killer Croc)
Waylon Jones was born with a condition diagnosed as epidermolytic hyperkeratosis, a disfiguring skin disorder. After further study, it is determined that Jones has a form of regressive atavism, meaning that he has inherited the traits of reptiles. As a result, Crock’s skin is hardened and scaly, impenetrable to bullets and blades.
Killer Croc has been interpreted in ways that make him truly monstrous – similar to Spider-man’s Lizard, but Brian Azzarello and Lee Mermejo’s Joker graphic novel shows Croc as an African-American crime boss with a skin disease that occasionally enjoys feeding on human flesh.
In The Dark Knight Rises, there’s a throwaway line by John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) about a giant alligator in the sewers of Gotham – a respective nod to Killer Croc, one of Batman’s more monstrous foes. It would have been cool to see someone like Idris Elba as this deformed reptile man who makes the sewers of Gotham his kingdom – a massive, impossibly strong bad guy that would push Batman to his limits.
#3: Edward Nash (Riddler)
Known under the aliases of E. Nigma (Nygma), Edward (Eddie) Nashton, and Eddie Nash, Riddler is obsessed with riddles, puzzles, and word games. He delights in flaunting his genius by sending both Batman and Gotham’s finest complex clues about his criminal exploits.
What separates Riddler from other members of Batman’s rogues gallery is the fact that he isn’t really a psychopathic murder, but rather a narcissist with an enormous ego. He orchestrates elaborate puzzles and mysteries to flaunt his intellectual superiority over Batman and Commissioner Gordon.
Jim Carrey played the inquisitive instigator in Batman Forever, as an employee of Wayne Enterprises who invents a device that manipulates the minds of the wearer. Nygma uses the device to increase his own intelligence, making him a diabolical genius who aims to ruin Batman’s legacy (and the power of Batman’s symbolism) by revealing the man behind the mask.
Personally, I would love to see someone like Michael Fassbender or Ryan Gosling bring a murderous, deadly edge to Riddler. Imagine Riddler as a Fincher-esque serial killer from Se7en or Zodiac, murdering Gothamites and leaving elaborate ciphers and clues for Batman to solve. We would get to see the detective side to Batman as he uses advanced gadgetry (courtesy of Morgan Freeman‘s Lucius Fox) to examine forensic evidence and the clues Riddler has purposely left at crime scenes.
#2: Dr. Victor Fries (Mr. Freeze)
Fries is a brilliant scientist confined to a cryogenic suit that keeps him alive. In the most common variation of his origin story, Fries was a genius in the field of cryogenics who suffered an industrial accident while attempting to cure his terminally-ill wife, Nora.
After Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s performance in Batman and Robin, it’s easy to dismiss Mr. Freeze as a potential villain in Nolan’s Batman universe – but consider for a moment if the character was played straight.
I could easily see Hugh Jackman (think The Fountain) sporting a bald head, using icy gadgets to secure capital in finding a cure for his cryogenically frozen wife. One thing’s for sure, Nolan’s Freeze wouldn’t be spouting off one-liners like, “You’re not sending me to the cooler!” or “Allow me to break the ice!”
#1: Harleen Quinzel (Harley Quinn)
Created by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm, Harley Quinn first appeared in Batman: The Animated Series as female sidekick for the Joker. Harleen Quinzel was an Arkham Asylum psychiatrist who became fascinated with the Joker’s psychiatric profile (and his bizarre crimes) and soon fell hopelessly in love with him. After helping Joker escape the asylum, Harleen is driven mad and quits her psychiatrist job only to don a sexy, skintight jester costume and become Harley Quinn.
If Heath Ledger were still alive, it’s hard to say what The Dark Knight Rises could have entailed. When we last saw the Joker at the end of The Dark Knight, Batman strung him up for Gotham’s SWAT unit to apprehend – no doubt throwing him in a padded cell for the rest of his life. I could imagine Dr. Quinzel (perhaps played by Carey Mulligan or Michelle Williams) as a young psychiatrist at Arkham (a former intern of Dr. Jonathan Crane) who frees the Joker from his cell and joins him as an agent of chaos.
Maybe there’s an epic tag-team match waiting to happen with Batman and Catwoman taking on Harley Quinn and the Joker – but alas, the Joker died with Heath Ledger, and it’s better that his character is not mentioned during The Dark Knight Rises. With eight years in between the two films, I like to imagine the numerous scenarios that could have involved Ledger’s character. Could he have escaped Blackgate Penitentiary when Bane led the riotous prison break? Or is he still locked up in the secure wing of Arkham, sitting in a dark corner of his padded room rocking back and forth – laughing – repeating, “It’s all part of the plan” ad infinitum.
What do you think? What Batman villains deserved ‘The Christopher Nolan’ treatment? Just for fun, it’d be hilarious to see SNL’s Bill Hader doing his Vincent Price impersonation as EggHead – or maybe Will Sasso as King Tut? OK, I’m kidding – I’ll stop the ’60s Batman references… but seriously, some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb – something Adam West and Christian Bale can both relate to.