WARNING: MASSIVE spoilers ahead for “The Batman”
“The Batman” features some of the biggest names in Bat-villainy — The Riddler, Penguin, Carmine Falcone, and depending on your interpretation of the word “villain,” Catwoman. But the most famous of all was teased in the final minutes of the film. And yes, it’s exactly who you think.
Following his capture, The Riddler ends up in a cell right next to someone we really only see obscured behind his cell door. But, even with an obstructed view, we can see his face appears to be disfigured, as if it’s been burned by acid or something. This person — played by “Eternals” and “Dunkirk” actor Barry Keoghan — delivers the Riddler’s catch phrase (“riddle me this”) to establish their friendship, and then just in case you somehow weren’t sure yet, he belts out an extremely familiar laugh.
Yes, “The Batman” does in fact introduce fans to yet another version of The Joker (although director Matt Reeves has cautioned the character we meet isn’t yet “The Joker” fans know). But I have to ask, do we really need another one?
Counting Keoghan, we’ve now had six different live-action Jokers in film and TV. (The “Who’s the best Joker?” debate tends to swirl around just two or three of those actors, but nonetheless, there have been six). Of those six, four have come since 2015, beginning with Cameron Monaghan on the TV series “Gotham” and ending — or, more likely, continuing — with Keoghan.
The good news is, each Joker has been mostly unique. We’ve had Campy Grandpa Joker (Cesar Romero), Deranged Mobster Joker (Jack Nicholson), Man Who Just Wanted To Watch The World Burn Joker (Heath Ledger), Modern Criminal Influencer Joker (Jared Leto), Crazy Twin Resurrected From The Dead Joker (Cameron Monaghan), and Occupy Wall Street Meets Proud Boys Joker (Joaquin Phoenix). And again, these are just the live action Jokers. And we can’t forget to mention the definitive Practical Jokes Murderer (Mark Hamill) in various animated projects.
Two of those actors have even won Oscars — and they’re the only two people ever to win acting Oscars for comic book roles.
The Bad news? Between all of those different takes, we still pretty much know what to expect from him.
As a character, he’s predictably unpredictable. He loves chaos for the sake of chaos, and always has a laugh that will haunt your dreams. He tends to play the long game. And he’s always going to come pretty close to actually beating Batman.
While every actor has made the Joker their own, the question surrounding them has really always been how masterfully they could portray the crazy. There’s arguably very little left to explore with the Jester of Genocide, in terms of character traits, without just giving him a solo film (which obviously is what “Joker” did, to much acclaim and an Oscar for Phoenix).
Give the well a bit of time to refill, and perhaps we can get a truly fresh take on the Joker down the road. He then might also regain the element of surprise.
Because, at this point, whenever a new iteration of Batman shows up on screen, fans immediately start wondering when the Joker will show up. It’s not a matter of “if” anymore; new Bat pretty much equates to new Joker.
But the Caped Crusader has plenty of other enemies that are as complex and fun as the Joker. Some have just as long of a legacy as he does. Others, like the Council of Owls (who many fans actually hoped to see introduced in “The Batman”) are new in the last decade or so of Batman lore, and have quickly made a mark.
And yet, we keep seeing the same guy pop up over and over
The Riddler himself is a great example. Paul Dano’s take on the clue-giving mastermind is the first movie version of the character since Jim Carrey played him in Joel Schumacher’s “Batman Forever” in 1995. And in “The Batman,” The Riddler is flat out terrifying. He was much more of a Zodiac Killer type than the cartoonish version we typically see. Even Batman didn’t know what to expect from him.
Even after his capture, the Riddler had more up his sleeve. It felt new and exciting, and quickly created an appetite for more.
But more importantly, he worked within the story. The Riddler had a logic to his madness — albeit a twisted logic — and it enhanced what was happening. On the contrary, the Joker was an odd insert into the story of “The Batman.”
The movie digs into the corruption of Gotham in a way few Bat films before it have. It goes to great lengths to show just how dirty every cop and politician in that town is, thanks to the likes of the Penguin and Carmine Falcone. So, if we’re exploring that aspect of things, Two Face — better known as Harvey Dent — is an easy, and far more fitting addition.
Last we saw him, he was being played by Aaron Eckhart in the Christopher Nolan trilogy. But he’s been a villain in Batman lore for 80 years. He was first introduced in Detective Comics #66, written by Bill Finger, with art by Bob Kane in 1942.
He knows the corruption of Gotham firsthand, and from both sides of it. And yet, he doesn’t even get a passing mention in “The Batman.” It’s an especially interesting choice considering “The Batman” is largely driven by events surrounding the takedown of Sal Maroni — the same mob boss who scarred Harvey Dent by throwing acidic chemicals at him during a court trial.
But listen, we don’t have to go by logic. Theoretically, anyone could be locked up in Arkham right now. Any one of Batman’s villains could’ve been in the cell next to The Riddler. It could’ve been Hush — though in reality, Tommy Elliot likely would’ve been a target of The Riddler, considering his upbringing and motivations.
It could’ve been Mr. Freeze, or the Mad Hatter, or Poison Ivy. Each one has a long history in the comics to pull from, and just as juicy of a dynamic with Batman. For now, the only place these particular villains are getting any recognition on screen at the moment is over on the CW’s “Batwoman” series.
The list of potential villains goes on even further. These are just some of the best known names. But even with that list, “The Batman” defaulted to the Joker, simply because it was a small moment where they could get him in and tee him up for a larger role in a potential sequel.
Now, all this isn’t to say the Joker should be retired forever. He’s a fun character, and one that certainly deserves to be revisited. But we don’t need to trot him out for every Batman story. The vigilante has a robust lineup of villains to face off against — ones that would open up the world of Gotham, and the stories we know, a bit more.
And don’t get me wrong, Keoghan’s take on the villain is already chilling. His maniacal laugh ringing out through Arkham Asylum as he establishes a new friendship with The Riddler seeps into the bones. He may very well turn out to be an excellent Joker — but surely “The Batman” could’ve set up a different franchise villain instead.