Friday, August 01, 2008

Who Will be the Villain in the 3rd Batman Film? A Question... And an Answer

A post on one of my favorite blogs, WWTDD, reminded me of something I wanted to bring up at the end of my "Dark Knight" post.

British newspaper and shining purveyor of unvarnished truth, the Telegraph UK, recently published a rumor that Christopher Nolan's next film in the Batman saga is called "Gotham," Catwoman plays a large part in the film, and Angelina Jolie is apparently hot to do the part.

This all seems like complete BS to me for a lot of obvious reasons, but it did make me wonder who Nolan's going to use as the villain in the third film. If not Catwoman (and he still could, of course), than who? How would Batman's other comic book nemesi appear in the Christopher Nolan's Batverse? I run down the list in my head, and most of them seem too outlandish to fit into Nolan's Gotham, but he's got to pick somebody, right?

Catwoman's not a bad bet, but she's been done to death, and I'm sure the stink of the Halle Berry disaster is still cloud-thick in the halls of Warner Bros. So probably not her. Riddler? Too much like the Joker. Killer Croc? Probably too sci-fi. Experiments gone wrong is more Marvel's thing anyway. Ra's Al Ghul's been done, though, since he is immortal, he could make a fun return in the 3rd film. But it would have to be a classic Batman villain, right? Someone people have heard of.

At this point, my money's on the Penguin. I feel like an idiot for writing that, but there it is. Where's the one part of Bruce Wayne's life where he hasn't yet been attacked? As Bruce Wayne. (Sure there was the thing in his apartment, but that wasn't about him, that was about Dent.) He's a savvy corporate operator, and a talented executive. And his control of Wayne Enterprises helps keep Batman in business. So what if someone more able and more cunning than Bruce came in and took that all away? A corporate takeover like that would imperil not only Bruce Wayne but Batman as well. Who could even do that, powerful as Bruce is? Only another powerful and savvy tycoon. Like ... the Penguin.

I think he could very easily be adapted into the Gotham of these new Batman films. He wouldn't wear a top hat or have a monocle. And he wouldn't have that weird squawk thing some other actors have done with the Penguin. I imagine him as a kind of Dick Cheney/Kingpin/Lex Luthor amalgam, attacking Batman from all angles, providing Bruce Wayne with his toughest test. Maybe Penguin comes in and thinks there's more money to be made on a crime-ridden Gotham than on a safe and clean Gotham. Or maybe it's the opposite -- he helps make Gotham into a cleaner and safer city a la New York city in the 90s, but uses illegal worse-than-Giuliani-style tactics to make it happen. This, of course, draws a conflicted response from our hero. And since Nolan and Co. like making social and political commentaries, I think it's not too big a stretch to think they'd like to turn their attention to the excesses of corporatism.

I don't know, obviously. I'm just spitballing here. Anyone else got an idea?


monolith said...

since batman is now the villain, he must wear a mask to fight his next nemesis. i believe you are right and it will be bruce vs Oswald Chesterfield Cobblepot and probably gotham too. in the end batman cant save gotham only bruce can, see previous batman films

Craig Moorhead said...

I like your take on the Penguin character, though I kinda hope it's not the Penguin. Or at least not just the Penguin. I'm sure it could be done well, but if the third Batman is about Batman fighting... mergers? Zzzzzz. Does Bruce really care about money? On the other hand, if he had to wear a burlap sack and draw a bat on it with a Sharpie, that could hook me...

I agree with you on the Riddler - too close to Joker.

I like the Catwoman angle - Batman fighting someone he's in love with brings it back to personal... Also, I barely remember there was a catwoman movie. And besides, with any of these characters, half of the fun is seeing the rendered seriously by Nolan and the gang.

blankfist said...

I agree with Craigers, I think Nolan can do wonders with a Catwoman. What if he dropped the overdone dominatrix latex costume and opted instead for a play on the classic purple get up seen here. And, I'm more than against a revival of the Penguin. His name is Oswald Chesterfield Cobblepot. Say that out loud a couple times in the gravely whisper of Bale's Batman and you'll start to glimpse the reason why that character would be terrible.

The only other logical characters I could think of were The Riddler and possibly Deadshot. I think the Riddler could be different than the Joker. Riddler has always been more of a technical genius and engineer, which is something that escapes the Joker (though he was able to connect a bomb to a cellphone inside that one man's belly). Riddler is a unique and complex character. According to wikipedia, his compulsion stems from parental abuse that he endured as a child. After scoring high on some important tests in school, his father, unable to grasp the fact that his son was brilliant, beat him out of envy. This, in theory, left him with a strong internal desire to tell the truth, and prove his innocence. This desire manifests itself in the form of his obsession with riddles."

Pretty interesting, no?

JudgeHolden said...

Riddler could be interesting, but for him to fit into Nolan's Gotham, he'd have to be a serial killer a la Zodiac or something. If done well, he'd make Gotham huddle indoors and quake in terror until Batman brought him to justice. But we already saw the Joker do that. Whatever the villain in the 3rd movie does it has to be something not just different from the crime spree we just saw, but something entirely other. I'm not sure how Nolan could do it without always calling back to what the Joker did in "Dark Knight."

And yeah, Penguin's real name is goofy. Some things you can't change about a character, and the name is one of them. Is the goofy name alone enough to make Nolan & Co. steer clear of the Penguin? Probably not. But if the best Penguin storyline they come up with boils down to dueling corporate takeovers, then yeah, they're going to go with a different character, and should.

Catwoman could be cool if Nolan does it right, and there's no reason to think he wouldn't, given the past two films. They did clear the love-interest path by killing off Rachel, so the Catwoman/Batman love angle could definitely play. But could they sell her as a ... what? A cat burglar? I guess I never understood the Catwoman character. I guess she's a thief but sometimes she helps Batman? I know Nolan would sharpen it right up if he went that way, but I'm kind of hoping he doesn't. Too much baggage there.

Anonymous said...

The next Batman must have him teaming with other superheroes like SUPERMAN, METAL MEN or THE ELONGATED MAN to take on some really nasty super villains.

Spider Man 3 gave us a glimpse of that. Best part to me was the group fight at the end.

Why not make it a period film - early 40's and pulpy (which is how it originally started). Batman used to have a gun and shoot criminals! Add some of the noirish social commentary from the early days, "Detective Comics." That might make it even more interesting.

Also, read up on the Comics Code.


Thomas said...

Ok, I have thought about this long and hard and the villain I think the main villain in the next Nolan Batman movie should be…(drum roll please)…the Penguin. Yeah, I know a lot of people out there are against the Penguin, and I know Chris Nolan has stated that he believes the Penguin would be one of the harder villains to pull off, but I humbly disagree. Bare with me as I list the reasons why I think he would work and why I think he is one of the best, most unappreciated Batman foes, as well as counter some familiar criticism about him:

1) He is realistic: The thing about the Penguin, like almost all of Batman's Golden Age foes, is that technically he his not a super-villain - he is an arch criminal. And there is a big differenced between the two. A super-villain is just the evil version of a super-hero, someone who possesses powers and abilities beyond us, while an arch-criminal is a specific type of criminal in the real world but shown in a larger than life manner. Catwoman is the femme fatale/cat-burglar writ large; Joker is the psychotic anarchist criminal; Two-Face is the idea of victim turned criminal; hell, Batman isn’t even a superhero in the original comics or Nolan’s series, he is a classic pulp masked vigilante, more akin to the Shadow, the Spider, The Scarlet Pimpernel and Zorro than Superman or Spider-Man. The Penguin fits right in there with that same vibe, since he represents the professional, organized criminal (with an added touch of being flamboyant and stylish). Having said that, it makes it easier for me to believe that a flamboyant gangster with an gun hidden in an umbrella fits Nolan’s universe more than a man with a freeze gun or a woman who can control plants does.

As an arch-version of a gangster, have the Penguin be the new crime boss in Gotham. With all the chaos that the Joker caused, it wouldn’t be that hard to believe that the underworld would be turning to someone to bring order and help them reorganize, and I could even see the normal citizens and politicians of Gotham support him. After the fall of Saddam in Iraq, chaos reigned in Iraq and one of the big fears amongst our politicians and military experts was that the people of Gotham would turn to a strongman and dictator preferring tyranny to anarchy. Same thing happened in Germany after WWI when Hitler rose to power. Well, after Batman smashed the mobs to only have the Joker fill their void; I can easily see the people of Gotham saying they wouldn’t mind a strong organized crime boss keeping the crooks in line – they might still have crime but at least the wouldn’t have anarchy. And from such roots tyrannies are built.

2) He is both dangerous and intelligent: The Penguin in his early history wasn’t nearly as ridiculous or as incompetent as he is now. In his first couple of appearances he killed people, maybe not as often as the Joker but he definitely had a ruthless streak. He also was the first villain to actually escape from Batman and outsmart him. The Joker got busted by Batman in all of his first appearance (or at least appeared to mysteriously die), but not the Penguin; an actual running theme in all of Penguin’s early stories was that he somehow managed to escape. This only stopped after the editorial staff demanded that the Joker stop killing people and the Penguin stopped getting away because they felt it showed that crime did pay.

The other thing about being intelligent means he plots. He has his own goals and ambitions which do not always involve Batman. What realistic plots could Mr. Freeze, Poison Ivy, Bane or Deadshot have? I mean, Bane and Deadshot would have only one goal/plot – kill Batman. Doesn’t really give the screenwriter’s much to work with. The Penguin, on the other hand, would want to pull of crimes, become the boss of Gotham AND kill Batman (or at least neutralize him). Plenty of more material for the screenwriters to work with.

3) “But isn’t he ridiculous and corny?”: He was not nearly as cheesy as Joker was in the late 40’s through the 60’s. Sure he used trick umbrellas, but Joker was doing just as corny things, like having his own utility belt or trying to have a contest with Clay-Face. And while Joker was allowed to be updated and modernized, for some reason the Penguin has been forced to stay in same old character-mold when Burgess Meredith did him. That would be like letting the Caesar Romero interpretation of the Joker be the definitive one.

However, if I can offer a suggestion to help make the Penguin relevant again, it would for him to lose the top hat and tuxedo (or at least not wear it all the time). When he originally appeared that was the clothes of choice for a sophisticated gentleman going out on the town, but not anymore. He should be dressed in sartorial splendor by today’s standards, wearing Armani and Brioni suits, with Seville Row shirts and an expensive Burberry coats, and replacing his cigarette holder for expensive cigars. I mean if Lex Luthor can get a makeover and not have to wear the lab coat or the grey smock he wore when he first appeared, why does the Penguin have to so fashionably out of date?

And yes he has a funny name and appearance, but who says criminal masterminds have to be scary looking? I mean, look at the history of the mob in the U.S and you’ll see that most crime bosses had funny nicknames and were not that intimidating looking: Tony The Ant, Joey the Clown, Murray “the Camel” Humphreys, Vinnie the Chin, etc. Crossed them, however, and you’d be wearing concrete shoes at the bottom of Gotham Bay. Make the Penguin a short, sartorially aware crime boss who earned his nickname because of his walk (imagine Vito from the Sopranos) and uses an umbrella as a cane just like how some people use a putter as a cane.

And the thing about the Penguin is that he supposed to be underestimated. It is the reason the umbrella was chosen as his weapon – it serves as a metaphor for the Penguin’s character and nature. Like his umbrellas, the Penguin appears as something completely harmless and even mundane, but also like his umbrellas it actually conceals something very deadly that people completely underestimate. The umbrella doesn’t have to be outfitted with a hundred different weapons, just the ones he had when he first appeared – a concealed blade and gun (plus it is weighted to be used as a bludgeon).

Besides, who says ridiculous looking people can’t be powerful or scary? I mean, the world was terrorized by a short little Corsican in the early 19th century, and in the 20th century an Austrian painter with a Charlie Chaplin moustache and a tendency to yell comically during rallies became the greatest villain in history.

4) Go back to the basics: Just like how Nolan only used those elements from the Joker that would fit his version of Batman, so could Nolan cherry pick through the Penguin and only use those elements that mesh with his vision. I mean, Nolan pretty much discarded anything about the Joker post 1940’s, getting rid of the entire Red Hood origin and focusing only on his first couple of appearances. Well, the same could be done with the Penguin: hell, his real name of Oswald Cobblepot wasn’t revealed until 1981 in DC Comics Blue Ribbon Digest, along with his origin of being a rich kid raised by an over protective mother. For 40 some years he wasn’t hampered by that ridiculous back-story and tacky name, but instead was just a sophisticated criminal who had an interesting nickname and gimmick (umbrellas and birds). That leaves you plenty of room to reinterpret him.

Like the Joker, they should avoid an origin story and have the Penguin entire as a complete character. And also like the Joker, it should be a story about the rise of the Penguin (similar to his very first appearances in the 40s). The Penguin appears, is underestimated by even the other criminals, and before anyone knows it he is the head of crime in Gotham City.

5) “But the Penguin isn’t a physical threat for Batman”: Many people will say that the Penguin would not be as intimidating or as dangerous as the Joker, and wouldn’t scare the audience as much as the Joker did, or have them view him as a big enough threat. I have to say yes and no to that idea. Yes, on a personal one-on-one basis the Penguin is not going to give Batman as good as fight as the Joker, but than again the Joker wasn’t that much of a physical threat to Batman either. The Joker in the Dark Knight mostly challenged Batman’s belief system, not his physical safety. Also, who says that a great villain has to be a physical threat? I mean, Goldfinger and Blofield are probably Bond’s greatest challenges, and they are no matches for him physically. Same with Moriarity, Sherlock Holmes arch enemy, and Superman’s foe Lex Luthor.

Plus, why should the Penguin be required to fight Batman one-on-one? If the Penguin truly is a criminal mastermind he would avoid confronting the Dark Knight any way he could. Why fight a master of martial arts? Instead, a smart crime boss would instead have henchmen and minions fight Batman, and some of those guys could be pretty tough. Think of Bond movies where the main villain always had one or two really tough henchmen who served him.

Or look at gangster movies like the Godfather or the Untouchables, where the big boss isn’t always the toughest guy out there. Vito and Michael Corleone are not fighters like Sonny, but ruthless crime bosses who command killers like Luca Brassi and Al Neri. Sure they are capable of killing people, but usually by being cunning and taking people by surprise. They are not soldier’s however (excluding Michael’s stint in the marines, of course) but manipulators. The same with Al Capone in the Untouchables: he might bash someone’s head in at a meeting, but that doesn’t display his toughness as much as his willingness to kill and be ruthless. He isn’t dumb enough to take on Elliot Ness himself, but instead sends his own killers such as Frank Nitti against him and his Untouchables.

Instead of having the Penguin physically confront Batman, have some of his henchmen confront the Caped Crusader. Amongst his servants could be a who’s who of tough-guy character actors: Chuck Zito, Danny Trejo, Kimbo Slice, Tyler Mane, Brock Lesnar, etc. Plus, who is to say the Penguin has to be the only villain in the movie? I mean, I could easily see him harboring hatred for both Batman and a female cat burglar who won’t bow to his rule, or him having a couple of tough enforcers that work for him (maybe one who is a “deadshot with pistols and the other has a rare skin disorder that makes him look like an alligator or crocodile).

6) The Penguin could represent a new type of villain and be more relevant: The Joker (and Scarecrow and Ra’s al Ghul) are basically metaphors for terrorism and the anarchistic, nihilistic forces out there. And since 9-11 that has been the public’s biggest worry. But since the collapse of the economy I believe people will have find someone new that they hate more, and that is CEOs, the heads of Wall Streets and politicians. Basically, all of the powerful people who they feel control their lives and they are powerless to stop because they are too rich and connected. And the Penguin can represents those forces much better than any other Batman foe could. Just like in the 50’s and 60s in such movies as Underworld USA and Point Blank, where the underworld used as a metaphor for the corporate world, so could the Penguin be used to represents the heads of businesses and the hedge fund managers who manipulate the government for their own profit.

And like the Joker who had a philosophy why he did all of this (he was a nihilist who wanted to throw Gotham in anarchy), the Penguin would be a man who believes everyone has a price – even Batman. Sure, sometimes the price isn’t money, but if you find the right leverage anyone can be bought. Think Don Corleone, “I made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.” The Penguin is the ultimate businessman.

7) And finally, look at the fake 1940’s Orson Welles’ Batman trailer on youtube. How can you say he doesn’t work as a Batman foe after looking at Edward G. Robinson’s “version” of the Penguin:

Sorry to ramble on, but I am a big fan of the Penguin and think he has been getting a short end of the stick by Nolan and others out there.