Paul Dano’s Riddler in The Batman could be the version fans have been wanting for years. Like many members of Batman’s Rogues Gallery, the Riddler of today doesn’t bear much resemblance to his first incarnation, with Edward Nygma debuting all the way back in 1948. Originally a genius determined to prove his intellectual superiority through a series of crimes and tricks, Nygma became more criminal as DC’s output matured, taking on some drastically darker shades throughout the years. While Riddler always has the potential for fun (his costume is bright green, after all), “Dark Knight, Dark City,” “The Riddle Factory” and “Hush” all showcased versions of The Riddler that were conniving, twisted master criminals or outright sociopaths.
As Batman moved onto the big screen, many fans felt that Riddler would be ideally suited to live-action, especially in a darker setting, but this has never quite come to pass. Batman fans narrowly missed out on the tantalizing prospect of a Tim Burton era Riddler played by Robin Williams, but the role was recast when Joel Schumacher took the reigns for Batman Forever. With Jim Carrey replacing Williams, Riddler was certainly unhinged, but in the ‘Jim Carrey’ sense rather than the ‘John Doe from Seven‘ sense. Naturally, Carrey’s Riddler is played more for laughs, and only shows rare glimpses of the genuine menace the villain is capable of.
When the Christopher Nolan Batman movies began taking the Dark Knight more seriously, Riddler was once again touted as a popular option, particularly ahead of The Dark Knight Rises. With his previous efforts, Nolan’s Gotham City had been a serious, realistic interpretation of the superhero, and the series felt primed for a cerebral serial killer villain in the mold of The Riddler, with David Tennant a favorite fan-casting at the time. Ultimately, Nolan felt Riddler shared too many qualities with previous villain, The Joker, and opted for the physically intimidating Bane instead, once again depriving fans of a proper live-action Riddler. The Gotham TV series came closest to delivering, but while there’s plenty to enjoy in Cory Michael Smith’s sometimes-sinister performance, Gotham‘s Nygma is too often framed sympathetically to be the Riddler fans were hoping to see in Nolan’s world, with a definite split between Nygma and Riddler.
The journey has been a long one, but it finally seems that Matt Reeves’ The Batman will deliver the formidable and twisted Riddler audiences have been craving since the Burton era, without Carrey’s cartoonishness or the redeeming features of the Gotham character. Although a trailer has yet to release, promotional images for The Batman are hinting at a tone somewhere between the grittiness of Nolan’s world and the stylized cinematic darkness of Snyder’s, and this would suggest the film’s villains will be exactly that – despicable criminals too clever or violent for the GCPD to handle. Furthermore, The Batman‘s Riddler will be renamed “Edward Nashton” rather than Edward Nygma, and the removal of the obvious pun further suggests Reeves has a more grounded version of the character in mind.
The Batman has cast Paul Dano in the coveted role, which is also an incredibly encouraging sign. Aside from being an elite actor, Dano’s resume is full of unassuming, offbeat characters with a tendency for genuine menace. There Will Be Blood features Dano as a ordinary-looking preacher who explodes in front of his congregation, while Dano’s starring turn in the comedic Ruby Sparks is more of a kooky, awkward misfit type. All of these qualities have been part of the Riddler’s psyche at one time or another, and are more in tune with what fans want to see from the villain in live-action.
The Batman movies have featured plenty of big baddies over the years, but Riddler is arguably the one major name with the most untapped potential, still not done justice on the big screen. Every indication suggests that The Batman will buck that trend, and this is one of several reasons fans are so eagerly anticipating Robert Pattinson’s debut.
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