Editors Note: The following contains The Batman spoilers.The Batman manages to separate itself from other cinematic versions of the Caped Crusader, especially in the noir-influenced tone and psychological elements that Matt Reeves brings to the table. Not only does The Batman dig deep into the mindset of Robert Pattinson‘s Bruce Wayne, but it also does the same for Paul Dano‘s take on the Riddler. Dano’s Riddler serves as a cautionary tale of how the Internet Age can radicalize angry young men, and how they can take the entirely wrong lessons from someone’s actions.
The Riddler first enters Batman’s orbit when he commits a series of grisly crimes, murdering Gotham City’s mayor along with its police commissioner and rigging a death trap with Gotham’s district attorney Gil Colson (Peter Sarsgaard) at its center. With each kill, he posts a video to social media, delivering his twisted form of justice – and racking up views along the way. The Riddler’s ideology is even shown to rub off on the citizens of Gotham; when Bruce Wayne arrives at the Mayor’s funeral a group of citizens brandishing signs adorned with the Riddler’s symbol and messages including “Unmask The Truth”. Likewise, when a live stream features Batman attempting to save Colson from Riddler’s death trap, many of the comments are less than sympathetic to the district attorney’s plight.
In fact, the Riddler knows precisely how to utilize the internet to his advantage. When Batman and Lt. Jim Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) find a thumb drive connected to the mayor’s murder (quite literally, as it features his severed thumb), they learn that the mayor was having an affair. The Riddler rigged the drive so that it would send the photos to every major news outlet in Gotham — and it happens on Gordon’s laptop. Another clue leads Batman and Gordon to a website where they soon decipher a clue leading them to the orphanage where the predatory puzzlemaster grew up – and it happens to be an orphanage bankrolled by Bruce Wayne’s parents. Wayne even ends up on the Riddler’s hit list, as a bomb meant for him instead injures his butler Alfred Pennyworth (Andy Serkis); following this attack, another online video shakes Wayne to his core by implying that his father asked Carmine Falcone (John Turturro) to kill a reporter that was nosing around in his business.
That influence even extends into the film’s finale. The Riddler, revealed to be forensic accountant Edward Nashton, springs one final trap from his cell in Arkham. A series of vans rigged with explosives takes out the seawall, flooding Gotham and forcing its residents to take shelter in the Gotham Square Garden arena. However, said arena is riddled with terrorists that have been radicalized by the Riddler’s online posts, and attempt to make “a real change” by targeting newly elected mayor Bella Reál (Jayme Lawson). “Angry white men targeting a Black woman in power” feels less like it belongs in a comic book blockbuster and more ripped from headlines in real life, but it helps show how terrifying the Riddler is – his influence seeped into others’ minds and created a deadly threat.
And as it turns out, Batman himself may have proven to be an influence on these men. When the Dark Knight first appears in the film, he beats a gang of thugs to a pulp before growling “I’m vengeance.” These words are thrown back in his face when one of the Riddler terrorists uses it as an epithet against Gordon. Nashton also reveals that Batman’s exploits inspired his serial killing spree; clearly, he is meant to be a commentary on how some fans only see Batman as a power fantasy and not a human being. “You showed me that all it takes is fear and some focused violence,” Nashton whispers, clearly in awe of Batman’s methods. It’s little wonder that Batman resolves to move past seeking vengeance at the film’s end — if he truly wants to make a change, he has to be aware of how his actions can inspire others, especially men like Nashton.
The Batman is currently playing in theaters.
Plus: John Turturro talks about working with cinematographer Greig Fraser and what shots impressed him.
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