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So It's Not The Riddler: Ten Candidates For The Villain In 'The Dark Knight Rises'

Photo of Oliver Lyttelton By Oliver Lyttelton | www.oliverlyttelton.com October 29, 2010 at 4:25AM

After months and months of speculation, some firm information on the third Batman finally appeared yesterday, courtesy of director Christopher Nolan. It'll be called "The Dark Knight Rises," and it won't be in 3D. Plus, a little while ago, we discovered that actor Tom Hardy will be joining the cast of the film in a role that most assume to be villainous in nature. But Nolan also debunked something that many had believed to be a certainty: that one of the classics in the Batman rogue's gallery, The Riddler (previously played by Jim Carrey in "Batman Forever"), would be the villain in the picture.
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After months and months of speculation, some firm information on the third Batman finally appeared yesterday, courtesy of director Christopher Nolan. It'll be called "The Dark Knight Rises," and it won't be in 3D. Plus, a little while ago, we discovered that actor Tom Hardy will be joining the cast of the film in a role that most assume to be villainous in nature. But Nolan also debunked something that many had believed to be a certainty: that one of the classics in the Batman rogue's gallery, The Riddler (previously played by Jim Carrey in "Batman Forever"), would be the villain in the picture.

The likes of Johnny Depp and Joseph Gordon-Levitt had been erroneously rumored to play the part, but Nolan says the masked criminal won't turn up at all, and the villain is someone else entirely, although he won't reveal who just yet. So who could it be?

It's pretty obvious from everything that's been seen in the first two films that the more outre villains from the canon wouldn't fit in the relatively realistic Nolan universe: the director's already ruled out Mr. Freeze specifically, and the likes of Clayface, Man-Bat, Poison Ivy and Killer Croc (despite some recent speculation after the announcement that the film would shoot partially in New Orleans) are never going to crop up. Even those who are eccentric rather than implausible, like The Mad Hatter or Maxie Zeus, are unlikely to feature, and those tied heavily into the comics' continuity, like the Red Hood, can safely be ruled out.

A certain amount can also be divined from clues both dropped in "The Dark Knight," and since. Despite Nolan's claims that no sequel was plotted until recently, there's some clear set-up by the end of of the second film. Batman's left on the run, accused of the murders committed by the now-dead Harvey Dent, a pariah in the city that he serves. Things may not go any better for Batman's public face either -- the subplot involving sniveling Wayne Enterprises employee Mr. Rees discovering his boss's secret nighttime habit seems to only exist in the film in order to lay some seeds for the sequel. Could it start with Batman's identity being exposed to the world, leaving the hero with nowhere to run? It'd seem to make sense.

The title has some clues -- "The Dark Knight Rises," like fellow trilogy-closers "The Return of the King" and "Return of the Jedi," suggests redemption on the way. With all that in mind, we've picked 10 possible candidates for the big bad in Nolan's final Batman film, and why they could, or couldn't, end up facing off with the Caped Crusader.

The Penguin
Probably the best known Batman villain behind The Joker, Oswald Cobblepot, aka The Penguin, was a frequent adversary in the 1960s TV series as played by Burgess Meredith and appeared in suitably gothic form as the main foe in Tim Burton's "Batman Returns," in the form of Danny DeVito. Born to a wealthy family, Cobblepot is something of the black sheep, thanks to his bird-like appearance, and takes revenge by becoming a crime boss known as The Penguin, using a nightclub, The Iceberg Lounge, as a cover (an advert for the club appeared on a viral site for "The Dark Knight"). Clearly the Burton approach, with flipper-like hands and penguins with jetpacks, won't fly here, but there's no reason that a snappy-dressing aristocrat-turned-crime boss with the same moniker couldn't work in Nolan's Gotham, particularly with a void being created in the underworld after The Joker's antics. Indeed, to revert to a lesser-known villain after The Joker and Two-Face could seem like a step back, especially in the climactic part of Nolan's story.
However: If you remove the character's kinks, there's not a huge amount left, to be honest -- just another crime boss along the lines of those played by Tom Wilkinson and Eric Roberts in the preceding movies, albeit probably with a snappier dress sense. We're also not sure that he fits with the themes of Nolan's films -- life in an anarchic city constantly on the verge of collapse, the capacity for good and evil in people, justice and escalation. And we don't really believe that he's quite a formidable-enough foe to be the main opponent in the film. We can just about see him cropping up in a supporting role, but even then we feel like Nolan will end up looking elsewhere.
Could Tom Hardy Play Them? Absolutely -- his dapper performance in "Inception" could easily play as a dry run for a re-envisioned penguin, even if the fan-cast likes of Philip Seymour Hoffman would be more traditional.

Catwoman
With love interest Rachel Dawes last seen picked up with a shovel after being blown up by The Joker, there's a vacancy for the female lead in the Batman movies. Indeed, recent reports have suggested that casting is underway for an unnamed female role. And who better to fill it than the most indelible woman in the Batman universe? Played famously by Michelle Pfieffer in "Batman Returns" (and infamously by Halle Berry in "Catwoman"), the character is traditionally a jewel thief who is somewhat ambivalent with Batman, while her real identity, Selina Kyle, is often a love interest for Bruce Wayne. She's been reimagined in more realistic ways as well: Frank Miller, who never met a woman he couldn't compartmentalize as either a whore or a virgin, rewrote the character's origin as an abused prostitute in "Batman: Year One." After Nolan made a man dressed as a bat believable, there's no reason he couldn't pull off the depiction of a career criminal inspired by Gotham's savior to play a little dress-up herself. The comic "Batman: Dark Victory" saw the character discover that she could be the illegitimate daughter of mobster Carmine Falcone, which could tie into the previous films nicely as well.
However: Again, the character could well make an appearance in the film, but she isn't a formidable enough foe to be the main villain -- she's more anti-hero than arch enemy, and the threat wouldn't be big enough. We suspect that Nolan may be put off a little by the campy associations of the character, and the relatively fresh stink of the Halle Berry vehicle. But otherwise, a distinctly possible addition, and one with enough name recognition to Joe Pubic that it could free Nolan up to use a less-well known villain as the big bad.
Could Tom Hardy Play Them? Unlikely. But possibly inspired.

Hush
One of the few recent additions to the rogue's gallery that's managed to gain a real following among fans, Hush first appeared in the comics in 2002, and has made frequent reappearances since. A childhood friend of Bruce Wayne, Dr. Thomas Elliot came from a similarly wealthy background, but instead of the loving, supportive Waynes, Elliot's parents were monstrous and abusive. Serving as a kind of dark mirror of Batman, Elliot attempted to kill his parents, although his mother was saved by Wayne's father, leading to a lifelong grudge against his old friend. Grown-up, and a successful doctor, he befriended The Riddler and took on the mantle of the supervillain Hush, a figure with a bandaged face and trench coat, and proceeded to torture his old friend, manipulating a number of other villains to help. The character's look would fit nicely into Nolan's gritty world, and his motivations of revenge are entirely plausible.
However: The character's also tied relatively heavily into the comics continuity, and it would seem a little odd for a friend of Wayne's to be introduced suddenly at this point in the trilogy, only to be revealed as a villain. He's a better fit thematically than some other characters, but the 'revenge on Batman' path was walked by Harvey Dent in the rushed third act of "The Dark Knight." Plus, the 'dark mirror of the hero' angle didn't work out so well in "Spider-Man 3," did it?
Could Tom Hardy Play Them? Sure - Hardy's got that aristocratic vibe, but with a darkness beneath. But, assuming Nolan wanted to keep Hush's identity a secret until late in the running time, it'd be a pretty big giveaway for Hardy to show up early.

Talia Al Ghul
Like Catwoman, something of an anti-heroine, rather than a true villain, Talia is another long-running love interest of Bruce Wayne, as well as being the daughter of immortal supervillain Ra's Al Ghul (played in hammy form by Liam Neeson in "Batman Begins"). Serving as her father's righthand woman and conscience, she's often torn between her duty to him and her love for Batman (who, in comics continuity, she later had a child with). There's a meaty love story here for sure, and the organization that Neeson headed up in the first film could easily return -- the threat's certainly big enough, and there were even hints in "The Dark Knight" that The Joker was working for a bigger paymaster.
However: Well, where to start? Talia as a character is somewhat tied to her father, who, let's not forget, was last seen being merged with a parking garage. Besides, Nolan's take on that character was a more realistic one than the immortal comic character, and the threat seemed to be mostly nullified. Even if Talia had taken on her father's mantle, it would seem to come from nowhere, particularly with the organization essentially absent in the second film. Plus, Talia isn't a particularly compelling character to begin with. If this happens, we'll buy you all a round of drinks.
Could Tom Hardy Play Them? Well, if the character does crop up, Nolan's lost his mind, and all bets are off...

Black Mask
Like Hush, Black Mask is something of a darker twin to Bruce Wayne -- from another wealthy family who ran a cosmetics company, Romain Sionis was dropped on his head as a baby (and later, bizarrely, bitten by a rabid raccoon), leading to life-long resentment against his neglectful parents who he killed in a house fire. After Bruce Wayne bailed out his company (ooh, topical!) Sionis carved a mask out of his father's ebony coffin and became the crime boss known as Black Mask. Genuinely dangerous and psychotic, there's a strong visual element here, and he also has a long history with Catwoman, should Nolan choose to include her -- in one of the comics' 'edgier' moments, he killed her brother-in-law and forced his widow to eat his body. The character was killed in the comics, but recently resurrected as the alter ego of Dr. Jeremiah Arkham, which could make sense as the Asylum has featured heavily in the Nolan films, and as a cash-in to the successful "Arkham Asylum" video game. If portrayed in a relatively down-to-earth manner, Black Mask could be a worthy and terrifying foe for Batman.
However: The appearance of the character and backstory seems a little B-list and generic, somehow -- more like a villain in a "Punisher" movie than in a sequel to the highest-grossing superhero movie of all time. Remember, whoever plays the villain has to be able to stand up to Ledger's Joker, a near-impossible task as it is, but it'd be much harder with a character like this one.
Could Tom Hardy Play Them? See Hush. Although, again, it'd seem like a shame to stick him behind a mask.

Harley Quinn
Unlike most of these characters, Quinn didn't originate in the comics, instead making her debut in the popular 1990s cartoon "Batman: The Animated Series," swiftly becoming a fan favorite and crossing over to the graphic novels. Quinn (originally Dr. Harleen Quinzel) was an intern at Arkham Asylum who falls for the Joker, donning a harlequin costume and becoming his sidekick and lover. The character's as psychotic and dangerous as her beau, although sometimes serves as his conscience. Despite The Joker being, sadly, off limits, Nolan could easily reinvent the character as a copycat of some kind.
However: You haven't been paying attention if you think this is a possibility. The character wouldn't really work on her own, and the likelihood of Nolan using a psychotic psychiatrist in a harlequin outfit is nil. Plus, a Joker copycat would go over much the same ground as "The Dark Knight," and it seems clear that the filmmakers will want to tread a new path for the third film.
Could Tom Hardy Play Them? Look, the kid's got range, but still...

Deacon Blackfire
Yeah, so we're getting pretty obscure here, but bear with us. In the 1988 graphic novel "Batman: The Cult," Blackfire is the leader of a cult made up of the homeless of Gotham City, who begins a vigilante war against the criminals of the city, inciting Martial Law in Gotham. He kidnaps and brainwashes Batman, forcing the hero to commit a murder, although the hero eventually escapes, and Blackfire is killed by his followers. The character would make sense on a number of thematic levels, tying in with the 'Batman-on-the-run' vibe that we're headed to, for one. Similarly, it could show the darker side of the vigilantism that Batman's inspired, as well as taking the character to a new low, before he eventually 'rises' out (see what we did). And the inclusion of the dispossessed of Gotham would seem to fit in with some of the other interests of the trilogy.
However: It's still a little far-fetched, for one. Despite a sweep and scale that Nolan might appreciate, the graphic novel was badly received by fans, seen as being too dark and violent, and it's currently out of print, which wouldn't help matters. And ultimately, the character's probably too obscure to feature -- even we hadn't heard of him until we started trawling Wikipedia for candidates...
Could Tom Hardy Play Them? Eh. There are characters that are better fits for Hardy, who doesn't quite strike us as the cult-leader type.

Holiday
Jeph Loeb's "The Long Halloween" is one of the best-known Batman stories and an acknowledged influence on "The Dark Knight." The plot focused on an unknown murderer, nicknamed "The Holiday Killer," who murders a number of prominent Gotham mobsters on holiday dates across a year. While Harvey Dent was suspected, it turns out *spoiler* that the killer was, at least according to their confessions, both Gilda Dent, the wife of Harvey, and Alberto Falcone, the son of mobster Carmine Falcone (played by Tom Wilkinson in "Batman Begins"). We can certainly see the organized crime aspect of the series being continued in the third film, particularly with that underworld void remaining, and the idea of a whodunnit structure for the third film's kind of a fun one, and would fit in with the realistic theme established so far.
However: Nolan hasn't done a straight adaptation of a comic story yet, and it doesn't seem likely to head down that path at this stage, particularly with his own interests to be served. Many of the key characters are either out of play (Harvey, The Joker), or wiped by the new continuity (Harvey, after all, had his fiancée blown to bits in the last film, so she couldn't start killing mobsters exactly). Plus it'd be hard to pin a marketing campaign on an unknown killer who wouldn't share the iconic power of The Joker.
Could Tom Hardy Play Them? We could certainly see him as the son of a mobster from the previous films, but probably not as Holiday -- again, the revelation of his identity would be a little obvious.

The Hangman
Sidney Lumet-tinged depictions of the Gotham PD have been at the heart of both the Nolan Batman movies, and it proved a key element in the sequel to "The Long Halloween" -- "Dark Victory." In it, a serial killer known as "The Hangman" killed law-enforcement officers with a version of the children's word game daubed on their walls nearby. Again, *spoiler* the killer turned out to be a member of the Falcone family, this time the seemingly wheelchair-bound daughter of Carmine, Sofia Falcone-Gigante.
However: See all the reasons for Holiday, with the added ludicrousness of the wheelchair fake-out, something pulled from a weak Agatha Christie novel. A serial killer plotline isn't totally inconceivable, but we imagine Nolan will come up with something new. Plus, the world-trotting Bond influence on the first two pictures wouldn't get a look-in here.
Could Tom Hardy Play Them? A wheelchair-bound woman? Um, motion-capture?

The Great White Shark
Another relatively recent foe, the Great White Shark was the nickname for crooked financier Warren White, who pleaded insanity after being tried for embezzlement. Sent to Arkham, he's disfigured by other inmates, having 'gills' carved into his neck and losing his nose to frostbite before using his financial knowledge to become Gotham's top crime boss from his prison cell. Again, with the criminal community of the city decimated, there's certainly room for a new character to rise to the top, and having him be a crooked financier would strike a chord with the audience in the current climate. The character seems to have the right mix of freakishness and believability to work in the surroundings too.
However: Aside from being fairly obscure, at least to the layman, the name The Great White Shark seems a little absurd for the Nolanverse. Batman Vs. Wall Street seems a little lame as well, and we may have had our fill of noseless villains after Voldemort.
Could Tom Hardy Play Them? He might be a little young for the character as written, although it won't take a huge leap of imagination to make it work.

In Conclusion: To be honest, we don't have a clue. None of the names above seem like a perfect fit. If we had to guess, we'd say some kind of Black Mask/Catwoman combination would seem the best, but we somehow think that'd be unlikely. IMDB rumors, traditionally only one or two steps up from the pantsless man you see outside the bodega down the street as a reliable source of info, has tagged Hardy to the role of Detective Harvey Bullock, so there's no guarantee that he's a villain anyway.

And indeed, Nolan could come up with his own villain, or make it a more mundane, human threat. He's proven a hard man to second guess -- all we know is, we look forward to finding out the truth.

This article is related to: Films, Actors, Feature, Christopher Nolan, Super Hero Films, Tom Hardy, Batman 3, The Dark Knight Rises


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