The Batman is set to pit Robert Pattinson’s Dark Knight against three of the hero’s most notorious foes from the comics. But with Catwoman (Zoe Kravitz) looking to serve as more of an ally and love interest, and Penguin (Colin Farrell) as a supporting antagonist, it’s the Riddler (Paul Dano) who will be the movie’s main villain. Not that this is the same Prince of Puzzles that fans are used to, though, as the trailers have promised a chilling reinvention of the classic foe.
While speaking to Collider, writer/director Matt Reeves revealed how the Riddler came to be in the film, as well as what led him to radically reimagine the character. Reeves explained that his starting point was a desire to tell a detective story inspired by The Long Halloween, which features the serial killer Calendar Man.
“I wanted to do a Batman story where he was already Batman, but he still was in early days, had to find a way to sort of really evolve,” Reeves said. “I wanted to do a story that the investigation of this particular mystery would lead him back to something very personal, and would rock him to his core. So knowing that I wanted to do that kind of thing, I started sort of, from Long Halloween, I was thinking about the sort of Calendar Man and the idea of the different sort of killings. Then this idea came to me and I thought, well, we do a thing where at these crimes, there’s correspondence left for the Batman.”
Reeves told Collider that he felt Batman’s power lies in “being anonymous,” so he knew he wanted a villain who could threaten that anonymity. This influenced the filmmaker to look for inspiration at the real-life Zodiac Killer.
“I thought, well, that’s a great way in,” he continued. “As I started thinking about that and trying to ground it, I thought about the Zodiac,” the director said. “I thought about how the Zodiac, in this horrific way, left all of this sort of disturbing, these ciphers and these communications to the police and to the newspapers and how unsettling that was.”
The big lightbulb moment came when Reeves realized the Zodiac was like a “horrifying version of the Riddler.”
“I thought, wow, that actually sounds like a horrifying version of the Riddler, because he was leaving all these puzzles. So the Riddler was part of the conception very early on in trying to figure out, which of the Rogues Gallery characters would communicate in that way with Batman. So that happened right away. Then I started thinking, well, to me, what’s interesting, like I said before, it’s not his origin, but I thought it would be interesting, that as you followed the details of the crime, that it would take him across the paths of these other characters.”
That said, when tackling the idea of a Zodiac-like Riddler, Reeves wanted to modernize the concept and explore how a contemporary serial killer might make use of social media.
“It was very important to me that Gotham not be New York, not be Chicago, not be any particular city, I wanted you to feel like, wow, this is a place we’ve never been before, but it feels absolutely like an iconic American city, a really corrupt, messed up place, but I wanted it to be much of our world. As I was doing that, I was thinking, okay, so he wouldn’t write to the Chronicle the way that Zodiac did. He would start using social media, because that’s what it would be. And this idea of the kind of viral communication, I just wanted it to be very much of our world. So that’s kind of how that came about.”
Dano’s revamped Riddler has resulted in a mixed reception from fans, many of whom miss Edward Nygma’s classic green suit and bowler hat, but Reeves is essentially following Christopher Nolan’s character-driven lead in antagonist development, and many of Nolan’s rank among the best supervillains in movie history. We’ll find out if the Riddler can give them a run for their money when The Batman swoops into cinemas on March 4.