Few characters are as cemented in popular culture as Batman. From Michael Keaton to Ben Affleck, some of the biggest movie stars in the world have donned the cowl to fight crime in Gotham City over the past 30 years, and even a bunch of Batman’s most notorious enemies have double-dipped in big-screen stories in that same time. Ahead of the release of The Batman, which premiered in theaters last week, it was hard to imagine there was much untouched territory left in Gotham. Yet director Matt Reeves’s franchise reboot has reinvented the Caped Crusader on film by returning to the character’s roots as the “World’s Greatest Detective.”
With a story centered on Batman (Robert Pattinson) following a trail of gruesome murders and public executions to catch the Riddler (Paul Dano), who has been reimagined as a serial killer akin to the real-life Zodiac Killer or Se7en’s John Doe, The Batman is darker than any live-action Batman film before it. Reeves borrows a few cues from Christopher Nolan’s acclaimed Dark Knight trilogy, while also making plenty of compelling new choices of his own. Bruce Wayne is sadder than ever, and the fine line between Gotham’s famous, orphaned billionaire and his crime-fighting alter ego has never been so blurry. The film overstays its welcome a bit with a bloated running time that falls just short of three hours, thanks in large part to some lengthy exposition dumps. But backed by a terrific, if underutilized, supporting cast and a stellar score from Michael Giacchino, Pattinson’s leading performance and Reeves’s vision have helped successfully relaunch DC’s flagship superhero.
With an estimated haul of $128.5 million at the North American box office over the weekend, The Batman has secured Warner Bros. the best opening of 2022 to date and the second-highest of the pandemic era. Although a sequel hasn’t officially been announced yet, it’s safe to assume that Pattinson’s Batman will be back for more, and a number of spinoff series are already in the works at HBO Max. With a new Dark Knight rising in Gotham’s darkest rendering yet, here are my biggest takeaways about The Batman and the future of the rebooted franchise.
Batman: Year Two
The Batman forgoes rehashing Bruce Wayne’s familiar, tragic backstory yet again in favor of offering a different type of origin story. At the beginning of the film, the Caped Crusader is already two years into his “Gotham Project”: He’s already formed an alliance with Lieutenant Gordon, he has battle scars spread across his body, and he’s become a terrifying presence in Gotham for its criminals and citizens alike. But while he has a bunch of his signature tools in his arsenal, this version of the Batman is still very much a work in progress.
Starting with the film’s first fight scene, Batman takes his fair share of punches, and throughout the movie he’s always a step behind the Riddler, making a number of mistakes and miscalculations. Not long after a bomb explodes, like, directly in Batman’s face at Mayor Mitchell’s funeral, he’s escaping the Gotham City Police Department headquarters with Gordon’s help. As Batman reaches the roof, he looks down the sides of the skyscraper and gasps in terror at the huge drop below him. While we’ve seen him fearlessly make a descent like this dozens of times in his previous big-screen lives, it seems like this is the first time he’s ever done it. And, of course, Batman completely eats shit, as his parachute catches a low bridge and sends him flying into the pavement.
How Batman is able to survive this movie is almost a riddle in itself. By the end of it, though, he’s learned that he needs to be more than just a vigilante who strikes fear into the hearts of those brave enough to leave their homes at night. “Vengeance won’t change the past, mine or anyone else’s,” he narrates. “People need hope.”
Bruce Wayne still has much to learn, and the guy is also in dire need of a haircut. (While we’re at it, he could also be a little nicer to Alfred, stop creeping on women as they’re undressing, and start paying a little more attention to the family company that he’s letting go to seed.) The Batman is a bold new beginning for Bruce Wayne, and as Pattinson likely reprises his role in the years to come, it’ll be interesting to see whether he’ll separate his dual lives and responsibilities as a Wayne and as Batman—as Batman movies have in the past—and whether his self-destructive nature will take him down an even darker path as he gains more enemies.
A New Kind of Riddler
In 1995, Jim Carrey became the first live-action Riddler since the 1960s when he stepped into the role opposite Val Kilmer’s Dark Knight in Batman Forever. Rocking bright-green spandex with question marks sprinkled across it, Carrey essentially played a version of his characters in the comedies Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and The Mask, with his cartoonish Riddler dancing and twirling through his dastardly schemes to take control of Gotham.
Paul Dano’s take on the Riddler couldn’t be more different. While Carrey’s Edward Nygma remains iconic and was faithful to the character’s portrayals in the comics, Dano’s Edward Nashton is perfectly suited to Reeves’s darker, grittier vision for Gotham. Rather than wearing a tiny green mask around his eyes that leaves most of his face exposed, this new version of the Riddler covers his head in Saran wrap so that he doesn’t leave behind DNA at crime scenes. The only uncovered parts of his head are the slits left open for his glasses, as his entire costume favors practicality over style. He uses social media to gather a following that aligns with his twisted campaign to take down Gotham’s elite class, broadcasting his acts of violence to the world just as the Joker did in The Dark Knight. This Riddler is no comedian, but rather an obsessive serial killer, and the clues that he meticulously leaves behind for Batman help establish Reeves’s goal of bringing the title character back to being a detective in a neo-noir-style mystery.
Dano’s performance creates a terrifying version of the Riddler that we haven’t seen on the big screen before, but his plans to overturn Gotham’s power structure aren’t all that different from one of the character’s best story lines in the comics. The Batman brims with comic book references; many of its plot points and character choices can be traced back to classic Batman comics like Batman: Year One and Batman: The Long Halloween, which chronicle Bruce Wayne’s early days as Gotham’s protector. But the movie also calls to mind a more recent reimagining of Batman’s origins: Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Batman: Zero Year, which ran from 2013 to 2014, positioned the Riddler as the Caped Crusader’s first real nemesis. Just as in The Batman, Zero Year’s Riddler outsmarts a young Batman and nearly devastates Gotham by destroying its surrounding restraining walls in the midst of a violent storm. He floods Gotham, and though Batman ultimately saves the day, the Riddler brings its citizens and their savior to their knees and changes the fabric of the city forever.
It’s too early to tell whether Dano will reprise his role in The Batman’s likely sequel(s), as his story ends in an Arkham cell, but his fresh take on the Riddler was the perfect way to complete this reframing of Batman as a crime-fighting detective.
The Return of the Joker
At the end of The Batman, the Riddler is stuck at the rebranded Arkham State Hospital after Batman narrowly prevented Gotham City and its citizens from being annihilated. But Riddler’s emotional distress over his plan’s failure quickly evaporates as an Arkham inmate in an adjacent cell begins to tell him a riddle and a new potential alliance emerges. While his face is shrouded in shadow, the mysterious inmate tells Riddler that “one day you’re on top, the next day you’re a clown,” before belting out an eerily familiar, maniacal laugh. In a close parallel to Christopher Nolan ending Batman Begins with a calling card from Gotham’s most notorious villain, Reeves ends his movie with a cameo from the character who we can only assume will serve as the primary antagonist in The Batman’s presumptive sequel: the Joker.
Whether or not the Joker squares up with Batman in a spinoff series or sequel, the Clown Prince of Crime is back—again. Since the late Heath Ledger’s iconic performance in 2008’s The Dark Knight, there have already been three more live-action Jokers: Cameron Monaghan in Gotham from 2015 to 2019, Jared Leto in 2016’s Suicide Squad, and Joaquin Phoenix in 2019’s Joker. While Bruce Wayne made brief appearances in both of those films, the latter of which featured a younger iteration of Bruce before he ever donned the cowl, Joker and Batman haven’t faced off in earnest since an unstoppable force met an immovable object. And now the Joker returns with a new face and a new laugh, as Barry Keoghan steps into the role.
Keoghan doesn’t get enough screen time in The Batman to reveal much about how he’ll perform in the role, but based on his unnerving performance in The Killing of a Sacred Deer alone, the gifted actor seems up to the task. The first true Batman film since Nolan’s trilogy concluded feels a little too soon for the Joker to reappear, especially when The Batman managed to do such a good job of re-creating a lesser-used villain in the Riddler. (Not to mention that Dano’s Riddler is already channeling a lot of Ledger’s chaotic Joker energy.) However, it has to be hard to resist using Batman’s greatest enemy.
Reeves is well aware of concerns about an overabundance of Joker appearances, and he claims that the villain’s inclusion in the film isn’t necessarily a promise of more to come. According to Reeves, the cameo is intended to illustrate how there will always be a looming threat for the Caped Crusader as long as he remains in Gotham. “The scene is not meant to be there to say, ‘Oh, here’s an Easter egg. The next movie is X,’” the director told IGN. “I don’t know that the Joker would be in the next movie, but I can tell you that here’s what you’re seeing, is an early days version of this character, and trouble, as always, is brewing in Gotham.”
The Bat and the Cat
In the aftermath of the final battle at Gotham Square Garden, Batman and Catwoman meet up one last time. (Speaking of GSG, I sincerely hope that somewhere in this vast multiverse, RJ Barrett is getting buckets for a dominant Gotham Knights team on a nightly basis. Even the threat of murderous supervillains lurking around every corner in Gotham beats watching this Knicks season.) Selina Kyle tells Batman that with Gotham in turmoil, she’s leaving town to head either upstate or to Blüdhaven, and she asks him to come with her. “You know this place isn’t going to change,” she says, observing that the death of her estranged father, Carmine Falcone, leaves a power vacuum that the city’s rising crime lords—including Colin Farrell’s Oswald Cobblepot—will all be vying to fill.
The moment is reminiscent of one we’ve seen Bruce Wayne in many times over the years, as he’s caught between a romantic relationship and his dedication to his crusade against Gotham’s underworld. But as Selina sees the Bat-Signal light the sky in the distance, she understands that it’s hardly a choice for him; as she puts it, the man is already “spoken for”—a likely nod to the closing line of Snyder and Capullo’s Zero Year.
With the Bat and the Cat parting ways (at least for now), Selina could be bound for Blüdhaven, a city that comic-book fans will instantly recognize. It’s where Batman’s first Robin, Dick Grayson, shed his sidekick status and began a new vigilante career on his own as Nightwing. With Reeves continuing to expand his growing Bat-Verse, this could pave the way for the director to explore a spinoff that focuses on a reimagined Dick Grayson, or even a version of Batgirl, who also has ties to Gotham’s neighboring city.
Perhaps most likely, though, Blüdhaven presents an opportunity for Catwoman to get her own story, where Zoë Kravitz could build upon her strong, underutilized performance in The Batman. Because so much of the film is focused on Batman’s perspective as he attempts to thwart Riddler’s elaborate plot, Selina is relegated to a much lesser role in which we learn little of her character and her backstory beyond her connection to Falcone. The Blüdhaven mention could, of course, be nothing more than an Easter egg for the fans, but if we’re lucky, it augurs an even bigger part for Kravitz’s Selina Kyle to play in the future.
Into the Bat-verse
Speaking of Reeves’s Bat-verse, The Batman is intended to be the beginning of a new cinematic universe of films and TV shows that would exist separate from the rest of the DCEU. “What I really wanted this movie to do was create a Batverse,” Reeves recently told Entertainment Weekly. “You don’t do a story and go, ‘This is Chapter 1,’ because you might not get to do Chapter 2. So, the story had to stand on its own. But the thing about it is that the Bat world is so rich with character that as you’re starting to come to an end, you can already start thinking about the next thing. Because the idea, of course, is that Gotham’s story never ends.”
While Reeves has cited only early discussions of a big-screen sequel to The Batman, there are at least two spinoffs already in production for HBO Max: a series centered on Farrell’s Penguin and another that focuses on the Gotham City Police Department. By the end of the movie, Gotham is flooded, a new mayor has been elected, and martial law is in effect. As Batman narrates that there will be those who will look to take advantage of the city’s chaotic state of affairs, a shot lingers on Penguin as he looks out onto Gotham from a room that once belonged to Falcone.
The Penguin series will take place in the aftermath of The Batman and follow Cobblepot’s rise to power in the shadow of his former boss’s demise. In The Batman, Farrell—buried somewhere beneath all of the prosthetics—has limited screen time, and like everyone else in this Gotham, he’s poised at the start of a larger story. “There’s a great Penguin story that’s an American Dream–Scarface story of a guy who is underestimated; how nobody thinks he’s capable of doing anything, who believes in himself with a visceral violence,” Reeves told Hero Nation.
While the plans for the untitled Penguin project appear to be firmly in place, those surrounding the GCPD series have been more in flux. With Joe Barton (Giri/Haji) attached as showrunner after Sopranos producer Terence Winter’s exit, the spinoff was originally set to take place during Batman’s first year on the job and focus on a corrupt GCPD officer and the “battle for his soul.” According to Reeves, though, those initial plans have changed. “The GCPD thing, that story has kind of evolved,” he told The Cyber Nerds. “We’ve actually now [moved] more into the realm of exactly what would happen in the world of Arkham coming off of our movie … It’s like a horror movie or haunted house that is Arkham.”
While a GCPD prequel series could supply further details about the Sal Maroni drug bust that plays into the plot of The Batman, or provide the chance to spend more time with Jeffrey Wright’s James Gordon, a show focused on Arkham would be a fascinating departure from the norm. (And as Reeves has mentioned to Variety, it would also present an opportunity to see more of Keoghan’s Joker.) Given that Fox’s Gotham series similarly centered on Gordon’s early days in the GCPD and concluded its five-season run in 2019, it might be a little soon to introduce another drama with a similar premise. Meanwhile, Arkham has made only sparse appearances in the many live-action Batman movies to date, and with plenty of source material from comic books and video games to draw on, a horror-driven series focusing on the iconic Gotham psychiatric hospital would continue to push Reeves’s nascent Bat-verse in a promising, fresh direction.