Who Is The Better Villain?

Warning: this article contains SPOILERS for The Batman.

It’s difficult to compare anyone to Heath Ledger’s iconic Joker in The Dark Knight, but Paul Dano’s Riddler in The Batman is a decent contender for being a better villain. The Batman Comics are rife with a slew of memorable, powerful villains wreaking havoc on Gotham, from the Maroni crime syndicate to Poison Ivy and Scarecrow, but the Joker consistently reigns supreme as Batman’s primary arch-nemesis. However, with The Batman Including such villas as Colin Farrell’s unrecognizable Penguin and John Turturro’s Carmine Falcone, while also using the Riddler as its primary antagonist, the film provides a gripping portrayal of both the more organized, long-term corruption happening in Gotham and a more confined threat, all while managing to keep Barry Keoghan’s Joker as an unnamed Arkham prisoner.

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In 2008, The Dark Knight took a similar approach, with the Joker combining the singular terrorist element and the overarching Mob threat with his connection to Maroni, and using Aaron Eckhart’s Harvey Dent as a means of showing the power of the Joker’s actions. Just like Ledger’s Joker, Dano’s Riddler is a more sinister adaptation of the villain fit for The Batman’s darker tone that diverts from the character’s former campier versions. Until The Batman’s portrayal of the Riddler, the most memorable Riddler on film was Jim Carrey’s version in Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever, which established a more comedic interpretation of the villain. Likewise, until The Dark Knight, previous live-action Joker filmic iterations included Cesar Romero’s 1966 version and Jack Nicholson’s version in Tim Burton’s Batman. That said, The Dark Knight was also preceded by Mark Hamill’s animated Joker in the ’90s. All things considered, the main villains in both films make The Batman comparable to The Dark Knight.


Related: Every Riddle In The Batman Explained

The villas’ similarities run deeper still. Both The Dark Knight’s Joker and The Batman’s Riddler set forth terrorist attacks throughout Gotham and offer a sense of realism that adds to their effectiveness as threats. With that said, as terrifying as the Riddler is, The Dark Knight’s Joker is the better villain in terms of his overall competence and character development despite the fact that the Riddler managed to cause more serious damage to Gotham. However, comparing these villains is more complicated than it appears.

The Better Batman Villain Performance: Riddler vs. Joker


The Riddler in The Batman vs.  The Joker in The Dark Knight

The Dark Knight has the advantage of legacy over The Batman, having come out the same year as Iron Man and four years before The Avengers launched the MCU to form, which in turn raised the standard of superhero films. Heath Ledger’s Joker was a superhero villain unlike anything seen until then and established a new set of expectations. For example, Ledger’s Joker even inspired The Batman’s Riddler to send footage of his crimes to the news as a message to Batman (Robert Pattinson) and to be codependent on him, telling Batman that they’re part of a team. The allusions provided by the Riddler’s conversation with Batman in Arkham to the Joker’s memorable “you complete me” interrogation scene in The Dark Knight further attests to Ledger’s impact. As excellent as, for instance, Nicholson’s Joker was, Ledger’s Joker brings the role to a whole different level. He’s gritty, disturbed, and seen as little more than a thug in makeup by many, yet he still has the audacity to saunter into Bruce Wayne’s party with his entourage of goons unannounced or take command of a room full of police officers, all while using his bold presence to gain everyone’s attention.


The Batman, now considered to be one of the best Batman movies to date, comes out at a time when Dano’s Riddler is expected to be well done. While this doesn’t negate Dano’s performance, his interpretation is nonetheless not as surprising to audiences as Ledger’s Joker was. However, what may impress audiences is the serial killer element provided by Dano’s Riddler. Before The Batman, viewers would not associate the Riddler with the likes of Saw‘s Jigsaw or the Zodiac killer. His convoluted rat trap, his neck bomb strapped around DA Gil Colson (Peter Sarsgaard), and his littering of ciphered messages around crime scenes add a more menacing factor to the Riddler. However, the Riddler’s depiction loses a bit of its strength in the final act after his capture and Arkham imprisonment, where he becomes less clever and more pathetic, and when his story ends with a bit of a whimper.


Which Character Got A Better Story: Riddler or Joker?


Dark Knight Joker vs The Batman's Riddler story comparison

The Riddler left a bigger impact on Gotham, from The Batman’s Riddler goons rallying together to terrorize Bella Reál’s (Jayme Lawson) mayoral victory to destroying Gotham’s sea wall and flooding the entire city. Both the Riddler and the Joker aimed towards exposing Gotham’s corruption, but the Riddler had a more concrete philosophy in his motivations. The Riddler, the Joker, had a known past in which he was an orphan who felt neglected by Thomas Wayne’s promises. He was clear about his intentions, disturbing as they were, to kill his high-profile victims and take Batman on a direct mission. Meanwhile, the Joker is a self-described “agent of chaos” who is focused entirely on the present. He has no concern for the future, and his past is completely unknown. Like Pattinson’s Batman, the Joker’s scars reflect a violent and mysterious history. However, he gives multiple facial scar stories, from his drunk father inflicting them to his wife’s own scars leading him to self-mutilate. He is an unreliable narrator of his own life.


Related: The Riddler’s Plan And All Hidden Clues In The Batman Explained

Yet this is what makes the Joker so perfect. Every aspect of his character, from his actions to his general behavior, reflects his philosophy. Having no motivation for what he does reflects his entire being. Talking to Harvey Dent in the hospital, the Joker says, “I just do things. The mob has plans. The cops have plans…they’re schemers.” He further elaborates that he tries “to show the schemers how pathetic their attempts to control things really are.” Because the Joker doesn’t inflict as much damage around him as The Batman’s Riddler, it becomes all the more impressive considering how much of a threat he still turns out to be.

Even The Batman’s Penguin bests the Riddler in terms of adequacy as a threat, much less The Dark Knight’s Joker. Like the Penguin, the Joker is unaffected if his plans fall flat – this is the Riddler’s weakness. Despite the Riddler’s dark sense of humor, as shown in moments like the attached severed thumb to the “thumb drive,” he relies too strongly on the exacting success of his convoluted plan. However, it only takes Gotham’s general sense of hope after the flooding disaster to tear his extremely calculated plan apart. A character like the Joker would either have a backup plan, which he almost inflicts before Batman (Christian Bale) intervenes, or he would see it as a bad joke and find irony in the failure. On paper, the Riddler’s story is better than the Joker’s until the end. In terms of character and plot execution, The Dark Knight’s Joker wins.


The Better Movie Overall: The Batman vs. The Dark Knight


The Batman trilogy Joker problem the dark knight

The unanswered questions The Batman provides create plenty of fodder for a sequel that may be even more comparable to The Dark Knight since The Dark Knight is the second movie of its respective trilogy. Yet however long the Pattinson Batman series will last, it’s not stopping fans from still praising his first Batman movie to be the best of its kind since The Dark Knight. That said, the fact that The Batman is being compared to The Dark Knight as the pinnacle of Batman movies is proof alone which movie is better. This isn’t to say that The Dark Knight is flawless next to The Batman. For example, The Batman cartooning Gotham as a crime-ridden character unto itself, while The Dark Knight treats Gotham as a standard metropolis despite the heavy influence the city has over the Batman franchise. Also, moments like The Dark Knight’s bank heist plot hole prove that it’s not immune to inconsistencies. However, The Batman is still new and subject to plenty of future flaws reveals.


Both The Batman and The Dark Knight have terrific acting, cinematography, directing, and sound composition, to the point where it might resolve to individual taste. Many aspects, however, make The Dark Knight more successful than The Batman. Christopher Nolan’s track record is more substantial than Matt Reeves’, and The Dark Knight’s casting is stronger than The Batman’s – if nothing else, its all-star cast is better utilized. For example, excellent as Andy Serkis is, his Alfred receives much less importance than Michael Caine’s. The Dark Knight has a well-earned reputation as the best Batman movie in existence, something that The Batman, as great as the film is, doesn’t quite surpass.

Next: The Batman Ending Explained (In Detail)

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